The death of Duke Snider, one of the “Boys of Summer,” grabbed most of the attention on Sunday, but I was equally saddened by the passing, at age 65, of Greg Goossen, a member of a small but enduring fraternity: former Seattle Pilots.
They were immortalized, of course, in Jim Bouton’s classic “Ball Four,” a diary of his 1969 season with the Pilots — their only season in Seattle before bolting to Milwaukee to become the Milwaukee Brewers. Goossen makes a quick appearance in Ball Four, an anecdote on page 13 in which Bouton recalls a minor-league game he played against Goossen, a catcher in those days. A ball is bunted back to the pitcher, and Goossen came running out from behind the plate, screaming, “First base! First base!” The pitcher instead threw to second, and everyone was safe.
“As Goose walked back behind the plate, looking disgusted, I shouted at him from the dugout, “Goose, he had to consider the source.”
When they are reunited as teammates in Seattle during spring training two years later, Goossen greets Bouton by saying, “Consider the source, huh?”
Goossen actually had a pretty good year as a reserve first baseman for the Pilots, hitting .309 in 52 games, with 10 homers and 24 RBI, a .385 on-base percentage and .597 slugging percentage for a .982 OPS (as if anyone knew what an OPS was in 1969; if they had, Goossen might have been pegged a player to watch, and picked by a few shrewd fantasy players the next spring. If there had been fantasy players in 1969). Hard to believe it’s the same guy of whom Casey Stengel famously said, ” “This is Greg Goossen. He’s 19 years old, and in ten years he’s got a chance to be 29.”
No one loved their time in Seattle more than Goossen. When he showed up here for a 40-year reunion of the Pilots in 2009, in which several former Pilot players participated in a public event at the Bellevue Hilton, Goossen said, “I was happy to be with the Seattle Pilots,” Goossen told the crowd. “I was happy to play in the major leagues. I would’ve played here my whole career.”
At that point, former outfielder Tommy Davis chimed in: “You did!”
Indeed, after the Pilots fled Seattle, Goossen would play only 42 more games in the majors, all in 1970, first with the Brewers, whom he followed to MIlwaukee, then with the Washington Senators. On Nov. 3, 1970, he was traded to the Phillies in a package for Curt Flood, who was in the process of challenging baseball’s reserve clause, legal action that paved the way for the advent of free agency.
After baseball ended, Goossen had a fascinating life, as mentioned in the obituary to which I linked. He worked as a private detective and also dabbled in boxing as a trainer with his brother Joe. They worked with Michael Nunn, a middleweight champion in the 1980s, as well as brothers Gabriel and Rafael Ruelas, who were featherweight and lightweight champions in the 1990s.
When actor Gene Hackman was working on the boxing movie “Split Decisions” in 1988, he befriended Goossen, who embarked on a second career as Hackman’s stand-in in virtually every movie Hackman has done since ’88. In a 2006 interview I did with Goossen for this story on the Pilots, he told me, “I was training fighters at the time with my brother, Joe. Gene hired Joe as technical advisor; Joe was training Michael Nunn at the time. Joe made the first contact with Gene, but he couldn’t make it to the studio for some reason. Joe asked if I could fill in. I borrowed two bucks gas, met Gene, and we hit it off from there. I’ve been with it ever since.”
In another interview with Bill Reader, an assistant editor at the Seattle Times, Goossen said of Hackman, He just took a liking to me. We just got along very well. He took care of this old, befuddled, used-up baseball player.”
He told me that on shoots, “Gene has the exact same hotel room I do, only a little bigger. Like 10 times the size….It’s quite a prestigious job working for Gene. He’s been very kind to me. He wrote it into all his contracts (that Goossen would be his stand-in. The only way they could fire me was to break Gene’s contract. It’s pretty decent power.”
Goossen and many other Pilots are immortalized in the documentary, “Seattle Pilots: Short Flight Into History,” released in 2009. Sadly, the list of deceased Pilots continues to grow, with Goossen joining shortstop Ray Oyler, pitchers Miguel Fuentes, Gene Brabender, George Brunet and Steve Barber, and catcher Jim Pagliaroni.
Not to mention, of course, the crusty Pilots manager, Joe Schultz, whom Goossen revered. Wherever they are now, I’m sure they are having a great time pounding the ol’ Budweiser.