SABR

Danny Godby

This article was written by John Wickline.

Danny Godby stood anxiously near home plate at Busch Stadium in St. Louis the night of August 10, 1974, as the moment he had dreamed of while growing up in the coalfields of West Virginia unfolded before him. He was there in the bottom of the sixth inning to pinch-hit for pitcher Bob Forsch with runners on first and second, two outs, and the Cardinals in a heated division race. Godby’s dream-come-true moment had to wait as Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Mike Marshall made his way to the mound to replace left-hander Doug Rau. Godby felt a tapping on his shoulder, and he turned to see Tim McCarver standing there and telling him that he was being lifted for a pinch-hitter.

“We were in a pennant race that wasn't satisfied until the last day of the season,” Godby said, adding that being lifted for another pinch-hitter in his major-league debut before he faced a single pitch “was disappointing for anybody that had spent all that time in the minor leagues.” He may have been disappointed, “but I took it in stride because (Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst) was playing the percentages. He wanted a left-handed hitter to bat against the right-handed pitcher.”

So Godby would have to wait for yet another day. But the 27-year-old outfielder was used to waiting for opportunities. He had grown accustomed to the disappointment that sometimes followed when those opportunities were not readily afforded to him.

Born on November 4, 1946, in Logan, West Virginia, a town more known for its coal mining and high-school basketball than its baseball, Godby was the first child of Naaman and Virginia Godby. Growing up in the nearby town of Chapmanville, he showed his baseball prowess at an early age in the Logan Civic Little League, pitching a perfect game at the age of 10. By the time he left the league at 12, he had tossed three no-hitters, pitched a winning game in the state tournament, and he hit 14 homers in his final season.

Godby starred for Chapmanville High School in football, basketball, and baseball. He played fullback and linebacker on the football team, where he was a two-year starter. He made the all-Logan County team in basketball as a guard and was a three-year starter. Two members of the 1963-64 team went on to play small-college basketball, and Godby briefly was a member of the Bowling Green State University basketball team. The team topped the 100-point mark in six straight games during the season.

But it was in baseball that he won his highest acclaim. He was an all-state selection as both a junior and a senior. He pitched a no-hitter in his senior season, and he hit .545 during his high-school career. Despite such a résumé, no college – large or small – came calling with an offer to play at the next level.

A family friend from rival Logan High School knew Godby had what it took to play at a higher level, and he contacted the baseball coaches at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University. The coaches offered Godby a chance to make the team as a walk-on, and he took advantage of the opportunity. He was the Most Valuable Player of the school’s freshman team in 1965. (Freshmen were ineligible to play varsity sports for NCAA teams during that time.)

“Having a freshman team was a blessing because I had an opportunity to play rather than sit on the bench behind varsity players,” Godby said.

He received a partial scholarship for his sophomore season, and earned the starting job in center field. His hitting was among the nation’s best, and he made the All-Mid-American Conference first team as both a junior and senior.

“When I went to Bowling Green, I didn’t know anyone and I wasn’t guaranteed anything,” Godby said. “But the Lord had his hand on me, and I had a great experience there. I also had a chance to play summer ball in the Cape Cod League with teammates like future major leaguers Thurman Munson, Tom Grieve, and John Curtis.”

Godby’s senior season of 1968 saw him named to the All-America team as a special honorable-mention selection. He earned a degree in biology and health and physical education. Batting a team-best .380 and leading Bowling Green with 37 hits, 22 runs scored and seven doubles in just 27 games, Godby earned high praise from coach Dick Young, who called him possibly the best baseball player ever to don the school’s colors. Bowling Green’s roster that season also included sophomore infielder John Knox, who later played 124 games in four years with Detroit. The two were reunited in 1976 as members of the Indianapolis Indians, the Triple-A farm team of the Cincinnati Reds.

“Give me 20 baseball players like (Godby), and I could win a national title,” coach Young said at the end of the 1968 season. (Godby’s father, Naaman, was honored at the end of the season as the team’s Father of the Year after rarely missing one of his son’s games despite the 200-mile-plus trip between the towns.)

