The true grit of Greg Goossen (1945-2011)

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The Associated Press
Greg Goossen, left, hits in the New York Mets spring training batting cages under the eye of manager Casey Stengel, right, in 1965. The photo is one of many hanging on Goossen’s living room apartment wall.

In Greg Goossen’s modest second-story apartment in Sherman Oaks, about the distance of one of his home runs away from the Notre Dame High School campus where five decades later he’s still revered as one of its greatest athletes, the photographs framed all over his living room walls tell the stories of his many lives.

They’ll give you some goosebumps if you aren’t prepared for it. From an abbreviated, roller coaster six-year major league baseball career, to helping his brothers Dan and Joe run the famed Ten Goose Gym for championship fighters in Van Nuys, to movie roles that friend Gene Hackman found for him.

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Yet, if you ever started to veer off the tracks and feel some twinges of remorse hearing about how close he came to big-league fame – there is he in spring training with the Dodgers in 1964, with Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, right before the Mets snatched him away on waivers and never allowing him to play a game for his hometown team – that was quickly drowned out by the sound of him trying to get a laugh out of you instead with some dead-pan humor.

So where was Goossen and his gravely, true-grit laugh last week when his friends and family needed to hear it most?

He was late for his enshrinement in the first Notre Dame Athletic Hall of Fame banquet last Saturday night. Turns out, he suffered a fatal heart attack back at his apartment. The father of three and grandfather of four was 65.

“Doesn’t it seem like this is just the sum total of all the heartbreak he had in his life — just missing here, just missing there?” wondered Jim Bouton, speaking from his home in Massachusetts.

The man who gave Goossen his most prominent place in pop culture history as one of the main characters from the 1969 Seattle Pilots in the groundbreaking book “Ball Four” was now trying to write a final chapter in his life.

“He was sort of on the fringe of everything – an extra, but never the star,” Bouton continued. “And now, after all these years, they’re about to bestow him the highest honor for his high school, one more round of laughter, waving and thanking his family and friends . . . and he’s denied all that again?”

Goossen couldn’t even get the last, ironic laugh about his dramatic exit. The passing of Dodgers Hall of Famer Duke Snider instead stole his thunder.

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“The Good Lord couldn’t have given him just one more night?” asked Pete Rose, on the phone from Las Vegas, who had become close friends with the Goossen family since moving to Sherman Oaks. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

Maybe it’s best that Josh Goossen-Brown, a sophomore on the Cal State Northridge baseball team, has been in Beaumont, Texas, playing in a tournament this week.

Uncle Greg “meant everything to me,” he said. “He was my hero. He accomplished what my dreams are – going from Notre Dame to the big leagues. Sometimes, it’d seem like he’d come out of nowhere and just be in the bleachers at my games. I’ve always wanted to make him proud.”

On the morning after Greg Goossen’s death, Josh’s Matadors had a doubleheader against Valparaiso on the CSUN campus. The 20-year-old sat out the opener, but was more than composed coming into the second game. He finished off a 5-2 win pitching 4 1/3 innings of relief, striking out six with no walks and getting his first Division-I save.

He walked off the mound as the game ended, did the sign of the cross, and pointed to his uncle in the sky. Dan Goossen, watching from the stands, broke down crying.

“A lot of people didn’t really know how humble of a person Greg was,” said Dan. “Everyone else was the star in the room instead of him.”

“Such a sweet, sweet man,” said Bouton. “He took self-deprecation to a new level.”

“He was a tough SOB, that’s why he made it,” said Rose, part of Goossen’s regular lunch crew at their favorite Italian restaurant. “He could have been in the big leagues 15 years.

“I just know Greg’s in a better place now, looking down, laughing his butt off, wishing he could chime in with all the guys at the table.”

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At a memorial service set for Thursday at the tiny St. Francis de Sales Church near his home, the sound of Goossen’s laugh will be in everyone’s hearts.

“I’ll tell you what,” added Rose, “they’re gonna have to move that service to the Rose Bowl, there’ll be so many people there.”

Enough for Goose to give everyone goosebumps one last time.

