Jim Golden didn’t have a particularly long major-league career, nor was he one to talk about it often when he played, but now the man twice traded for future Hall of Famers looks back on it fondly. You might just use his last name to describe that time.
Golden, the son of Archie (a railroad foreman) and Mildred, was born in Eldon, Missouri, on March 20, 1936. The family moved to Valencia, Kansas, a small town 10 miles west of Topeka in the early 1940s.
The Golden family liked sports (the family’s favorite player was Stan Musial), and Golden and his two older brothers had a good amount of athletic talent. Golden’s brothers played for Silver Lake High School before he did. His oldest brother, Lonnie, passed on a chance to sign with the Phillies to enter the U.S. Navy.
Golden, a right-hander who batted left-handed, followed in his brothers footsteps at Silver Lake, winning 11 varsity letters in baseball, football and basketball. The baseball team won the state title in his junior year, 1953, and Golden’s performance that season was the stuff of local legend. In one game, he struck out 31 hitters in 14 innings. In the state title game, he pitched a no-hitter with 17 strikeouts. The next year, he struck out a state-record 185 batters and the team won the state title again.
Golden also excelled in American Legion baseball, where he won two state championships and recalls playing against Brooks Robinson.
In 2011, the Topeka Capital Journal ranked the top 100 athletes in Shawnee County history. Golden ranked 73rd (fellow major leaguers Mike Torrez and Ken Berry ranked 1-2). He was inducted into the Shawnee County Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.
“I don’t want this to sound like bragging, but I struck out a lot of hitters,” Golden said. “Fifteen, 16, 17 strikeouts was common. It sounds like Little League, but this was high school. I had a good curveball, and a pretty good fastball, a good curveball that fooled a lot of hitters.”
That attracted a lot of interest. Golden passed on scholarship offers from Kansas and Missouri (which also wanted him as a punter) to play professional baseball. He was pursued by 12 teams and eventually signed with the Phillies for a $7,000 bonus (he found out later that the Indians would have given him more if he’d pursued it).
The six-foot, 175-pound Golden pitched for five seasons in the minor leagues, but was never able to crack the Phillies major-league roster. But he does have some fun recollections of his time with that team.
“In 1957, I got to go to spring training and I remember facing Satchel Paige (in an intrasquad game),” Golden said. “First time up, I hit a double off him, off the right-center field fence. He didn’t like that because I was a rookie and he was a legend. Next time up, needless to say, I don’t think I hit the ball.
“My job was to hit fungoes to him. That’s how he got his running in. What a physical specimen he was, at his age.”
Golden was told by a Dodgers scout “we’ll get you eventually” and this turned out to be prophetic. He was traded to the Dodgers in December 1958 as part of a deal for future major-league manager Sparky Andersen.
Things clicked for Golden in 1960, when, after never posting an ERA below 3.50 in the minors, he pitched brilliantly for a full season. Golden won 20 games and had a 2.32 ERA for the St. Paul Saints that year (in his 20th win, Carl Yastrzemski went 0-for-4 against him). The reward for that was a bottle of champagne and a brief recall to the majors.
Golden made his major-league debut in the final week of the 1960 season against the Cubs at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. He had a rough first inning, allowing three runs, but settled in and got the win in his only appearance that season, allowing five runs in seven innings. Don Drysdale closed out the 7-5 win with two scoreless innings of relief.
“(One pitch) to (leadoff hitter Richie) Ashburn went over his head and over the backstop,” Golden said with a laugh. “Does that answer your question about being nervous?”
Golden was with the Dodgers for the entire 1961 season, but posted a 5.79 ERA in 28 relief appearances. Pitching in the Coliseum was a challenge because of the ballpark’s bizarre dimensions. The left-field fence had a Green Monster-sized screen, but was located only 251 feet from home plate. Golden referred to it as a “softball field.”
“I remember the Dodgers decided they were going to have a nine-man pitching staff,” Golden said. “They said they were going to use [me] as a long reliever. I was on cloud nine because I made the club. I wasn’t too concerned about pitching. When you have a staff like that, unless you happened to get in and be phenomenal with every appearance, you’re going to be a role player. You accept what you get. I did ask Walter Alston to send me down later in the year, but he said no.”