While Godby’s Cape Cod League teammate, Thurman Munson, was selected by the New York Yankees as the fourth overall pick in the first round of the 1968 draft, Godby was bypassed for the 71 rounds. (After round 53, only the Los Angeles Dodgers were still making selections.) That draft also saw the entry of four new teams to the process – the Seattle Pilots, Kansas City Royals, San Diego Padres, and Montreal Expos – and none of them saw fit to add Godby to its roster.

Disappointed, Godby returned home to Chapmanville, where a teaching job and a spot as an assistant basketball coach at Sharples High School were waiting. But a call from Cincinnati Reds scout Elmer Gray turned his fortunes around. Godby signed a free-agent contract with the Reds for not much more than a glass of water.

“I signed at his home in Charleston, West Virginia, and he did offer me a beer. But I don’t drink,” Godby told The Sporting News in 1974, adding that pro scouts didn’t exactly carpool to Logan County, West Virginia.

Godby packed his bags for the Northern Plains, heading to play for the Sioux Falls Packers in the Class A Northern League. In 50 games he hit .259 with six home runs. The team finished 41-29, good enough for third place, two games back of pennant-winning St. Cloud. Only Godby and pitcher Mel Behney reached the big leagues from that team. Godby became a legitimate prospect the following season, playing for the Tampa Tarpons in the Class A Florida State League. The Tarpons featured five future big leaguers:  Godby, outfielder Gene Locklear and pitchers Dave Tomlin, Ozzie Osborn and Milt Wilcox. Godby was named to the league’s All-Star team after batting .311, led the circuit with 155 hits, and had eight home runs, 48 runs batted in, and 23 stolen bases. That earned him a late-season promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis, where he had 5 hits in 16 at-bats. He earned a spot on the Reds’ 40-man roster and was invited to 1970 spring training. During the winter he was an assistant basketball coach at his alma mater, Chapmanville High School.

As Godby awaited spring training, the Reds had made news the previous October when they hired Sparky Anderson to replace Dave Bristol as the manager. Though he played in several exhibition games, he knew he was basically competing against an all-star team for a spot on the roster. The outfield was already crowded with the likes of Bernie Carbo, Ty Cline, Hal McRae, Bobby Tolan, and Pete Rose.

“That team was not good by accident,” Godby recalled. “They were the hardest-working players I had ever seen. Pete Rose would stay and take extra batting practice for hours. I used to stay and shag balls for him as long as I could.”

As the Reds went on to win the 1970 National League pennant and a spot in the World Series against eventual champion Baltimore, Godby was toiling in Asheville, North Carolina, for the Tourists, the Reds’ Double-A affiliate. He hit .261, again earning a late-season call-up to Indianapolis. In 17 games with the Indians, Godby hit .345 with one home run and eight RBIs, and kept his spot on the Reds’ 40-man roster. Godby was at Indianapolis for the entire 1971 season, and helped the Indians win the American Association’s East Division by 13½ games over Iowa with a .286-4-27 campaign. The Reds struggled in 1971, but Godby’s play did not warrant a call to the big leagues. The Indianapolis team in 1971 featured several key players on future Big Red Machines, including Pedro Borbon, Wayne Simpson, Ross Grimsley, Bill Plummer, and Darrell Chaney. The Indians lost the league playoff final series to West Division champion Denver in seven games.

During the offseason Cincinnati shipped Godby to St. Louis in exchange for pitcher Carroll Sembera. Still, Godby found himself back in the American Association in 1972, now with the Cardinals Tulsa Oilers affiliate. Playing in just 97 games, he hit .288 and teamed with outfielder Bake McBride to lead the team to second place in the West Division. Back with Tulsa again in 1973, Godby saw significantly more playing time. He pounded out 134 hits, second on the team behind Jim Dwyer, and hit .285 as the Oilers won the West Division title by one game over Wichita and went on to beat Iowa in seven games for the league crown. But while others from the team went up to the Cardinals, Godby went home to resume his teaching and coaching duties in the Logan County school system.

