Goodman, Billy

Player Name: Goodman, Billy
Positions: Second base, first base, third base
Birthplace: Concord

First, Middle Names: William Dale
Date of Birth:  March 22, 1926       Date and Place of Death: Oct. 1, 1984, Sarasota, FL
Burial: Mount Olivet Methodist Church Cemetery, Concord

High School: Winecoff High School, Winecoff, NC
College: Did not attend

Bats: L             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-11, 165
Debut Year: 1947       Final Year: 1962          Years Played: 16
Teams and Years: Boston Red Sox, 1947-57; Baltimore Orioles, 1957; Chicago White Sox, 1958-1961; Houston Colt 45s, 1962

Awards: NC Sports Hall of Fame, 1969; batting title, 1950; All-Star, 1949, 1952

 Career Summary
G               AB          H            R          RBI      HR       BA.       OBP.     SLG.      WAR
1623      5644     1691    807    591      19        .300     .376      .378       26.9

Billy Goodman played everywhere on the infield and most spots in the outfield during his 16-year career. That he could play so many positions and play them well surprised most veteran baseball people. To many of  them, the guy didn’t even look like a ballplayer, let alone like the most versatile one to ever put on a uniform. At 5-foot, 11 inches and maybe 165 pounds, Goodman was “built like an undernourished ribbon clerk,” noted the Saturday Evening Post.[I] He looked almost frail and certainly out of place.

“I’ve never seen a ballplayer like Goodman. He fools you more than any other player I can remember,” said Jimmy Brown, a fellow North Carolinian and an All-Star second baseman who first saw Goodman when he managed in the minors after his playing days. “The first time I saw him he was playing the outfield. He didn’t look like an outfielder but he could go and get them.  Then I saw him playing shortstop. He didn’t field like a shortstop but he dug them out of the dirt. He didn’t throw like a shortstop but I didn’t see him make a bad throw. And he always got his man.”[II]

Most so-called utility players are known primarily for their defensive skills, but Goodman was even better at the plate then he was in the field. He wasn’t a power hitter – he hit only 19 home runs in his career – but the little lefty sprayed the ball all over the field on the way to a career .300 batting average, tied for fourth-highest among North Carolina natives with at least 1,000 lifetime at bats. He’s a leader in nine other offensive categories as well. In one of the most-unusual seasons in baseball history, Goodman played six different positions in 1950 and won a batting title while doing it. The two-time All-Star was also almost impossible to strike out. He had more than a 1,100 at bats during the 1953 and ’54 seasons, for instance, and struck out only 26 times.

Joe McCarthy had seen some pretty fair players during his run as the New York Yankees’ skipper. Stars like Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Bill Dickey and Frank Crosetti had helped him win eight pennants. One could say that Marse Joe had seen them all. Then, he came out of retirement in 1948 to manage the Boston Red Sox and first laid eyes on Billy Goodman. “Look at that boy,” he said admiringly of the rookie that spring. “He’s all ballplayer.”[III]

The second of three brothers, William Dale Goodman was born in 1926 in Winecoff, a small community that once existed north of Concord in Cabarrus County. Named after one of the area’s prominent families, it has since disappeared amid the clutter of Interstate 85. The Goodman boys grew up on their father Fred’s 300-acre dairy farm. The family’s roots ran deep in that part of Cabarrus. The boys’ grandfather, C.J. Goodman, owned the ancestral homestead up the road.

Goodman was a three-sport star at Winecoff High School.[1] Although he was voted the best all-around athlete in the school as a senior in 1943, he wasn’t particularly noted for his baseball skills. He was the high scorer and captain of the basketball team for two seasons and a star halfback on the football team. As a baseball player, he was “steady and dangerous, but never spectacular,” a former teammate remembered.[IV]

It was during childhood that Goodman began honing his skills at various positions on the diamond. Small kids, he once explained, play more if they’re willing to go wherever needed. As a senior in high school, he often pitched one game and caught the next.

He played semipro ball for a season after he graduated and in 1944 signed with the Crackers in Atlanta, Georgia. Playing second base and in the outfield, Goodman was an All-Star for his first professional team, hitting .336 and leading the Class A Southern Association in runs scored.

Inducted into the Navy after the season, Goodman spent the remainder of World War II serving in the western Pacific.[2] He was discharged in June 1946 and was back with the Crackers a month later, picking up where he left off. He hit .389 in those last 86 games and .418 in the playoff.

The Red Sox bought his contract the following February for $75,000, or almost $900,000 today. He got his first look at major-league pitching during an intrasquad game that spring against Boo Ferris, who had won 25 games the previous season. Goodman reached for an outside pitch with “the ease of a grocer’s clerk reaching for a package of biscuits” and ripped a line double to left, reported the Sporting News.[V] Though he made his major-league debut in 1947, Goodman played in only a dozen games for the Red Sox before being sent to their Class AAA club in Louisville, Kentucky, where he hit .340.

Goodman made the big-league team in 1948 but cracking the starting lineup was a tall order. The Red Sox were a talented bunch that featured perennial All-Stars all over the field.[3] As would be the case for most of his career, Goodman didn’t have a starting position when the season began, but he was soon filling in for the injured Bobby Doerr at second base. He moved to first on May 25 after an injury sidelined another teammate and remained there for the rest of the season, finishing with a .310 average.

Over the next decade, Goodman became Boston’s one-man bench, competently filling in for injured or slumping teammates at numerous positions. The exception was 1950, one of the few seasons he started with an assigned role. He was slated to be the Red Sox’s first baseman, but irony intervened. He fractured his ankle early in the season, and Walt Dropo was called up from Louisville to take his place. Dropo started crushing homers at a steady pace and would end up leading the American League with 144 runs batted in. He would be named the league’s Rookie of Year.