The Dodgers did not protect Golden in the expansion draft prior to the 1962 season and he was selected by the Houston Colt .45s with the 37th pick.
He started the season in the bullpen and would make 37 appearances, 18 of them starts.
Golden went 7-11 with a 4.07 ERA, but his season had a few highlights. He took advantage of Houston’s expansion cohorts, the hapless Mets, in a big way.
The Mets went 40-120 that season, and Golden was as dominant as anyone against them, going 5-0 with a 2.32 ERA. He also hit well against them – 5-for-14 with six RBIs.
Golden doesn’t recall the details, but on June 22, 1962, he pitched a complete game in a 16-3 win, one in which he hit a pair of triples. He’s the most recent pitcher to have multiple triples in a major-league game. Golden was a respectable hitter, who had hit .321 in the California League in 1956.
Golden pitched two shutouts in 1962. One was a three-hitter against the Pirates in which he struck out future Hall-of-Famers Roberto Clemente and Bill Mazeroski, twice each.
“It was one of the smoothest, most efficient games I have ever seen pitched,” Golden’s teammate Bobby Tiefenauer told reporters afterward. “He was the complete master out there.”
The other was a five-hitter against the Dodgers and Drysdale.
“I’d have to call it my biggest thrill,” Golden told the media after the win. “It was not my best- pitched win, but it certainly was the most satisfying.”
That win also made up for a potential win a month earlier, when Golden failed to hold a 4-0 ninth-inning lead against the Dodgers and missed out on a chance to record a win against his former lockermate, Sandy Koufax.
One of the fun parts about getting to play for the Dodgers was in being able to talk with television and movie stars who would come to the ballpark. Golden remembered getting to meet Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Chuck Connors, Gene Autry and Doris Day (“she was a beautiful gal and I was flabbergasted”), and he became friends with Jerry Maren, who played one of the munchkins in The Wizard of Oz.
Golden was pleased to share his recollections when asked to look back, but to say he was on the quiet side as a player would be putting it mildly.
Sportswriter Joe Reichler compared Golden to Gary Cooper and wrote: “He must be one of the most frugal men with words in the baseball world.”
There are also stories of how Golden would be rather shy on pre-game or post-game shows, even after pitching a good game, limiting his answers to one or two words. He recalled one of his minor-league managers, Danny Ozark, nicknaming him “Gabby.”
Why was he so quiet?
“My thought is that if you had to tell someone how good you are, maybe you’re not that good,” he said more than 50 years later.
In 1963, Golden’s time in the big leagues was shortened by a right shoulder injury (A few years ago, he had an MRI done on that shoulder and the doctors found a rotator cuff tear.). He tried to pitch through it in the minors, but was ineffective. That offseason, he was traded to the White Sox for Nellie Fox (meaning he’d been traded for a pair of Hall-of-Famers in his career). Golden pitched a season for the Indianapolis Indians, than decided to retire.
Golden has enjoyed a happy post-baseball career. He has been married to his wife, Madalene, since 1956, and the two of them raised four sons (one of whom was named after Robin Roberts) in Topeka. After retiring from baseball, Golden went to work for Goodyear, spending 32 years in their quality control department. He’s still able to play golf (he once shot a 59) and has recorded three holes-in-one.
“To me, a lot of the great things that happened in baseball were just the ability to walk on the field at the Polo Grounds, Sportsman’s Park and the L.A. Coliseum,” Golden said. “That’s history.”
Last revised: March 3, 2015
Reichler, Joe. Here Come the Colts: Jim Golden. Prentice-Hall, 1962.
“Top 100: No. 73, Jim Golden,” Topeka Capital Journal, July 30, 2011, http://cjonline.com/sports/2011-07-30/top-100-no-73-jim-golden
“The Golden Arm 60 Years Ago Belonged to Silver Lake Ace,” Topeka Capital Journal, July 12, 2014
WABC, 770 AM. New York Mets vs. Houston Colt .45s, May 21, 1962 (Lindsay Nelson, Bob Murphy, Ralph Kiner).
ASA Marketing, “2014 Shawnee County Baseball Hall of Fame induction,” YouTube video, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cE8b6fuBjzA
Jim Golden, interview, January 6, 2014