Tuesday, May 29, 2012

All-Time Bluefield Team - Johnny Gooch

Next up on the All-Time Bluefield-to-the-Bigs Team is backup catcher Johnny Gooch. Gregg Zaun has already been tabbed as the starter and I'm cheating a bit in giving the backup gig to Gooch. He's technically not "Bluefield-to-the-Bigs" because he was a player-manager in Bluefield nine years after he played his final big league game. Still, he played 11 seasons in the majors, mostly as a backup catcher for the 1920s Pittsburgh Pirates and did indeed play for Bluefield.

The only pre-World War II player on the team, Gooch was born November 9, 1897 in Smyrna, Tennessee. He shares a birthday with Adam Dunn, Whitey Herzog and Bob Gibson.

He played minor league ball during the waning days of the dead-ball era, representing the Talladega Tigers, Newport News Shipbuilders, Atlanta Crackers and Birmingham Barons.

Gooch signed with the Pirates in 1921 and made his debut on September 9 against the Cubs as a late-game replacement and did not get an at bat. The next day he got the start and went 2-for-3 with a walk. He played 13 games to finish the season, then received regular playing time the following year.

He played 105 games in 1922, the first of three seasons in his 11-year career in which he led his team in games caught. The switch hitter enjoyed career highs in all three slash categories (.329/.403/.397) and OPS+ (106). That .403 OBP was the seventh-best mark in the NL.

He had a six-hit game on July 7 against the Giants. It's one of only ten that the Pirates have had since 1918:

Rk Player Date ▴ Tm Opp Rslt PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB BOP
1 Max Carey 1922-07-07 PIT NYG L 8-9 9 6 3 6 1 0 0 2 3 3 2
2 Johnny Gooch 1922-07-07 PIT NYG L 8-9 8 8 1 6 1 0 0 0 0 0 8
3 Kiki Cuyler 1924-08-09 (1) PIT PHI W 16-4 6 6 3 6 3 1 0 2 0 0 3
4 Paul Waner 1926-08-26 PIT NYG W 15-7 6 6 1 6 2 1 0 2 0 0 1
5 Lloyd Waner 1929-06-15 PIT NYG L 15-20 9 8 2 6 1 1 0 2 1 0 2
6 Johnny Hopp 1950-05-14 (2) PIT CHC W 16-9 6 6 3 6 0 0 2 3 0 0 3
7 Dick Groat 1960-05-13 PIT MLN W 8-2 6 6 2 6 3 0 0 0 0 0 2
8 Rennie Stennett 1975-09-16 PIT CHC W 22-0 7 7 5 7 2 1 0 2 0 0 1
9 Wally Backman 1990-04-27 PIT SDP W 9-4 6 6 1 6 1 0 0 2 0 0 1
10 Freddy Sanchez 2009-05-25 PIT CHC W 10-8 6 6 4 6 1 0 1 3 0 1 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/23/2012.

Max Carey also had six hits in that game, an absurd 18-inning affair that featured six lead changes and three ties. Since 1918, it's the only time that teammates have had six or more hits apiece. During that same time frame, there have only been two teams that have had multiple six-hit games in the same season (Doc Cramer/Jimmie Foxx of the 1932 A's and George Myatt/Stan Spence of the 1944 Senators).

Gooch's was one of only five six-hit games by a catcher since 1918:

Rk Player Date Tm Opp Rslt PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BOP
1 Paul Lo Duca 2001-05-28 LAD COL W 11-10 6 6 3 6 0 0 1 4 0 1
2 Walker Cooper 1949-07-06 CIN CHC W 23-4 7 7 5 6 0 0 3 10 0 4
3 Ernie Lombardi 1937-05-09 CIN PHI W 21-10 6 6 3 6 1 0 0 5 0 5
4 Hank DeBerry 1929-06-23 BRO NYG W 9-8 7 7 0 6 0 0 0 3 0 8
5 Johnny Gooch 1922-07-07 PIT NYG L 8-9 8 8 1 6 1 0 0 0 0 8
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/23/2012.

It's one of only four six-hit games out of the eight spot in the lineup.

Rk Player Date Tm Opp Rslt PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB Pos. Summary
1 Carlos Pena 2004-05-27 DET KCR W 17-7 6 6 4 6 1 0 2 5 0 1B
2 Gerald Williams 1996-05-01 NYY BAL W 11-6 8 8 1 6 0 0 1 3 0 LF
3 Hank DeBerry 1929-06-23 BRO NYG W 9-8 7 7 0 6 0 0 0 3 0 C
4 Johnny Gooch 1922-07-07 PIT NYG L 8-9 8 8 1 6 1 0 0 0 0 C
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/23/2012.

Gooch transitioned to a backup role in 1923, batting .277 in 66 games. He was behind the plate for 70 games in 1924. That total actually led the team, ahead of incumbent backstop Walter Schmidt and newcomer Earl Smith, the former Giant and Brave who would assume the starting job the following year.

