All Races Were Equal For Prospect Jim Gosger

Many saw the rise of the Civil Rights Movement in 1962 as an important event in 1960s America. People witnessed Martin Luther King Jr. rise to prominence while fighting for equality. Although Major League Baseball destroyed the color barrier in 1947, racism in baseball still existed in 1962, which came as a shock to Red Sox prospect Jim Gosger.

1962 marked Red Sox prospect Jim Gosger’s first year in professional baseball.Prospect Jim Gosger Playing for the Class B Winston-Salem Red Sox in the Carolina League, Gosger hadn’t experienced the level of racism seen in the south before. “My parents taught me that we were all the same.” So when Gosger first started playing baseball in the south, he couldn’t understand why bathrooms were segregated. “I told our manager [Eddie] Popowski that it was wrong. He said ‘I agree, Jim, but there’s not much we can do about it.'” Why segregate the bathrooms, Jim though. “I never had an issue with color in my life. As a kid I had a black friend who picked me up in the morning so we could go to practice together. I didn’t have an issue with race.” When hecklers started hurling racial epithets at a teammate though, Gosger decided to do something about it.

It started during a game against the Wilson Tobs in Wilson, North Carolina. Infielder Tommy Williams, the only black player on the team, sat on the bench. “Tommy was a nice guy who never gave anyone a hard time,” Gosger recalled. “But these people in the stands called him the n-word and yelled that he shouldn’t be there.” Gosger recalls how Williams quietly sat in the dugout and never said a word. “I couldn’t believe it. So finally another guy and I went into the stands. We confronted the guys yelling at Williams. They got thrown out of the park. The cops then dealt with it but I couldn’t believe what they’d said.”

For Prospect Jim Gosger, All Players Were Equal

Gosger played one year in Winston-Salem batting .283 with 19 home runs and 83 RBIs. He joined the Red Sox the following year in Boston. But Gosger never forgot that moment. For him, it marked an awakening to the reality of race relations in America.  “When we’d stop on the road at a restaurant Tommy wouldn’t go in. So we’d get him a sandwich. We were teammates. We took care of him.”

The Civil Rights Movement has made tremendous strides since 1962. Recent events, however, have torn wide the wounds of intolerance in Baton Rogue, Louisiana and Minneapolis, Minnesota. But for Red Sox prospect Jim Gosger, that moment in 1962 is something he will never forget. While he credits people like President John F. Kennedy for combating racism, he knows there’s still work to be done. “I’m very discouraged by what’s going on today. I know a lot of others are too. Something has to be done.”

The Prospect That Scared Ted Williams

Who is the fastest pitcher ever? Some say Nolan Ryan. His fastball topped 103 mph more than once. Others might say Sandy Koufax. But I’ll bet you a million dollars that most people won’t say Steve Dalkowski, a.k.a. “White Lightning.” That’s because he never played one day in the Major Leagues. For Red Sox fans, Dalkowski is remembered as the prospect that scared Ted Williams with his pitching.

Because of his colorful personality, Steve Dalkowski was the inspiration for two major movie characters. Scared Ted WilliamsTim Robbins’ portrayal of “Nuke” LaLoosh in Bull Durham was the first. Brendan Fraser’s Steve Nebraska in The Scout was the second. Like Steve Nebraska, Dalkowski had a mean fastball that people feared. And like “Nuke,” he had control problems. In the 995 innings he pitched during his nine years in the minors, he struck out 1,396 but walked 1,354. Nearly 1400 strikeouts in nearly 1000 innings. That’s not the most amazing thing about Dalkowski though.

The problem with knowing whether Dalkowski actually threw 125 mph is that speed guns weren’t used in baseball until after he left the game. It will always be a mystery lost to time. However, stories about his playing days and what he could do with a baseball remain. Legend has it that one of his pitches tore off part of a batter’s ear. Another story details how a wild pitch broke Hall of Fame umpire Doug Harvey’s mask, knocking him back 18 feet. On two occasions, he allegedly won bets based on the speed of his pitches. He won a $5 bet proving that he could throw a baseball through a wall (He threw a ball through a wooden outfield fence from 15 feet away). On another bet, Dalkowski threw a ball over a fence from 440 feet away.

