Special to Plate Coverage from 80sbaseball.com.
Of the tens of thousands of players selected by Major League teams since 1965 through the amateur draft, only 51 have had the honor of being picked first. Being the first player picked in the draft means you’re considered the single best amateur player in the United States and Canada; it means no other high school, junior college or college player is thought to have more potential; and in today’s game it means you’re going to be extraordinarily wealthy.[i]
It does not mean you are going to be a major league star.[ii]
Only one player in the history of major league baseball was good enough to be selected first in the draft… twice. He was chosen ahead of some of the best players in baseball history. And his story shows that extraordinary talent doesn’t guarantee extraordinary success at the Major League level.
Danny Goodwin was a high school superstar. A hard-hitting catcher, he was the kind of prospect you build a franchise around. There were rumors that he was asking for a big bonus, but the Chicago White Sox, who had the #1 pick in 1971, were undeterred. "We understand he will ask for six-figures," said White Sox GM Roland Hemond. "We're not discouraged by it. It's quite an honor for the kid to be drafted number one."
On June 8th, 1971, Chicago selected Goodwin first overall, ahead of future Hall of Famers Jim Rice, George Brett, and Mike Schmidt. Less than a week after the draft, he and the Sox were already at odds. He wanted to play baseball, but he also wanted an education. If the White Sox wanted him, they would need to make it worth his while, which included paying him to play baseball and go to school.
“He wants more than $100,000 and he wants it now, not spread over 30 years,” Hemond told the Chicago Tribune. “We offered to help with his education as well because he wants to go to college.”
The offers fell on deaf ears. Goodwin turned the White Sox down and enrolled in the pre-med program at Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA., the first time an overall #1 pick had ever walked away from professional baseball.
It wouldn’t be the last time he made history.
1975: Number One... Again
Goodwin dominated during his four years at Southern, batting .394 with 20 homers and 166 RBI in 169 games. He was named College Player of the Year in 1975, hitting.425 with 46 RBI in 41 games as a senior. When the 1975 draft rolled around, he was again the top pick in the country--ahead of future standouts Lou Whitaker, Lee Smith, and a shaky-kneed outfielder from Florida A&M named Andre Dawson, who lasted until the 11th round. This time, baseball won out over education, as Goodwin opted to skip dental school and sign with the California Angels for a reported $104,000, the largest bonus since the inception of the amateur draft.
“If we sign a few more like Danny,” said Angels owner and former movie star Gene Autry, “I’ll have to get back on my horse and come out of retirement.”
“Danny has devastating power,” said his college coach Emery Hines. “He can catch and throw as well as Johnny Bench, and he can run better. Whether it will take 25 or 50 or 150 games at the professional level to prepare him for the majors is difficult to say. None of us believe it will take long.”
Goodwin pumped the brakes a bit on his former coach’s assessment but said he felt he could help the Angels sooner rather than later. “I have confidence in myself and I don’t think the pressure will be any greater than it was when I went to Southern after being the number one pick. One reason I was so happy to be drafted by the Angels is that I realize I’ll have an opportunity to advance quickly.”
After a handful of games in Double-A, Goodwin made his major league debut on September 3rd, 1975 against the Texas Rangers and collected one hit in ten at-bats over the final month of the season. He was sent back down to the minors to gain experience, and for the next two summers, he did nothing but hit everywhere he went. His batting average topped .300 in Single-A Salinas, Double-A El Paso and Triple-A Salt Lake City, which earned him another brief, late-season call-up with the Angels in 1977.
He was ready for the big leagues in 1978, but the Angels were loaded with offensive talent at the positions Goodwin could play: Brian Downing was the new catcher after coming over in a trade with the White Sox; former MVP Don Baylor was the regular designated hitter. With an outfield of Joe Rudi, Rick Miller, and Lyman Bostock, there was no place for Goodwin to play--so back to the minor leagues he went. The big surprise was that after splitting 1977 between AAA Salt Lake City and the Major Leagues, Goodwin found himself back in AA El Paso to begin 1978.
Back in the Texas League, Goodwin hit .360 with 25 homers in 101 games and was called up at the beginning of August, in the middle of a pennant race. In his second start, he went 5-7 in a doubleheader against the Twins and finished August batting .283.
