Another year passes with Jim Gosger not enshrined into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, another year the Baseball Writers Association of America did not even consider him in their deliberations.
We are, my brother Bill and me, disappointed, as we have been since 1979 when Gosger became eligible for consideration and we have decided to take matters into our own hands and make our case here for it is apparent that whatever criteria the BWAA uses in these decisions as to whom shall be enshrined, and whom shall not, it is clearly inadequate in taking the measure of a man who, on Sept 4, 1965, performed perhaps the single most spectacular, mind bending and unforgettable act in the history of baseball, and quite possibly of all sports worldwide.
Jim Gosger? The multi-sport lefty from Port Huron, Michigan, graced the outfields, and a few first bases toward the end of his career, for the Boston Red Sox (twice:’63, ’65-‘66), Kansas City /Oakland Athletics, (’66-’68), Seattle Pilots (’69), New York Mets (twice, ’69, ’73-’74) with whom he won two National League Championships, and the Montreal Expos (’70-’71). He was 20 years old when he played his first major league game.
Two National League championships are not enough for enshrinement, I agree. But a good start. He was a powerful line drive hitter – more on that in a bit – and a more than dependable defender in the field. Career batting average .226 in 1,815 at-bats over 10 years. Of the 411 hits he scattered over both American and National league fields, 67 were doubles, and 16 triples. A triple is a rare and wondrous thing; one must slash line drives into the far corners of the field with such force or spin that the ball ricochets off the walls like a feral cat pursued by a pack of wild, frantic dogs. One must be fast, one must be a risk taker, one must know how to slide with nuance and aggression. Triples are hit by the most athletic of ball players and no one else. Gosger had 16 of them. This alone is a ticket to Cooperstown in our humble opinion.
He had 177 RBIs. Not too shabby, but still insufficient for entry into the HoF. Begrudgingly, I agree. He had a small cameo appearance in Jim Bouton’s ‘Ball Four’. He said ‘Yeah, sure’. It’s right there in the book. I throw that in for anecdotal window dressing. Fame and cheap celebrity seem to have more cachet than they did in my day and I thought it might help. But, yeah, it doesn’t really nudge the decision along. Since this is kind of important to Bill and me, we are not above appealing to your more base instincts if it moves you to support our efforts.
But lets get to the meat of this thing, lets bring it home, by returning to that early September day in 1965.
Actually, let’s first go back one more year to 1964 when Billy and me, he eight years old, I ten, freshly delivered off of our school bus in Massapequa, New York, were greeted by my mother in front of our house and told to get into her car, purring at the curb and packed with our most basic belongings, she quietly, firmly informing us that we would not be living any longer in Massapequa, New York, and instead our Aunt Ronnie and Uncle Jerry, saints both, would be welcoming us all into their tiny Levittown home for awhile until my mother laid out a plan to raise us independently and to find a legal solution to her frayed marriage to my father, Joe Sr., a good and loving man, overall, but one with certain demons which were unleashed when alcohol would pass his lips and then he was not a good and loving man.
Within a year, my mother found that legal remedy to dissolve the marriage, one condition being that Billy and I were required to spend one weekend a month with dad in his dark, rundown upstairs apartment in Lynbrook, New York, across the street from a beverage warehouse and just up the block from a Kentucky Fried Chicken establishment. I mention these both because my father kept us there in the apartment sated with bottomless supplies of potato chips, onion dip, soda, fried chicken breast and TV while he sat in the kitchen out of view, and drank his beers, one after the other, until the weekend was over. We did not have long meaningful conversations, we did not get help with our homework, we did not get anything other than a front row seat to a man in deep pain seeking to medicate and manage it as best he could. He was never abusive to us and showed us love in his own way. But it was a dismal time and we dreaded these visits.
On the day of this telling, though, Sept 4, 1965, my father took us, unexpectedly, to Yankee stadium for a double header with the Boston Red Sox. We don’t recall the occasion, it was an anomaly, certainly, and we were delighted to get out, see a real major league game in that hallowed ballpark, see Mantle, Howard, Pepitone, Boyer, Richardson, Yastremzski and Conigliaro, legends and heroes all to young boys in the mid sixties. We sat in the empty lower level of the far left field bleachers next to the visiting team’s bullpen, a fortuitous happenstance that sets things up for Gosger to shine.
