Former major league baseball player Greg Goossen passed away on Feb. 26 at the age of 65. In August 2009, Brad Powers and I interviewed Greg for our documentary “The Seattle Pilots: Short Flight Into History.” Just before we got started that day, as the camera rolled, he told us he was having a problem with one of his teeth. He turned away for a second to deal with the problem and then turned back and faced the camera. Brad asked if he was ready and he nodded, “yes.”
So Brad asked the first question and when Greg opened his mouth to answer, he revealed the most hideous pair of novelty teeth I had ever seen. He started to answer the question but he was quickly drowned out by the sound of our laughter. He took the teeth out and gave us a funny, revealing, even touching interview. Greg was one of baseball’s good guys and he is missed. The following is the transcript of the interview. It has been edited for clarity. ~ Steve Cox
Steve Cox and Brad Powers: How did you end up on the Pilots?
Greg Goossen: I started out with the Dodgers in 1964. I was put on waivers. Here’s the interesting part: about a week before they broke camp in 1965, they didn’t keep me on the roster and put me on waivers and 19 clubs put in bids for me. The Mets picked me up and I thought I had a chance to do good things in New York. While I was struggling in New York, in 1965 the Dodgers won the World Series—and I was that close to making the roster.
I spent four years with the Mets, in last place losing 100 games a year. In the Spring of 1969 they trade me to the Seattle Pilots. The Seattle who? And, as you know, the Mets won the World Series that year. The interesting thing was the transition from New York to Seattle. When you were in New York and you played for the Mets—like Casey Stengel said—the babies born in New York didn’t go “mommy, daddy,” they went “Metsy, Metsy.”
So I’m in Seattle and in a bar, up came this young woman and we were just talking. No big deal. I felt sort of full of myself because I was in the big leagues again. I’d just come up from Vancouver. She goes, “what do you do for a living?” I go, “Well, I’m with the Pilots.” And she says, “Oh really? That’s interesting. What airline?” And I said, “No. The Seattle Pilots. The baseball club.” And she had this blank stare on her face. And I just said, “TWA.” And she went, “Oh! That’s good.”
That was the difference right there. I went to Vancouver. I started off with the big league club and then was sent down to the Triple-A club. I had a good year going .300, 18 home runs. I used to call up the big club and say, “when are you going to call me up—I’m doing well.” They said, “we’re going to take our time.”
They finally called me up around this time of the year (August). We had our first game—I think I was there for Mike Hegan—he was on reserve duty. I thought after his two weeks were up I’d be gone. But I went 3-4 the first day with a home run. Hit two home runs a couple of days later so they were forced to keep me. But I enjoyed it immensely in Seattle. It broke my heart when they moved.
SC/BP: How did you feel about Sick’s?
GG: Loved it. When I was a kid we watched old Hollywood movies about baseball, they weren’t these luxurious ballyards—they were ballyards like Sick’s. Nothing better than the advertisements on the walls and they were all different. There isn’t a ballpark like Sick’s Stadium. There isn’t a ballpark like Wrigley field. There isn’t a ballpark like Fenway. I loved those parks. The lighting could have been better. I loved it. Of course I did very well there. I hit double-digit home runs there in very few short games. Loved it.
SC/BP What did you do after the 1969 season?
GG: That was a journey that broke my heart. I used to say, “well I played and they got rid of me.” To me, Joe Schultz who managed Seattle was the smartest manager I ever met in my life. You know why? He played me! It’s the truth. I deemed him a genius. And not knowing whether we were going to leave Seattle, well, we were there in spring training on the last day and had no idea. I thought if we stayed in Seattle and Joe was still there I would have been the starting first baseman. No doubt. I hit .309 in Seattle. Ten home runs, 24 RBIs in 57 times at bat which is…I should have played even more when I was with Seattle.
Dave Bristol was the manager in Milwaukee—or Seattle at the time. We didn’t get along well at all. I damn near didn’t make the club, much less start. I broke camp with them and ended up with Milwaukee. Not for long though, about a month and Bristol got rid of me.
SC/BP: Besides his tactical abilities, what did you think of Joe Schultz?
