One of the unintended benefits of Facebook, at least for me, has been the opportunity to connect with a number of former major league players. I remember watching many of them play in the 1970s and ’80s, and never thought I would get close to them all these years later. It is shocking to me how many players of my youth now use Facebook as a regular messaging forum. It’s also particularly shocking when these players send me a friend request, and not the other way around. In a sense, it’s a form of flattery, but one that continues to bewilder me. Certainly, I’ve heard of them, but how do they know about me? For the life of me, I have no idea.
The opportunity to communicate with players I never thought I’d meet in any way, shape, or form makes for a special thrill. Admittedly, some of these former players rarely post to Facebook, so they are friends more in name than in actuality. But a number of them contribute regularly to the Facebook wall. John D’Acquisto, one of the hardest throwing pitchers of the 1970s, frequently posts examples of his artwork and his writing. Al Fitzmorris loves to wax poetic about his World Series champion Kansas City Royals. Another former Royal, Ed Hearn, provides insight into his abilities as a motivational speaker.
Through our interactions on Facebook, I’ve met Jim Driscoll, who played briefly for the Oakland A’s and the Texas Rangers in the early 1970s. Denny McLain, a man who has reformed his life after years of trouble, posts updates on the medical condition of his wife Sharon, who is bravely battling Parkinson’s disease. At one time a critic of McLain, I’ve become a fan of Denny and his efforts to help his wife, all thanks to our relationship on Facebook.
Former New York Yankees left-hander Fritz Peterson is one of the most prolific posters to Facebook, providing daily birthday wishes to players from his era and offering little-known details about their careers. Longtime outfielder Billy Sample, who has left the world of baseball broadcasting, supplies updates on his budding career as a filmmaker, which has included experience in the world of horror (my favorite film genre). And then there’s former slugging catcher Duke Sims, a staunch conservative Republican who regularly offers his opinion on the ongoing political elections, and often does so with a tinge of humor and sarcasm.
Among all of these former players, many of whom have wonderful stories to tell, perhaps my favorite is a relatively obscure outfielder of 1960s and ’70s vintage, Jim Gosger. Most of Gosger’s career fell in the era just before I became a fan, but I certainly have memories of reading about him in Jim Bouton’s Ball Four. In addition to his season with the Seattle Pilots, I recall him as a backup outfielder with those early Montreal Expos teams and his brief tenure with the 1969 World Series champion New York Mets.
Now retired, Gosger posts fairly regularly to Facebook, and does so on a variety of topics, ranging from his own playing days to the game of today, his views on politics, and updates on his own day-to-day life. He has a terrific collection of vintage photographs, particularly from his time in baseball, giving us a glimpse into what the game looked like during his 1960s heyday. He also contributes to other people’s timelines, chiming in with personal opinions and observations. While some of the retired players tend to be guarded with what they have to say, Gosger speaks what is on his mind, firmly but respectfully.
Gosger also does well in responding to messages sent directly his way. I have asked him questions on several occasions; without fail, he responds, usually within the same day. He has willingly answered questions about former teammates and opponents, always doing so with a tangible passion and a degree of genuine interest. I’ve never met him, but he treats me as if he knows me, as if we were lifelong friends.
Gosger’s enthusiastic involvement with Facebook has motivated me to learn more about his career. Gosger joined the professional ranks in 1962, signing a free agent contract with the Boston Red Sox. Due to the bonus baby rules of the time, he had to spend all of 1963 with the parent Red Sox, but almost certainly wasn’t ready for the major leagues. Coming to bat 19 times, the 20-year-old left-handed batter delivered only one hit. Not surprisingly, he went back to the minor leagues in 1964, before returning to Boston in 1965.
At the time, the Red Sox had a well-stocked outfield, with a star in left field (Carl Yastrzemski), a budding star in right field (Tony Conigliaro), and a competent center fielder in Lenny Green. Gosger ended up splitting time with Green in center and spelling an injured Conigliaro in right; he did well, putting up a respectable .729 OPS in 81 games. An excellent defensive player, Gosger backed up Green and Conigliaro, handling the two most demanding outfield positions at Fenway Park.
Playing with the Red Sox afforded Gosger the opportunity to watch Yastrzemski play every day. To this day, he admires Yaz’ legendary work habits. “Carl Yastrzemski was one of the best players I had the opportunity to play with,” Gosger says with little hesitation. “His work ethic and concentration were remarkable.”
That work ethic rubbed off on Gosger, who didn’t have the pure talent of the other Red Sox outfielders but made up for it with a degree of hustle that had some comparing him to Enos Slaughter. Gosger started the 1966 season in Boston, again playing a role as a backup, but then came the first shock to his system. Just two days before the June 15 trading deadline, the Red Sox sent him to the Kansas City A’s as part of a six-man deal for Jose Tartabull and John Wyatt.
For Gosger, the trade was a big break. He was never going to play much in Boston, given that he was stuck behind Yaz and Tony C. (And with Reggie Smith on the verge of taking over center field, that option was about to be exhausted, too.) The trade allowed Gosger to play more regularly. He again performed well defensively, where his speed and accurate throwing arm made a fan out of manager Alvin Dark. In turn, Dark became Gosger’s favorite manager. But his hitting suffered. He batted only .224 with five home runs in 272 at-bats with the A’s.