“I always felt I would hit up here if I was given the opportunity,” he told The Sporting News. “I have confidence in knowing I can hit. I like being with a team that has a chance to make the playoffs.”
Two events took place in September, 1978 that would alter Danny Goodwin’s baseball future. Neither were under his control.
On September 5th, Minnesota Twins outfielder Danny Ford jogged home from third on a single to center field, allowing the trailing runner to touch home plate before he did. The mental error killed a rally and effectively ended his time in Minnesota. “We’ve got 24 guys trying to catch Oakland and Texas in the standings and he’s so nonchalant it’s unbelievable,” said Twins president Calvin Griffith. Ford was talented, but the Twins had seen enough of his act and were looking for an opportunity to unload him.
On September 23rd, Goodwin’s teammate Lyman Bostock went 2-4 against the White Sox in Chicago and returned to his hometown of Gary, Indiana to spend time with family and friends. Just before 11 p.m. that night, a man stuck a shotgun into the back seat of the car in which Bostock was riding and pulled the trigger. He was pronounced dead a few hours later. Bostock's death devastated the Angels, but from a strictly baseball standpoint it also left them in need of an outfielder. On December 4th, the Angels made a trade with the Twins, sending Goodwin and Ron Jackson to Minnesota for the maligned Danny Ford.
Upon his arrival in Minnesota, the biggest question surrounding Goodwin involved which position he would play. Twins manager Gene Mauch put an end to the speculation: “He plays bat.”
The plan was for Goodwin to serve as the Twins left-handed DH, a situation that fit his skills well and would finally give him a substantial number of major league at-bats. But just before spring training, Goodwin injured his ankle and didn’t tell his new team about it. The result was a .174 batting average in limited action, and yet another trip to the minor leagues. Since he was out of options, the Twins placed him on waivers in order to send him to their AAA team in Toledo. Under waiver rules, any team in baseball could have paid a relatively small fee to claim Goodwin and insert him into their lineup; not one team did. The fact that Danny Goodwin was a two-time overall #1 draft pick and cleared waivers at age 25 spoke volumes about how far his stock had fallen.
Instead of going to Toledo, Goodwin headed west. Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley had his eye on Goodwin and arranged for him to open the season with Oakland’s AAA team in Ogden UT, where he would team up with a young outfielder named Rickey Henderson.
Once again, Goodwin dominated at AAA, hitting .349 with 20 homers and 94 RBI in 100 games. Once again he was called up to the big leagues, and once again he had to clear waivers in order to do so. On July 21st, batting ninth for the first time in his life, he laced a triple off the center field wall to drive in two runs in what would become a 6-4 Twins victory.
“(Teamate) Bobby Randall told me it’s better to hit ninth in the big leagues than fourth in the minor leagues,” he said. “I’m pretty easy going. I just wanted to play.”
Goodwin finished the 1979 season batting .289 with five homers and 27 RBI in 55 games. He had finally earned his shot to break camp with the big league team in 1980. Unfortunately, 1979 proved to be the high point of his major league career. Danny Goodwin hit .200 in 1980 and was released by the Twins in 1981 after another dismal season. He had a brief stint with Oakland in 1982 and then spent three seasons in AAA with the Tacoma Tigers. He retired after playing in Japan in 1986.
Danny Goodwin had all the tools. But like Steve Chilcott before him and Shawn Abner after him, he wasn’t able to put it together at the major league level. As a two-time #1 draft pick, Goodwin was the most “can’t miss” prospect of all-time. But sometimes “can’t-miss prospects” do exactly that.
[i] Who is eligible for the draft? According to MLB.com: A player who is a resident of the United States or Canada and who has not previously contracted with a Major League or Minor League Club, so long as the player is eligible to sign under the High School, College or Junior College Rules contained in Major League Rule 3. For purposes of Rule 4, the term "United States" means the 50 states of the United States of America, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and any other Commonwealth, Territory or Possession of the United States of America. Players attending high school, college or junior college in the United States or Canada are considered residents of the United States or Canada for purposes of draft eligibility.
[ii] Since Major League Baseball instituted their amateur draft, eleven different NBA players were drafted first and eventually reached the Hall of Fame. Nine men have done it in the NFL, seven in the NHL. Ken Griffey Jr. is the only #1 pick in baseball history to reach his sport’s Hall of Fame.