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The Media Learning Curve: Feb. 18-March 4

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Following up on the return of the media column (linked here), and looking for more gravy to add to the crock of smashed potatoes that will rival anything else served up to you on a silver platter:

== Richard Deitsch’s SI.com “media power list” for February (linked here) includes the Poynter hiring by ESPN, and includes a link to his Q-and-A with their leaders (linked here). He also has a link to the “scathing piece” on Poynter’s website by former New York Times writer David Cay Johnston after news broke that Nike had been paying a group of ESPN on-air talent to serve as emcees.

== With Spero Dedes doing CBS’ coverage of the Oregon-Arizona game on Saturday from Tucson, Ariz. (Channel 2, 11 a.m., with Bob Wenzel), Bill Macdonald will handle the Lakers’ radio play-by-play of tonight’s game against Charlotte for KSPN-AM (710).

CBS is also pushing its Duke-North Carolina game coverage (Saturday, 5 p.m.) into East Coast prime time, the first time the two schools will meet in that window for non-ESPN network TV. Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg call it. CBS will also use analyst Reggie Miller on his first college game, as prep work for the upcoming NCAA Tournament, when he does Kentucky-Tennessee on Sunday with Kevin Harlan (Channel 2, 9 a.m.).

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== Blake Griffin’s behind-the-scenes performance at the NBA All-Star weekend is documented in an NBA TV special that premieres today (3 p.m.) with several replays. The Lakers’ Kobe Bryant admits during the half-hour piece: “Let me tell you what the significance of Blake Griffin is: he had me dunking tonight (during the All-Star Game).”

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== Interesting first-person piece by Armen Keteyian on CBSnews.com (linked here) about how that organization worked with Sports Illustrated to produce the magazine’s cover story about college football players who have criminal records.

“While criminal incidents involving college players appear to have become more widespread in recent years the scope of the problem had never been fully explored,” Keteyian wrote. “No one had ever conducted the kind of criminal background checks we were proposing; reporting that would eventually expand to 31 state or local courts, 16 court databases and 25 law enforcement agencies. More than 7,000 checks in all.

“Truth is, only a small handful of news organizations today have the resources (read: manpower and money) to back such an ambitious, game-changing project. And I do believe it is game-changing. Why? Because now schools know what is possible. They’ve been handed a detailed road map of where to look.”

As thorough as the piece seems to be with numbers, stats, and coaches like UCLA’s Rick Neuheisel commenting on them, the missing elements, as discussed on many of the sports chat shows, is how the percentage of these athletes matches up to the general population, or even campus student population, for similar offenses. Maybe their numbes look alarming, but are they above or below other standards?

Richard Lapchick, founder of the Center for Sports and Society and president and CEO of the National Consortium for Academics and Sports at the University of Central Florida, is quoted about the report in a SI/CBS press release:

“This sounds an alarm bell that some new policies are going to have to be developed on individual campuses or at the national level to take a closer look at who we’re recruiting… With the results of this investigation, I think it’s almost incumbent on all those universities who play at this level to do criminal background checks on the people they’re recruiting. Not only for the nature of the football program itself, but for public safety on campus.”

== If you pass on the above, please give a read to Joe Posnanski’spiece on former CNN sports anchor Nick Charles in the current issue-ender in this week’s Sports Illustrated (linked here).

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== Why even care about Tennis Channel programming this weekend? David Hasselhoff.

Knight Rider will be featured on the network’s “Celebrity Tennis” series (Sunday, 4 p.m. with many repeats) to talk about his love of the game with Vince Van Patten.

From the Tennis Channel press release, the Hof describes his own play to that of a “swatter… like Dr. Seuss on the court.”

With a hamburger in one hand and a racquet in the other?

== First, the NFL Network has been doing a splendid job keeping its blinders on with coverage of the scouting combine and airing all the business-as-usual events of the offseason. Yet, without seeming to get too mucked up in any slanted coverage of labor negotiations, how does it all but ignore stories about the fact that network TV money has been dragged into all this as the thing that NFL owners are trying to float upon for a pending lockout situation? A judge’s ruling in favor of the players union to prevent owners from using $4 billion in rights fees as a “lockout insurance” has been called by at least one sports economists as a “decision that could surpass the collusion rulings against Major League Baseball in terms of its importance to professional sports, and have a significant impact on the NFL’s ongoing labor dispute.”