GG: He was great with the players. I mean, by the time they get to the big leagues, what are you going to tell them? Their path is sort of marked. The human element like in football or any other sport means so much. You really want to go out and win for them. I wanted to go out and win for Joe so badly. He was a good man. A good man to play for.
SC/BP: How did you feel about all of the important events happening in the world that summer?
GG: I was in this cocoon. Just completely focused on the baseball season. Of course I knew about it, but I didn’t dwell over it. I dwelled over what I needed to do to hit .300, who the pitcher was the next day—was he a left-hander? Because then I’d be playing. Baseball drew my attention then. I don’t know if I was wrong or right not delving into it more, but I had a job to do. I loved the game so much I wanted to keep on doing it.
SC/BP: What did you think about the crowds in Seattle?
GG: There is not a thing about Seattle that I didn’t love. I mean if we had stayed here and I played 20 years here and the Dodgers wanted me or Chicago—I wouldn’t take any money. I was the happiest guy in the world and part of it was my teammates. A lot of it was my teammates.
There was not an ego on the team. There were guys who were up and coming down. Or guys who never got a chance. There were guys who had been on World Series teams like Ray Oyler for Detroit. They were the greatest bunch of guys I’d ever been around in my life. I went to a card signing with the Mets and it was difficult. I’m not going to name names, but they had won a couple of World Series and you could just see the egos working. With Seattle it was just so smooth. So great. Loved it.
SC/BP Was it because they played in New York?
GG: That’s quite possible, but I played in New York for four years. I’m not saying I’m any better than anybody with ego, I mean I had plenty of ego. I didn’t express it in a way that would really irritate.
SC/BP Do you think playing in Seattle made people humble?
GG: Possibly. But egos are egos. We had guys there that were—let’s say Tommy Davis playing with guys who were far inferior to what he was at his top and Steve Barber. I mean Bob Locker—guys that had set a mark in this game. Don Mincher—on many a championship team. They just took it easy. We were all congenial. It might have been Seattle. Might have been. I’ve never given it that much thought.
SC/BP: What kind of job did Jim Bouton do in capturing the team in Ball Four?
GG: I’ve got two sides now: Bouton who I liked and teammates who I liked and loved. Bouton I loved because he was a teammate. He captured the shear immature funniness that brought you to the game. I mean grown-ups don’t do that stuff. Grown-ups don’t do what he mentioned in the book. There’s an old saying, “you have to grow old, but you can stay immature all your life.” It was just maybe a way to relieve pressure. It was the greatest thing about baseball—you could be 30, 40 and act like a 16-year-old. I don’t know if that’s what people dream to do, but it was something we did.
SC/BP: Most people can’t get away with that.
GG: Yeah, they can’t. In most jobs, no. It is quite attractive when you think about it.
SC/BP: How would you sum up your time with the Pilots?
GG: It was wonderful. I struggled. I was not a quick starter. I was always a slow starter. They said, “you only hit .140.” Well, you know, that’s pinch-hitting 30 times in a year at 19-years-old. My first year in the big leagues I was 19. And when they run you from the bullpen and say “hurry up, hurry up. Get in there!” You can’t really watch the pitcher from that distance. If you’re going to be a pinch hitter, you have to sit on the bench and you gotta see what he’s doing—how he’s throwing.
One time there was a lefty was up to bat. The pitcher was right-handed but he was taking great swings off of him. He was 0-2 and they bring in a left-hander. I get a call from the bullpen. This is my opportunity to play—an 0-2 count.
First pitch I smash down the line in left field—goes about that far foul (indicates about an inch). Now with men on base it would have put the winning run across and I would have made my mark. Then I popped out on the next pitch. Come in with 0-2, you’re in the hole. That’s no place to put a 19-year-old kid—especially when he’s trying to win a job. Pinch hitting’s different than getting up there and trying to jack one out of the park to open someone’s eyes.
It’s funny how it works out. This sticks in my mind so much. Gil Hodges, with the Mets, God rest his soul, was going to start me against left-handers. Said, “we’ll see how he does.” He started me in St. Louis. I went 1-4, grounded out a couple of times. And I didn’t play again. That was my chance to show I was big-league material. Then 30-years-later I thought, “what am I worried about—that was Steve Carlton! He’s in the Hall of Fame!” That was my shot! I guess I’m complaining more than I used to. I never complained about this before, but I’m just being honest now.