What a glorious year it would be in the Steel City. The Pirates won the 1925 World Series over the defending champion Washington Senators, led by Hall of Famers Kiki Cuyler, Max Carey and Pie Traynor. Gooch caught Game Four and went 0-for-3 against Walter Johnson, who pitched a six-hit shutout to put the Sens up three games to one. The Bucs bounced back to win the next two contests and force a seventh game.

In that deciding game, Pittsburgh trailed 4-0 in the first against the aging legend Johnson. But they came back to tie it in the sixth on a Traynor triple (who was thrown out going for an inside-the-park home run). Roger Peckinpaugh homered for Washington for a one-run lead in the top of the eighth, but the Pirates came back again with three in the bottom of the frame with two-out doubles by Smith, pinch hitter Carson Bigbee and Cuyler.

Gooch entered the game in the top of the ninth to catch new pitcher Ray Oldham, who had a 9-7 lead but had to go through Hall of Famers Sam Rice, Bucky Harris and Goose Goslin. Oldham went strikeout-lineout for the first two outs. Oldham struck out Goslin, Gooch squeezed it and the Pirates were the champions. It was the first time a team had come back from 3-1 to win the World Series*. It was their only title from 1909 to 1960.

* The 1958 Yankees, 1968 Tigers, 1979 Pirates and 1985 Royals also overcame 3-1 deficits to win the Fall Classic.

In learning more about that 1925 Game Seven, I see that it's one of the great World Series finales of all time.

Gooch was the backup again in 1926, but he caught 101 games in 1927, thanks in part to Smith's suspension for punching Braves manager Dave Bancroft in the jaw. Imagine if that happened now.

The '27 team was formidable, adding brothers Paul and Lloyd Waner, "Big Poison" and "Little Poison." The dynamic duo led the club to 94 wins, but they were steamrolled by the Murderer's Row Yankees in a World Series sweep. Legend has it that the Pirates saw the Yankees take batting practice before Game One and were so in awe that they didn't stand a chance.

Gooch played the last three games of the series and went 0-for-6. Game Four had a crazy finish. With the score tied at three in the bottom of the ninth, the Yanks loaded the bases with nobody out. Johnny Miljus struck out Lou Gehrig and Bob Meusel, but he uncorked a wild pitch past Gooch to score Earle Combs with the series-winning run.

The catcher defended his pitcher after the game, as explained in this article:

Gooch argued that it was not a wild pitch, but was instead a "passed ball" that was his error and should not have been charged  against the pitcher.  (Sixteen years later, a New York Times sportswriter described Miljus' pitch as "the wildest wild pitch that mortal man ever uncorked.")

The following season, Gooch was dealt to the Brooklyn Robins in June. He was on the move again the following April when he was sent to Cincinnati for the 1929 and 1930 seasons. From 1928-30 between the three teams, he averaged 83 games a year and a 72 OPS+.

After a couple of seasons in the minors, Gooch returned to the bigs in 1933, this time with the Red Sox. He hit .182 in 37 games and that was it for his major league career. In 11 seasons, he batted .280 with an 80 OPS+ while averaging 73 games a year.

Two recent backstops that rank in the top four on his Similarity Score list are Mike Redmond and Mike LaValliere.

After his playing days were over, he stayed in the game as a manager. In 1936 he piloted the Durham Bulls to a 79-63 finish, but they came in second in the Piedmont League behind the Norfolk Tars. From 1937-39, he spent three seasons as a coach with his old team, the Pirates. He went back to managing in the minors in 1941, this time in the Bucs farm system with the Hutchinson Pirates in Kansas.

1942 brought him to Bluefield. Before they were the Orioles or the Blue Jays, they were the Blue-Grays and played in the Mountain State League. They went 55-69 and at 44 years of age Gooch even got into 14 games and batted .270.

That was it for Gooch's days on the field. He soon opened up a bat manufacturing company. In 1972, the Volunteer State native was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame.

He died three years later in Nashville at the age of 77.

Gooch had a lengthy career and won a World Series. Even though he didn't roll through Bluefield until after his last major league game, he still earned a spot on the All-Time Bluefield roster.

All-Time Bluefield Roster
SP 1 Dean Chance
SP 2 Mike Boddicker
SP 3 Bill Monbouquette
SP 4 Pete Harnisch
RP Tom Phoebus
RP Ken McBride
RP Sammy Stewart
RP Jim Johnson
Setup Arthur Rhodes
Setup TBA
Closer Sparky Lyle

C Gregg Zaun
C Johnny Gooch

1B Eddie Murray
2B Bobby Grich
SS Cal Ripken
3B Doug DeCinces
IF Mark Belanger

LF Don Baylor
CF Luis Matos
RF Bob Bailor
OF David Dellucci

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