The 1974 season, however, was a different story with a different ending. Godby, now 27 years old, launched a full assault on American Association pitching, while his Tulsa teammates were doing the same. By August Godby was leading the league with a .344 batting average and had already matched his career best in RBIs with 63. He was named to the midseason All-Star team and was later named to the postseason squad.

“I probably won’t be here next year,” Godby told The Sporting News in July. “ I love to play baseball, and the last four years have been enjoyable. But if I have a year like this one and don’t make it to the major leagues, I won’t come back to Triple-A. I just can’t see it. If you can’t make the majors on a year like this, I don’t see how you can make it.”

A few days later Godby got the call he had long awaited, the one telling him he was needed by the Cardinals. He joined the team around August 1. After making his major-league debut as a name in the box score on the 10th, he got his first real chance to play on the 12th, when he was sent up to pinch-hit for reliever Al Hrabosky in the bottom of the 13th inning. Godby faced San Diego reliever Bill Laxton with the score 5-5. This time there was no one coming up behind him to send him back to the dugout.

“You’re not scared, but you have those butterflies,” Godby said. “You’re anxious to get in there and hit.”

And hit he did, slapping a single into center field to start the inning. After being bunted over to second by Jack Heidemann, Godby got to third base on a slow infield single to shortstop by Lou Brock. After an intentional walk to Ted Sizemore, Bake McBride lofted a fly ball ball to center field and Godby tagged up and scored the winning run.  “Godby’s base-running won it for us,” manager Red Schoendienst said afterward. “That gave us a man on third with less than two outs, and that was the ballgame.”

For Godby it was the culmination of a journey started when he realized he was good enough to follow his dream. “I can remember driving to Logan one night that winter before the season, and I prayed and asked the Lord for the opportunity to make it to the major leagues,” Godby said. “I felt I had worked hard, and I tried to be a Christian example to the other players I played with. When I got that call to go to St. Louis, I knew it was Him and not me that made that possible. That whole night was like a dream come true. You had to work your way up the hard way, and you had attained what you had set out to do.”

Godby also gave his younger brother, Dave, some credit for his making it to the top. “He’d want me to pitch to him all day so he could get in as much hitting as possible,” Dave said. “My arm would be falling off, and he would be yelling, ‘Throw me a few more. Throw me a few more.’ ”

Godby became only the second Logan County native to play in the major leagues, the first being pitcher Max Butcher. A native of Man, West Virginia, Butcher compiled a 95-106 record in 10 National League seasons between 1936 and 1945, pitching for Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh.

Godby got his first major-league RBI on August 17, coming into the game in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter for Lynn McGlothen. Godby lifted a fly ball to left field off San Francisco’s Mike Caldwell that brought home McBride to tie the game, 3-3. The Cardinals went on to win, 5-3. Godby made his first start on August 29 in San Diego as the Cardinals faced left-hander Randy Jones. Playing right field and batting seventh, Godby grounded out to second base in his first two at-bats before drawing a walk. He was replaced by Jim Dwyer in the ninth inning. St. Louis won, 3-1. Godby became part of history on September 11 when he played in the second longest game by innings in major-league history, and the longest to end with a decision. The Cardinals defeated the Mets 4-3 in 25 innings in a game that lasted 7 hours, 4 minutes and did not end until after 3 a.m. (The longest was a 26-inning, 1-1 tie between the Brooklyn Robins and Boston Braves in 1920.) Godby replaced Lou Brock in the 19th inning and went 0-for-2 at the plate. In the next game, he started in left field and batted seventh against the Mets, singling in the fifth inning off pitcher Jon Matlack, then drawing a walk and scoring on an error in the sixth as the Cardinals won, 12-5. The Cardinals traveled to Philadelphia on September 13 and won a 17-inning game, 7-3. Godby did not play in that marathon. St. Louis battled the Pirates throughout September for the division title, and the division lead changed several times, and the Pirates won the division by 1½ games. Godby made his final big-league appearance on September 25 against the Pirates, grounding into a fielder’s choice in a pinch-hitting role. He finished the season hitting .154 in 13 games, scoring two runs and driving in one. The Cardinals players voted Godby a $293.61 share of their second-place money.

