Leon Allen Goslin: The Wild Goose of the Potomac

This article was written by Cort Vitty

This article was published in the The National Pastime: Monumental Baseball (Washington, DC, 2009)


The only player to appear in every inning of all nineteen World Series games played by the Washington Senators was born in Salem, New Jersey, on October 16, 1900. Rigorous farm work had matured Leon Allen Goslin into a muscular 185-pound young man, standing just a half-inch shy of six feet. His early pitching exploits for DuPont factory caught the attention of umpire Bill McGowan; the two were close in age and became fast friends.

On McGowan’s recommendation, Zinn Beck signed Goslin to pitch for his Columbia, South Carolina, team of the Class C Sally League in 1920. The circuit up-graded to Class B as Goslin shifted to the outfield in 1921, and responded by hitting a league-leading .390. Jack Dunn, owner of the International League Balti- more Orioles, arranged to purchase Goslin for $5,000. Learning of the plan, Senators owner Clark Griffith rushed to South Carolina and hurriedly signed Goslin for $6,000. Contract in hand, Griffith watched his new player get conked on the head by a fly ball. Fielding mishaps aside, Goslin was called up by the Senators in the waning days of 1921 and hit .260 in 14 games. Goslin was nicknamed “Goose” by Denman Thompson of the Washington Star; the scribe observed the erratic way the young outfielder tracked fly balls, with flapping arms, long neck, and ample nose.

In 1922 Goslin contributed a .324 average in 101 games. In 1923, he rapped 18 triples, sharing the league lead with teammate Sam Rice, and his nine homers topped the Senators. After a sluggish start in 1924, the Senators caught fire and pulled into first place in June. Down the wire it was a three-team race, but the Senators ultimately took the AL flag. Goose hit .344 in 154 games, adding a league-leading 129 RBIs. His left-handed power resulted from an exaggerated closed stance—turned almost enough to see the catcher out of his left eye. He swung hard and from the heels, turning almost 180 degrees to complete his swing.

The World Series pitted the Nats against the New York Giants. The Series went seven, and the Senators prevailed by tying the last game when a bad-hop grounder bounced over the head of third baseman Fred Lindstrom. In the twelfth, Muddy Ruel’s foul pop was dropped by rival catcher Hank Gowdy. Ruel doubled and Walter Johnson reached on an error. Earl McNeely grounded to third and, remarkably, another bad hop caromed, allowing Ruel to score the winning run, giving the victorious Senators their first world championship. The Senators repeated as American League champs in 1925, but the Pittsburgh Pirates took the series in seven. In 1926, Goose posted 108 RBIs, 17 homers, and a .354 average. Incredibly, not one of his 17 circuit blasts was hit in Washington. In 1927, Goslin batted in 120 runs, while hitting .334.

The year 1928 dawned with Goslin as a holdout. The volley with owner Clark Griffith continued until the end of February, when Goose signed and reported to Tampa. The training site was at the fairgrounds, a location providing ample diversion for the fun-loving Goslin. Clowning included challenging runners on opposing teams to impromptu footraces, which he generally won. A high-school track team was conducting workouts when Goose happened upon a group of teens practicing the shot put. He picked up a 16-pound weight and tossed it 20 feet further than anyone else. For the next 30 minutes, Goose delighted the boys by throwing the put like a baseball. The next morning, his right arm was so strained he couldn’t comb his hair.

The season started and the swollen, discolored arm did not improve. Treatments abounded in an effort to repair the ailing wing. Goose was sent to Atlantic City to soak in saltwater. Next, baking soda was used as a remedy, followed by ice packs, massaging, complete rest, and a cast, although X-rays showed no break. Another diagnosis revealed that his collarbone was displaced, prompting a Michigan trip to visit a bonesetter. Nothing worked—and, much to the chagrin of Griffith, Goose’s throwing arm remained a liability. It became a ritual for infielders to run deep into the outfield to retrieve Goslin’s weak throws; he even practiced throwing left-handed. Despite his defensive woes, he remained a major offensive force at the plate, with his average escalating over .400 in late June.

The 1928 batting race went right down to the wire, with Goose’s .379 ultimately beating out the .378 mark posted by Heinie Manush of the St. Louis Browns. In The Glory of Their Times, Lawrence Ritter interviewed Goslin, who provided insight into his quest for the batting championship—right down to his last at-bat in the ninth inning. Goose realized that if he got a hit, he won; if he missed—he lost. Confronted with this dilemma, the outfielder asked manager Harris for advice; Bucky completely left it up to him. Goslin thought seriously about sitting it out, but his mates said he’d be accused of “being yellow if you win the title on the bench.”

The Goose decided to hit and quickly looked at two strikes. At this point, Goose had an idea: he decided to try and get thrown out of the game. Umpire Bill Guthrie read right through the ruse and told Goslin “he wasn’t getting thrown out no matter what he did.” The ump added that “a walk was out of the question too.” Back in the box, Goslin got what he felt was a “lucky hit” and won the title fair and square. All told, 1928 was arguably his best offensive season. In addition to the batting title, Goose poked 17 homers, which was nearly half the total for the entire team (40).

Goslin hit only .288 in 1929 and was shuttled to the Browns in a trade for Heinie Manush and Alvin Crowder on June 13, 1930. The move to St. Louis invigorated the slugger, as his average climbed to .322 and his homers increased to 30. Goslin hit 37 for the two clubs, the highest seasonal total of his career. In 1931, Goose’s 24 round-trippers were fifth in the league. Goose made headlines during the 1932 season when he attempted to use a camouflaged bat. The war club was unique in appearance, sporting black and white zebra stripes that ran the length of the bat. It was designed to annoy opposing pitchers, but the bat was ruled illegal. Switching to a conventional piece of lumber, Goose went 3-for-4 on the day. He produced 104 RBIs for the 1932 Browns.