== Bob Papa, Max Kellerman and Roy Jones Jr. call the HBO boxing card from the Honda Center in Anaheim that airs tape-delayed Saturday at 10:30 p.m. that includes Saul Alvarez vs. Matthew Hatton and Daniel Ponce De Leon against Adrien Broner.

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== If boxing is considered to be one of the better sports to translate to the new 3D technology, it stands to reason that ultimate fighting would be as well. Versus and UFC tried the first 3D broadcast on Thursday from Louisville, Ky., for those with 3D TV sets.

“We’re really excited to start broadcasting UFC events in 3D,” UFC President Dana White said of the event in a press release. “UFC is ahead of the curve when it comes to introducing new technology and we think UFC fans will really enjoy seeing fights in 3D.”

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== The combined Golf Channel/NBC coverage of the Honda Classic this weekend is the first full-field PGA Tour since the two networks were united by the Comcast purchase of NBCUniversal, following last week’s collaberation on the WCG Match Play tournament in Arizona. And you may even notice a difference. All the golf on NBC is called “Golf Channel on NBC,” with a Golf Channel graphic look and new logos on the NBC commentators jackets (a combo Golf Channel-peacock patch).

Golf Channel continues its coverage today (noon to 3 pm..) and adds two hours of live coveage Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m. before NBC begins what is called “Golf Channel on NBC” from noon to 3 p.m. each day. (Yes, kind of like “ESPN on ABC”). Kelly Tilghman and Frank Nobilo are with the Golf Channel coverage today, while Dan Hicks and Johnny Miller pick up Saturday and Sunday, along with Gary Koch, Mark Rolfing, Roger Maltbie and Dottie Pepper, plus Jimmy Roberts running around somewhere with a mike in hand and essay in his head.

Golf Channel says its three-day average viewership for last week’s match play event was up 84 percent from last year while viewership for “Golf Channel on NBC” coverage rose 71 percent.

== The Sporting News has officially taken over Fanhouse.com, a move that has resulted in some losing jobs while others deciding not to move to the new site, reports the Sports Business Daily. Readers who entered the Fanhouse URL were automatically redirected to Sporting News’ home page. SportsbyBrooks.com says that Kevin Blackistone, the highest-profile Fanhouse writer, decided not to write for the new company.

== FoxSports.com’s Brian Lowery (linked here) reminds us that what he calls the “Charlie Sheen Career Suicide Radio Tour” began with an unsolicited call to the Dan Patrick syndicated radio show, which Sheen probably hears in L.A. on KLAC-AM (570).

AND FINALLY:

== The evolution of Prime Ticket into Prime Sports, and Fox Sports Net 2, and FSWest may have been a bit confusing over the last 25 years, but the way it’s all explained in an hour-and-a-half special hosted by Bill Macdonald that’s been airing on FSW and Prime over the last couple of weeks.

The “Fox Sports West 25th Anniversary Special,” which has repeats on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. and Tuesday at 5 p.m. (both on Prime Ticket), starts with a clip of the first event televised on the channel – a Lakers game against Cleveland on Nov. 5, 1985 with Chick Hearn and Keith Erickson .

But it also includes such memorable clips as:

= Oscar de la Hoya’s first pro bout, a “Fight Night at the Forum” event called by Hearn on Nov. 23, 1992;
= A first-season Anaheim Mighty Ducks when a Tinkerbell animatied character would sprinkle pixie dust on a player whenever he scored a goal;
= Inglewood High’s Paul Pierce after winning the Wooden Award;
= And Tom Kelly calling a Marion Jones race in 1990 when she was a 14-year-old freshman at Rio Mesa High, as well as high school clips of Matt Leinart, Baron Davis and Kevin Love.

Those broadcasters who share stories with Macdonald include Vin Scully, Bob Miller, Mike Walden, Kelly, Don McLean, Stu Lantz, Steve Physioc, Brian Hayward, Jim Watson, John Jackson, Jim Fox, Ralph Lawler and Joel Meyers.