And shine he did, for on that day, with, again, the likes of Mantle, Yaz, Conigliaro and the others whose names shone bright on box scores and sports headlines every day, Jim Gosger, whose name did not shine bright on box scores and sports headlines every day, went 3-for-4 with two RBIs and scored one run, himself, in a 7-2 Boston Red Sox rout. Jim Gosger won that game hands down. One of those hits was a fierce line drive to center past Tom Tresh’s outstretched mitt straight into the monuments where it rattled between them and the outfield fence like a rabid pinball while Gosger sailed past first, second and held up at third in a magnificent display of power and speed. Oh what a marvelous thing a triple is!
Alas, one game does not a Hall-of-Famer make, and while Gosger had a good career, the stats simply cannot support his enshrinement. We know that. But, it is what happened between games that day, off the field, out in the Boston bullpen, that elevates Gosger into the annals of our family lore, for what happened there has never been forgotten in the clan McAvoy, nor will it ever be forgotten if the McAvoy brothers have anything to do with the matter. BWAA members, here take not.
Between games, my father and I sat talking about something or other, or more likely, not talking and just staring out over left field, uneasy with each other, when we noticed that my brother was no longer among us. It was not difficult to find him in the empty stands and looking around, we saw him leaning into the concrete wall that looked down upon the Boston bullpen talking to a young man in a Red Sox uniform, propped somehow so that he was visible from the chest up, and we sauntered over to Billy in mid conversation with one Jim Gosger.
I want to share with you the details of what we discussed there in vibrant colors, I want to tell you that he tousled our hair while we blushed and smiled and shuffled our feet and talked intimately about baseball – for what else what would we talk about? – and that he called my father ‘Sir’; my father from whom so much respect had been lost and squandered and drank away, but who was a good man down and that my father stood straighter than I had seen him do in years and I want to tell you that Mr. Jim Gosger told my father what two fine young lads he had raised and that this silenced him and he had to regain his footing and mumbled a thank you to the young player. But, truth is, I don’t recall the conversation.
I can tell you Gosger was generous with his time and that he asked us our names and ages and inquired if we played ball and that he was kind and good and warm to us. I do remember his smile and how he introduced us to Bob Tillman who stood below him and Tillman called out a greeting. And I can tell you that we walked on air that day and the rest of the long weekend and, for years afterward, we scoured the box scores to see if ‘our buddy’ Jim Gosger played and how he many hits he had and recalled that magnificent triple. It was a source of immense joy to us and we bonded around this and brought us closer than we had been for such a long time. And, yes, my father did beam.
Dad died a recovering alcoholic in 1979, a man trying, successfully for the most part, to repair the severed connections with his family. With me, that connection was never repaired and I grieve that now. But I do recall the day in September of 1965, when a young ballplayer on the Boston Red Sox took the time to talk to a man and his two young sons and brought light into our darkness and created a connection between my dad and me and Billy and I think somehow this act needs to find its way into the record books and that it be recognized as equal to Babe’s and Hank’s home runs, Gehrig’s consecutive games with a hit, Willie’s over the shoulder catch of the Vic Wertz shot to center.
And I appeal to the Baseball Writers Association of America to enshrine Jim Gosger NOW for bringing forth a semblance of happiness to my father, my brother and me for a short moment in our lives and for elevating the notion that sports and heroes can have dignity and bring honor and that acts of kindness are transformative and powerful. This memory has rattled in my head like that rabid pinball out between the monuments and the center field fence some 50+ years ago and it is time for me to release it for others to see and act upon it.
BWAA, do the right thing!
Barring enshrinement, We really just want to say ‘Thank You’, to the kid from Port Huron, Michigan, Jim Gosger, who has no idea of the impact that he had on a small broken family, trying to repair itself, in New York, in 1965.
By Joe McAvoy
Reach Joe McAvoy at email@example.com.