While the A’s were disappointed in Gosger’s hitting production, they had still had a major need for outfield help. So in 1967, they turned to Gosger as their starting left fielder. He reached base 33 percent of the time and brought speed and range to the outfield, but he lacked the power desired of a corner outfielder.
The 1967 season also exposed Gosger to the whims of owner Charlie Finley. Gosger says that the creative and unpredictable owner made Municipal Stadium in Kansas City an eventful place. “Playing for Charlie Finley was a different experience. He was a big promoter, always had something going on at the games. We also wore nice, colorful uniforms and nice white shoes that were purchased by the team. That was a fun time.”
One of Gosger’s 1967 teammates was another colorful character, Ken “Hawk” Harrelson. That summer, Harrelson made some disparaging remarks about Finley, reportedly referring to him as a “menace to baseball.” Those words enraged Finley. “The best thing that happened to Hawk was when Charlie tried to punish him by releasing him,” Gosger recalls. “But The Hawk got the last laugh by signing with the Red Sox and helping them win the pennant. It was reported that Harrelson got a $60,000 bonus when he signed with Boston. He sent Finley a dozen roses. We thought that was quite funny.”
In 1968, Gosger and the rest of the Athletics moved to Oakland, where Finley hoped for an improved ballpark and better attendance. Unfortunately, Gosger hit poorly and lost out on playing time to superior hitters like Joe Rudi (in left field) and Reggie Jackson (in right field). By season’s end, Gosger had a .180 batting average and no home runs. Not surprisingly, the A’s left him exposed to the expansion draft. The Seattle Pilots selected Gosger, taking him with the 55th pick of the draft.
Gosger opened the 1969 season as the Pilots’ starting center fielder, but he didn’t hit and soon found himself at Triple-A Vancouver. While in Seattle, he shared a clubhouse with journeyman pitcher Bouton. Like a number of teammates, Gosger had no idea that Ball Four was brewing. “We never knew Bouton was writing his famous book,” says Gosger. “But after reading it, I thought it was very funny. And everything in it was true.”
One particular line from Gosger became one of the most memorable and funny quotes in Ball Four. Upon learning that he had been demoted to Triple-A ball, Gosger admitted to Bouton, “You know, I didn’t think I was that bad a ballplayer, but they’re making a believer out of me.”
Gosger liked his manager in Seattle, Joe Schultz, but says he “didn’t have much managing ability.” With the Pilots having an excess of outfielders, Gosger was stuck in Triple-A and soon became expendable. In late July, the Pilots sent him to the Mets as the player to be named later in the deal that brought Greg Goossen to Seattle. At the time, Gosger had no idea that he was about to be joining a team headed to the World Series. After spending some additional time in Triple-A, he moved up to the Mets in September and appeared in 10 games, allowing him to be with the team as it erased its divisional deficit with the Chicago Cubs and overtook first place. Although he would not be eligible for postseason play and received only a $100 World Series share, Gosger could boast to being a small part of a World Series championship club.
After the Mets won the World Series, Gosger started moving again. In December, the Mets traded him to the San Francisco Giants, but he never played a game in the Bay Area. Before he could make an appearance for the Giants, who had a larger glut of outfielders than the Mets or the Pilots, the franchise re-routed him to the Montreal Expos. For the next two seasons, Gosger played his fair share in Montreal, where he split time in center field with Adolfo Phillips and Boots Day and backed up Rusty Staub in right field. He eventually lost his starting job because of a sprained wrist suffered in the spring of 1971.
The Expos gave him some playing time, along with a terrific new fan base. “I loved playing in Montreal; the fans were outstanding, the park [Jarry Park] was fun to play in and I just fell in love with the city.” At the time, the Gosgers had young children, who sometimes stayed with a nanny. “I’ve been back a couple times to visit our babysitter and their family.”
In 1973, Gosger returned to the Mets, but once again missed out on postseason play. He played in 26 more games in 1974, drawing his release at season’s end. Now 31, Gosger had seen enough. He decided to retire. His career had lasted 10 seasons, largely because of his work ethic and his willingness to hustle.
The Mets promised Gosger a coaching job in their system, but never delivered on the verbal agreement. So Gosger turned to officiating. He worked as a referee in basketball and football, and as an umpire in baseball. He continued to officiate through 2015, until deciding to back off because of some physical concerns.
“My retirement has been good, although I’ve had to have both knees and my hip replaced,” says Gosger. “The hip is still pretty sore. I’ve had three operations on it. Most of my time now is spent getting my golf game better.”
When he’s not on the golf course, Gosger spends a good deal of time on Facebook, connecting with former teammates and rivals, fans who watched him in the 1960s, and fans who never even saw him play. At 73, he is a man with something to say.
So if you’re on Facebook, and you get a friend request from someone named Jim Gosger, do something smart and don’t turn it down.
References & Resources
- Jim Bouton, Ball Four
- Jim Gosger’s player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library