And look close: You’ll even see clips of Van Earl Wright and Carolyn Hughes interview Dodgers pitcher Jose Lima.

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AND REALLY FINALLY:

== You mean non-Laker fans will be footing the bill as well for this new Time Warner Cable channel that is 24/7 Lakers? But, of course (linked here). Isn’t that obviously how it always has worked?

And if you still haven’t worked through the math of this:

If Time Warner had the Lakers’ channel this year, and was paying $150 million in reported fees, it would only have 57 exclusive games (the others are either on ABC nationally, exclusive for TNT coverage or going side-by-side with ESPN), 22 of the games would have a start time of earlier than 6 p.m. PDT, and two of them would had 10 a.m. starts (fire up the DVRs), and there’d be no Lakers-Miami or Lakers-Boston, and only one Lakers-Orlando game.

Is that still a bargain?

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Some 2,344 reasons to follow in John Ireland’s footsteps

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John Ireland had a simple request.

“Can you help an obnoxious, know-it-all, loudmouth sports guy out?” the KCAL-Channel 9 Lakers sideline reporter and KSPN-AM (710) midday sports talk co-host asked in an email sent out recently, an attempt to turn a loss into a win over an on-air guarantee he made before the Lakers’ recent game in Cleveland.

The Cavaliers, with the worst record in the NBA, had no chance of upsetting the defending champs who were ending a seven-game, 13-day road trip before the All-Star break. Ireland said as much on the KSPN Lakers pregame show to analyst Dave Miller, who insisted it could happen.

“You sound like an idiot,” said Ireland. “I would quit my job and walk home from Cleveland if they lose this game.”

Final score: Cleveland 104, Lakers 99.

In 1990, Chick Hearn not only put a Lakers’ game at Denver in the refrigerator – they led by 14 with five minutes to play — but said he’d walk home if they lost. Channel 9 producer Sue Stratton put up a graphic: “Distance from Denver to Los Angeles: 1,050 miles.” The Lakers won by just two.

In 1989, when the Pittsburgh Pirates took a 10-0 lead in the first inning at Philadelphia, Pirates broadcaster Jim Rooker said he’d walk home if they lost. They did, 15-11. So he took 12 days to make up the 315 mile trip, and raised money for charity in the process.

Ireland decided he needed a bailout plan.

“I might have given myself some wiggle room,” he said, “but the Lakers had no business losing to Cleveland. I had to do something.”

He channeled it into taking part in the Walk Now for Autism event on April 23 at the Rose Bowl, raising money for a cause that means a lot to him and his family. The goal was set at raising $2,344 – the distance in miles between Cleveland and L.A.

As of midday today, his page on walknowforautismspeaks.org (linked here) has nearly $12,800 in pledges.

“It’s beyond anything I ever imagined,” Ireland said. “I just thought it would be cool to get the number with a lot of small donations to that 2,344 number, but now it’s taken a life of its own.”

Even if Ireland ends up on the road covering a Lakers’ playoff game on that date, he plans to fly home for the event, or complete the walk in whatever city he’s in during the time it takes place in Pasadena.

“I’ll do it, either way,” he said. And guaranteed it.

And we’ve made our modest pledge: $23.44. Match it?

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Goossen memorial set

A memorial service is planned for Thursday, March 10 at 6 p.m. at Saint Francis de Sales Church in Sherman Oaks for former major-leaguer Greg Goossen, who died of an apparent heart attack at his home Saturday just hours before was to be enshrined in the Notre Dame High Athletic Hall of Fame.

Goossen, fourth in a family of eight brothers and two sisters, played football and baseball at Notre Dame High and was drafted by the Dodgers in 1964, taken off waivers by the New York Mets and played for Casey Stengel, then had time with the one-and-done Seattle Pilots in 1969, the Milwaukee Brewers and played for manager Ted Williams and the Washington Senators in 1970.

He later worked as a private detective and helped his brothers, Joe and Dan, as a boxing trainer, working with Michael Nunn and Gabriel and Rafael Ruelas, brothers who became featherweight and lightweight champions in the 1990s.

Goossen was survived by his nine siblings, his three daughters Erin Hyder, Tracey Woodside and Kimberly Goossen and four grandchildren.

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