Godby figured he had an outside shot to make the 1975 Cardinals out of spring training, but knew the odds would be long. St. Louis had future Hall of Famer Lou Brock in left field and slugging outfielder Reggie Smith in right. Bake McBride, the 1974 Rookie of the Year, returned as the center fielder. Hector Cruz, Jim Dwyer, and Luis Melendez were also competing for spots as extra outfielders. He hit well in exhibition games. On March 29 Godby was traded to the Boston Red Sox for first baseman Danny Cater.

Godby thought being sent to the American League would be a benefit to his career, but before Opening Day he was optioned to Pawtucket in the Triple-A International League. Godby questioned the demotion and was told that the team wanted to get a glance at a couple of younger outfielders and that when one of them struggled, Godby would be brought back. Those two guys were Jim Rice, who was voted into the Hall of Fame in 2009, and Fred Lynn, who won the MVP and Rookie of the Year that season.

“Baseball is about being in the right place at the right time,” Godby said. “Who knows what would have happened if they had traded me to San Diego. But it seems everywhere I went, there were Hall of Fame players in front of me.”

On May 26, 1975, the Charleston (West Virginia) Charlies, Pittsburgh’s top farm club and a team within an hour’s drive of his hometown of Chapmanville, sponsored a Danny Godby Day at Watt Powell Park. More than 600 well-wishers from Logan County showed up to the game, which had to be delayed because Pawtucket was late arriving to the city. Godby was given a $200 gift certificate, some golf balls and a television set. Pawtucket manager Joe Morgan also got a $200 gift certificate. Godby injured his knee banging into a fence in Richmond, Virginia, that season, and he also suffered through a nagging ankle injury. He continued to play through the pain, but suffered through a .242-3-28 season on a team that finished 53-87. He was released by Boston at the end of the season. He was able to catch on again with the Reds, who assigned him to Indianapolis. Playing in just 55 games for the Indians, he hit a meager .163, and was released at the end of the 1976 season. Godby signed with Houston and was assigned as a player-coach to the Charleston Charlies, who had become the Astros’ top farm club in 1977. He played in just 59 games that season, hitting .247 as the Charlies won the International League championship. The Astros released him at the end of the season, and that point, there were no takers for his services.

“It was the point in life when you know it’s time to move on,” Godby said, adding that he had a young son who was looking forward to being coached by his dad.

He returned to Chapmanville, where he continued to teach and serve as the assistant basketball coach at the high school. From 1976 to 1997 he was the part-owner of Dan and Dave’s Sporting Goods store in Logan. He took over as head coach of the basketball team in the 1978-79 season and held the job until the 1984 season, when he decided to step down so he could watch his son, Deron, play for his junior-high team. But turmoil surrounding Logan High School’s program brought him out of retirement, and he coached the team for the next two seasons. The Wildcats earned state tournament berths in both. Godby stepped down in 1986 but returned to the bench at Chapmanville in 1991 and remained there until 2004. During his tenure he guided his teams to more than 250 wins in 34 seasons. He also was an assistant baseball coach at Chapmanville for 20 years, and the Tigers won state titles in 1987 and 1997.

Godby entered the political arena in 1989 and was elected a Logan County commissioner, a position he continued to hold as of 2010. He was prodded by friends to run for the office, and said he enjoyed being able to help in the community. He retired from teaching after more than 40 years. Godby was named the county’s Man of the Year in 1994. He and his wife, Deborah, reside in Chapmanville. They are the parents of two children, Deron, and a daughter, Shannon.

Sources

Personal interview conducted by the author in August 2010

The Logan (West Virginia) Banner

The Sporting News, August 10, 1974, August 17, 1974, November 23, 1974

Giardina, Frank, Chapmanville’s Godby was Logan County’s major leaguer, May 25, 2008.

Chapmanville High School archives

Johnson, Lloyd, and Miles Wolff. Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, 2nd Edition.

Wikipedia.com

Retrosheet.org

Baseball-reference.com

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