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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Jim Gosger: Living the Dream

Playing major league baseball is the dream of many, ranging from young boys to old men. The lucky few who get the opportunity to fulfill that goal carry the memories with them for the rest of their lives, no matter if they got to play in one game or thousands. Jim Gosger was one of the lucky ones, who by playing professional baseball, not only realized his own dream, but also one held by his father. 

Gosger was a left-handed throwing and hitting outfielder from Port Huron, Michigan, who signed with the Boston Red Sox in 1962. His father had dreamt of playing professional ball himself, but his service in the war prevented that from happening. Instead he concentrated on helping his son do what he had not been able to accomplish.

Boston was in flux in 1962, having recently seen their franchise stalwart Ted Williams depart following the 1960 season. This left the Red Sox outfield wide open for prospects like Gosger, who was seen as a line drive hitter with an excellent arm. The team was searching for new stars to help take them into the next generation, and wanted to evaluate as many candidates as possible.

In 1962 Gosger showed a lot of promise by hitting .283 in his first professional season, in the Carolina League, with 19 home runs and 83 RBI. Although he was raw, he ended up spending the entire 1963 season in Boston because of the bonus rules of the time. He barely got off the bench, and went 1-16 at the plate, with his first major league hit coming off Frank Lary and Detroit. Most importantly, spending the entire year in Boston gave him the experience of what it was like to be a major league player.

Gosger never panned out as a long term starter with the Red Sox or any other team, but he was a solid player who was capable of steady production off the bench or in spot starting duty. He ended up playing 10 seasons in the majors, with the Red Sox, Athletics, Mets, and Expos. He hit .226 in 705 career games, with 30 home runs and 177 RBI. He always did his best against his hometown Tigers, producing 5 home runs and 21 RBI, his best against any one team. He also had his only major league two home run game, against the Tigers, in 1966 off Denny McClain. More information about Gosger’s career statistics is available at

Not only was Gosger able to realize a dream, but he was able to savor it. He may not have been a star, but was good enough to play baseball at the highest level in the world for a decade. He still has many wonderful memories from his experience, and recently shared some of them with me.

Jim Gosger Interview:

How did you first become interested in baseball?: Well, to be honest with you, it was my father’s dream. Since I was a little guy we used to go to the ball park. My Dad had a chance to sign to be a professional ballplayer, but because of the war he wasn’t able to go. So, I guess I was next in line. He told me after I had signed a contract that he had kicked my butt for one reason to play baseball. That was his dream and it was my dream. We both fulfilled our dreams I guess.

Did you have a favorite team or player when you were growing up?: I always admired Ted Williams. Most of the time we went down to the Tigers’ games it was usually against Boston. I think Dad kind of liked Boston too. He told me when we went down there, he said, ‘someday you will be on that field.’ It came true.

I worked hard, and ironically my hitting instructor my first year was Ted Williams. It was pretty neat.

What was Ted Williams like as a coach?: Especially when you were in the batting cage, he was very quiet and would sit there and watch you. He’s come in and he’d say, ‘Okay, let’s try it like this.’ In other words he never told you that you were doing anything wrong, he’s always say, ‘Let’s try this.’ It was the right way. It was the way that he learned how to hit, and he was just instructing us, and I was very fortunate.

I was projected when I went to spring training to go to Pocatello, Idaho, which was Class C ball. But he had told the manager in Class B that he should take me in Class B. So I ended up starting my minor league career in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. 

That was nice that he liked the way I played and the way I swung the bat. He said, ‘You’ll make it. Not a problem.’ Something like that, when somebody like that says that, it gives you a lot of confidence.

What was the whole process like when you got signed by Boston in 1962?: I was playing with a semi-pro team here. I had gone to college. I was attending a junior college here and I was playing semi-pro ball with a team.

My Grandfather had known a scout out of Detroit whose name was Maurice DeLoof. He was a Boston scout, but I had a couple of other teams. The Cubs came by and Cleveland came by. My Dad just was not happy with the situation with a couple of the clubs, especially Cleveland. The guy had come in here and said he didn’t think I could make the big leagues, but he would give me a chance. Then my Dad told him to leave the house.

But the guy that really signed me was Maurice DeLoof. He signed me to a progressive bonus at that time, which meant that for each league that I moved up into, I would get a bonus. I signed for a minimum bonus. Unfortunately in the second year they had to protect me under the Bonus Rule and I went right to the big leagues and I sat on the bench in ’63 and got to bat, I don’t know, I think 17 or 18 times. Got my first hit in Detroit against Frank Lary, and that was pretty much the way it started. It was one of the Dad’s dreams to have me play, and I tried to fulfill it for him. 

What is your favorite moment from your playing career?: I would think that my most memorable or favorite moment was hitting a home run off Whitey Ford the first time I ever faced him. That was in ’65 in Boston.

I remember I had come up at the All-Star break and Gary Geiger had broken his wrist and Lenny Green had broke his ankle. I was playing in Toronto and they called me up the last half of the year. When I went up to bat against Ford, I had asked Eddie Bressoud and Frank Malzone, I said, ‘What do I look for?’ They said, ‘Look for the ball.’ He threw me a high slider and I hit it in the nets in left field. That was a big thrill.

At the minor league level my first year, I drove in 10 runs in one game in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Tony Perez was at third base. We were good friends. I just had a good day, that’s all. 

What was your favorite thing to do to pass time while on road trips?: Go to movies.

Who was your favorite coach or manager?: Alvin Dark, Kansas City- 1966-67.

Who was the toughest pitcher you ever faced?: Left-handed would probably be Sam McDowell and right-handed would be Nolan Ryan. And Nolan was my teammate. 

I had went to Montreal from the Mets. I remember we had opened up against the Mets in Montreal, and I think they had taken 5,000 cartloads of snow off the field so we could play. Ryan was pitching and Mauch told me to go up there and pinch hit, and I said, ‘Are you kidding?’ He said, ‘No, go ahead.’ First two pitches I swung and missed. The first one he had thrown me a breaking ball and the second was a high heater, and that was it. Mauch said ‘Why didn’t you wing at that last one?’ I said, ‘Cause I didn’t see it.’

What was the strangest play you ever saw?: A fly ball hit Roman Mejias in the head.

Can you talk a little more about that?: Oh my God, it was one of the funniest things I ever saw. We were playing in Yankee Stadium and he was playing left field. There was a fly ball out there and I was in center field, and he said, ‘I have it! I have it!’ And I said, ‘Okay.’ He put his glove up and it hit him right, square on the top of the head. I just turned around and started laughing. He was a great hitter, but fielding-wise it was an adventure.

After you retired, was it difficult to adapt being out of baseball?: Well you know, when I was with the Mets, I got released by the Mets. Joe McDonald told me that wanted me to be a batting instructor for Triple-A in Tidewater, Virginia. I said, ‘Great, I’d love to do that.’ He said, ‘I’ll give you a call.’ That was in 1974 and this is now 2011, and he hasn’t called yet.

I always wanted to go back and coach. I didn’t care about coaching at the major league level unless it happened, but I always wanted to work with the younger players. I had a lot of good experiences and I had a lot of good managers, and I wanted to instill some of this into the young players, but just never got the chance. I was coaching one of the JV last year up here in this area, and I had a ball with it; an absolute ball.

If you could do anything about your playing career differently, what would that be?: Andrew, it was the best 13 years of my life. I saw the whole world for nothing. I got to play in the best ballparks. I was more or less a marginal player, but I was lucky. I was in the right spot at the right time.

What have you done since you left baseball?: I did a lot of officiating. I officiated college basketball, high school football, basketball, and baseball. I have been in it for about 35 years. 


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