SC/BP: How do you feel about this Pilots reunion? (August 30-31, 2009 in Seattle).
GG: Brad and Steve, this is something we’ve looked forward to for many a year. I think just to be with each other again, because we were such a close unit. It’s too bad we didn’t win more. Just putting this together had to be difficult, especially in these economic times. Especially with the tens of thousands of dollars you’re paying me to be here. Laughs.
BP: I think you’d better check with your agent again..
GG: Yes, my agent from baseball. Someone asked “so, who’s your agent?” And I said, “agent?!?” They would have thrown my ass right out of the office. In fact, I didn’t even go to the office! Laughs. It was a different game then, when I played. Way different. I actually thought anybody in high school could play in the big leagues. That’s what they told you so you wouldn’t open your mouth.
SC/BP: Was it better or worse?
GG: One of my fondest memories of baseball was not my paycheck. After the game the guys would chat and then we’d drink some beer. Nobody had enough money to go out and buy it so they would supply beer. And we’d drink and I’d listen to the old-timers—the experience talking—they would finally open up and talk about baseball. I learned more talking about baseball after a ballgame than I did during a whole Spring training camp.
SC/BP: Joe Schultz was famous for saying…
GG: Pound that Budweiser. Pound that Budweiser.
SC/BP: How did he say it?
GG: Well, you have to do the whole thing with the limp and he’d always take off his glasses and say, “men, pound that Budweiser tonight. Pound that Budweiser.” Laughs. Win or lose or draw he didn’t care. He was a tremendous man. He threw the bats and balls to us and said, “go play.” If we’d stuck together for a few years, we might have been the New York Mets. But it takes time. Takes time.
Joe was tremendous. He said something to me in Kansas City—I don’t know if it’s repeatable—I’ve got daughters to contend with and granddaughters. We’re getting our butts kicked by Kansas City and I’m thinking his job’s on the line and he’s going to be tight and mad. He takes off his glasses, wipes them down and says, “Goose, have you ever gotten laid in this town?” Laughs. I go, “you know skip, no. It’s terrible down here like Cleveland.” Nothing against you Clevelandites. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. He was a great, good man.
SC/BP: Any particular stories you remember?
GG: With Seattle, right? I had a reputation for staying out and once in a while drinking too much. The guy I stayed at the Ramada Inn with was a guy named George Brunet. George was an old-time ballplayer, a left-hander. Gritty guy. A couple months before the end of the season, Dewey Soriano, the owner of the Pilots, throws a party out of the blue. So we’re going to a party. I’m getting dressed and George comes over to my place and goes, “now, Goose, you’re doing well right now, but you gotta be careful when you go in there. We’re gonna go in there, have a couple of drinks, say, ‘hello, Mr. Soriano, hello (Pilots General Manager) Mr. Milkes and then leave. I’m doing this to protect you. Understand, Greg?”
I said, “Sure. Okay.” He was an older guy, and you respected older guys. So, we take George’s car and we drive to the party and we’re having a couple of drinks and I look over and here comes George with Marvin Milkes in a headlock. And he goes, “now Goose there is hitting the ball real good, ain’t he Marv?” And Milkes says (imitating Milkes struggling to speak), “Yeah.” And George says, “well, give him a raise. How does $15,000 sound?” (as Milkes) “I’ll think about it, George.” Laughs. He lets him go and I say, “George, you’re killing me.” And Milkes says, “ah, don’t worry about it. George has had a couple of drinks.”
He’s gone now, so I can tell this story. All of a sudden there’s a knock on the door. It’s a cab driver and he goes, “who called a cab?” There’s still a lot of guys there. And George says, “I did.” And I said, “George, we drove here.” And he says, “I know, I know. Just take my word for it.” He gives the cab driver, I don’t know, $30 bucks and says, “drive to the Ramada Inn. I’ll follow you. I forgot how to get there.” Laughs. That was his big, “one night—we’ll say hello and goodbye.” I was all primed for it.