When he returned after a few weeks, Goodman once again had nowhere to play. Then, the Red Sox’s stars started dropping with alarming regularity, but Goodman was there to step in: for Doerr at second, for Vern Stephens at short, for Johnny Pesky at third, even for the great Ted Williams in left. The loss of Williams, who broke his elbow during the All-Star Game, was considered a mortal blow to the team’s pennant hopes. “But Billy the Kid outWilliamsed Williams,” wrote Arthur Daley of The New York Times, “again giving the team that tremendous inspirational lift he always furnishes.”[VI]

He was hitting .355 by the first of August and was the top hitter in the American League. “I don’t care where I play, as long as I play,” he said.[VII]

Steve O’Neill, who had replaced McCarthy as the team’s manager during the season, had never seen anyone like Goodman. “I think he’d be able to pitch if I asked him to pitch,” he said. “He’s the marvel of baseball.”[VIII]

No marvel, however, could long take the place of the Splendid Splinter. Goodman would again be without a job when Williams returned in mid-September and without the required at bats to qualify for the batting crown. Pesky, though, made it easy on O’Neill. In an act of selflessness rare then and unheard of today, he volunteered to give up his position. “I’ll gladly sit on the bench if it means we will win the pennant,” Pesky, who was hitting .314 at the time, explained. “Steve (O’Neill) owes it to Bill to play him after what he’s done to keep the team up there.”[IX]

Goodman ended the season at third base. Though the Red Sox didn’t win the pennant – they came in third – the super utility man won the batting title going away with a .354 average. He finished second to the Yankees’ Phil Rizzuto as the league’s Most Valuable Player.

During his decade in Boston, Goodman was an All-Star twice but never played in a World Series. That happened in 1959 with the Chicago White Sox. He had been traded two years earlier to the Baltimore Orioles, with whom he had played a season before ending up in Chicago. Goodman platooned at first base for the “Go-Go” White Sox, which won their first pennant since the Black Sox scandal of 1919.[4] He batted .350 during the season and played in five of the six Series games against the Los Angeles Dodgers and got three hits, all singles.

Used sparingly during the next two seasons, Goodman angrily left the White Sox training camp after a salary dispute in 1962 and signed with the expansion Houston Colt 45s. He hit .255 in a utility role and was released at the end of the year.

After a season as the player/manager for the Durham, North Carolina, Bulls, Goodman spent 12 years as a minor-league instructor and scout for several teams. He retired from baseball in 1976.

Goodman had married Margaret Little, his childhood sweetheart, in 1947. They had moved to Sarasota, Florida, three years later where they had raised their two children. In the offseasons, Goodman would wake his daughter up for a breakfast he always made, pick her up at school, take her fishing or hunting and allow her to pal around with his close baseball friends, such as Pesky and Williams. “He was totally my idol, the coolest man I’ve ever known,” Kathy Goodman Simpkins remembered years later.[X]

After retiring, he continued to run his successful commercial real-estate business and to manage his 30-acre orange grove. He also helped Margaret with her antiques business. He became ill with multiple myeloma in 1983 and died a year later. Margaret was once asked if she ever thought of remarrying. “Oh no,” she said. “We grew up together and there’s one love in a lifetime, and I had him.”[XI]

She died in 2011.

Footnotes
[1] The first school opened on the site of the present elementary school in 1877. Martin Henderson Winecoff donated the land, cut the timber and helped build the school so that his children and those of his neighbors would have a local school to attend. C.J. Goodman, Billy’s grandfather, also donated land and provided housing for the teachers. The school has been a high school, middle school and elementary school. https://www.cabarrus.k12.nc.us/domain/1112.
[2] Billy Goodman was stationed in Ulithi, an atoll in the Caroline Islands in the southwestern Pacific Ocean so tiny and remote that it was often left off maps. It’s made up of 40 islets almost 1,000 miles east of the Philippines. They total about two square miles of land, surrounding a lagoon. Most barely rise above the sea and only four are inhabited. The deep, calm anchorage afforded by the lagoon attracted the Navy, which made it a major staging area for in the final year of WWII.
[3] The Red Sox All-Stars during the 10 years Billy Goodman was on the team, 1947-56, and the number of times they were chosen: Left fielder, Ted Williams, 9;  second baseman Bobby Doerr, 4; shortstop Vern Stephens, 4; center fielder Dom DiMaggio, 4; catcher Birdie Tebbetts, 2; and right fielder Al Zarilla, 1.
[4] In the Black Sox Scandal , eight players with the Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. In response, team owners appointed Kenesaw Mountain Landis as the major leagues’ first commissioner with absolute authority to restore the sport’s integrity. Landis banished the accused players from baseball.

References
[I] Anderson, Ron. “Billy Goodman.” Society of American Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/billy-goodman/.
[II] Hurwitz, Hy. “Jimmy Brown Sings Praises of Goodman and Babe Martin.” Boston Globe, April 9, 1948.
[III] Marin, Whitney. Associated Press. “Versatile Bill Goodman Keeping Bosox in Race.” Charlotte (NC) Observer, August 23, 1950.
[IV] Anderson.
[V] Anderson.
[VI] Daley, Arthur. “Sports of the Times.” The New York Times, February 2, 1951.
[VII] Ibid.
[VIII] Allen, Eddie. “Sports Asides.” Charlotte (NC) Observer, August 24, 1950.
[IX] Holbrook, Bob. “Pesky Suggested Goodman Stay In on Ted’s Return.” Boston Globe, September 15, 1950.
[X] “Art of the Red Sox: Baseball Great Billy Goodman Part of Rockwell Masterpiece.” Salisbury (NC) Post, May 11, 2014.
[XI] Anderson.