Goslin was dealt back to the Senators on December 14, 1932. Joe Cronin was the new skipper in 1933, and the Nats greeted him by winning the pennant. Goslin never agreed with Cronin’s management style, and their differences were a reason the Tigers acquired Goose for the 1934 season. Teammate Elden Auker later recalled Goose as always one to clown around and keep the players loose. “He was some character, a really great guy. He was just happy-go-lucky, always laughing and joking and pulling pranks.” Over the years, he and Ernie Lombardi, catcher on the Cincinnati Reds, “waged an ongoing feud over who had the bigger nose.” Goose would tease Lombardi that his nose was long enough to keep his cigar dry in the shower. Remarks like “you could get by on one breath a day” continually went back and forth.

The teams generally barnstormed north together. “One spring in our final exhibition in Cincinnati,” Goose swung so hard, he turned himself completely around as a runner was stealing second. Lombardi went to throw the ball and his right hand hit Goslin’s nose. As the Goose lay on the ground “bleeding like a stuck hog,” Lombardi said, “that settles it; you’ve got the bigger nose. You’ve got such a big nose, I can’t even throw to second base. You can’t get that nose out of the way.” Goose went to the hospital to get his nose set and the two remained close friends.

The 1934 World Series pitted the Tigers against the St. Louis Cardinals. The “Gas House Gang” defeated the Bengals 4 games to 3; Goose drove in the winning run in Game Two. Just before the start of the seventh game, Goose remarked, “Everybody seems to be mad at everybody else in this series, with all hands sore at the umpiring, which has been terrible, so watch out for fireworks today.” That prediction came true in the sixth inning, when Joe Medwick slid hard into Tiger’s third baseman Marv Owen, causing a near-riot among Detroit fans. When Medwick took his position in left field, the fans showered the field with debris. The Cards went on to win 1 –0 and take the title.

The Tigers repeated as American League champs in 1935 and Goslin definitely provided a spark in the World Series against the Chicago Cubs. The Goose brought a rabbit into the clubhouse as a good-luck charm, thinking it would work better than just a rabbit’s foot. Indeed it did, as the Bengals prevailed over the Cubs, four games to two. Elden Auker recalled the decisive hit and series win. “I was sitting on the dugout steps at the start of our half of the ninth and Goose was sitting beside me. Goose hadn’t had a hit all day and was the fourth hitter due up that inning. He turned to me and said something I’ll never forget. ‘I’ve got a hunch I’m going to be up there with the winning run on base and we’re going to win the ballgame.’

Mickey Cochrane got on base and was moved to second on Charlie Gehringer’s groundout. Cochrane was on second when Goslin came up to the plate, facing left-hander Larry French. Goose fouled away a pitch—then lined the next offering to right-center, scoring Cochrane and giving the Tigers a 4–3 victory and their first World Series title. Auker and Goslin embraced, with Goose shouting, “What’d I tell ya? What’d I tell ya?” The home-plate umpire for the decisive seventh game was none other than Goslin’s old pal Bill McGowan. Detroit was bedlam after the Tigers’ victory, and Goose Goslin was the man of the hour.

Still with the Tigers in 1936, Goslin was solid, contributing a .315 average and a team-leading 24 home runs. In 1937, after hitting only .238, he was released by Detroit and signed with the Senators on April 3, 1938. He was hitting only .158 when age finally caught up with him. Batting against Lefty Grove, Goose wrenched his back and was unable to complete his plate appearance. It was the only time in his entire career a pinch-hitter was sent up in his place. Goose retired with a lifetime average of .316. His 2,735 hits included 500 doubles, 173 triples, and 248 home runs.

Goslin was player-manager of the Trenton Senators of the Class B Interstate League in 1939. In August of 1941, after Trenton lost 15 of 18 games, he abruptly quit as manager. Next, he essentially retired from the game to run his farm and boat business. After his wife died in 1960, Goose became reclusive, spending most of his days fishing and living alone on the Delaware Bay. He reportedly was disappointed when old rival Heinie Manush was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1965, leaving Goslin waiting. The Veterans Committee elected Goose on January 28, 1968.

The induction took place on Monday, July 22, of the same year. Commissioner William Eckert introduced Goose, who tearfully stated, “I have been lucky. I want to thank God, who gave me the health, strength to compete with these great players.” He then began to cry uncontrollably. Applause from the audience gave him the confidence to continue, “I will never forget this. I will take this to my grave.” Goose passed away on May 15, 1971, in Bridgeton, New Jersey, at the age of 70. He was buried at the Baptist Cemetery in Salem. Coincidentally, his death followed the passing of Heinie Manush by three days. 

 

Sources

Auker, Elden, and Tom Keegan. Sleeper Cars and Flannel Uniforms: A Lifetime of Memories from Striking Out the Babe to Teeing It Up with the President. Chicago: Triumph Books, 2001.

Honig, Donald. Baseball When the Grass Was Real: Baseball from the Twenties to the Forties Told by the Men Who Played It. New York: Berkley Medallion Books, 1977.

Luke, Bob. Dean of Umpires: Bill McGowan. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2005. Ritter, Lawrence. The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It. New York: William Morris, 1992.

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Washington Post

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