Unfortunately, Dalkowski never made it to the majors. On March 23, 1963, Dalkowski was used a relief pitcher against the New York Yankees during a spring training game. A slider made something pop in Dalkowski’s arm that caused a severe muscle strain. His arm never recovered. His off-field violent behavior only made life harder for him. When I asked former Red Sox Major Leaguer Jim Gosger, who faced Dalkowski in AAA Rochester, if the stories about him were true, Gosger said, “He was a nice guy, but his nickname was CRAZY STEVE! You never knew if his pitch was going to be a strike or if it was going to go over your head!”

When Dalkowski Scared Ted Williams

Dalkowski was soon released and went to work as a migrant worker. Alcoholism and divorce soon took over his life. Nowadays, Dalkowski lives in an assisted living facility in New Britain, CT and unfortunately suffers from dementia. Though most people don’t know who he is, people like Ted Williams never forgot him.

Dalkowski threw with wild, but demon speed. He had almost as many walks as he did strikeouts in his career. It didn’t deter Ted Williams from satisfying his curiosity about how fast he could throw though. Once during spring training in Miami, Williams stepped in the batter’s box for an at-bat against Dalkowski. One second, Williams was watching Dalkowski wind up. The next thing Williams heard was the ball hit the catcher’s mitt behind him. Startled, Williams dropped his bat and stepped out of the box saying “Fastest ever. I never want to face him again.” The speed of Dalkowski’s pitched scared Ted Williams!

Former Red Sox Frustrated by Unmotivated Players

The death of the Reserve Clause and the birth of free agency in the mid-1970s ushered in a new era of baseball that saw skyrocketing salaries and multiple-year contracts. For the players, it was a victory over the owners who had sought to limit their salaries and leaveFormer Red Sox them with no room to negotiate. Since then, however, some former Red Sox are saying that huge salaries and multiple-year contracts are leaving current players with less motivation to play as hard as they can.

I recently spoke with Jim Gosger, a former Red Sox reserve outfielder who played for the team from 1963 to 1966. Known as a line-drive hitter, Gosger played in the major leagues for a dozen years, and won a World Series with the New York Mets in 1969. Gosger told me that his years in the big leagues were the best years of his life, and that most players back then played for the love of the game. He said that many players today just don’t have the drive and enthusiasm to play because to them it’s all about the money. “There’s no loyalty to a team anymore,” Gosger told me, “We used to have to be at a certain weight when we arrived at spring training. But now look at Pablo (Sandoval). How do you even get that far overweight?” Gosger’s words echo what many other former players like him are saying today.

I sat in on a Q&A last summer with members of the 1975 Boston Red Sox World Series team that included Jim Rice. Rice said that fans would start seeing players play much harder with more motivation if they got one and two year contracts instead of the six or seven year contracts many of them are accustomed to receiving. Rice makes a good point. If you’re an outfielder with a six-year contract making $5 million a year and you want to take a day off, who’s going to stop you? You’re a millionaire, so what do you care if someone gets on your case for not hustling? For a million dollars I’d lean in and let pitchers peg me if it meant getting on base to help the Red Sox win!

Former Red Sox Players Knew How to Hustle!

A lack of hustle used to get a player benched immediately. During a game in 1977 against the Red Sox, the New York Yankees’ Reggie Jackson got yanked from the game by his manager, Billy Martin, for not hustling to field a hit. Jackson seemed to almost jog to the ball as Jim Rice pulled into second base for a double. While Jackson said he misjudged the depth of the hit, anyone watching the footage can immediately tell he wasn’t giving his best effort. It’s worth mentioning that Jackson was one of the game’s first $1 million players.  What’s bothersome to former Red Sox players and old-school fans alike is this lack of hustle makes the game less exciting, which is the last thing baseball needs. Games already last for hours, and while I love every minute of it, I’d love it even more if I saw outfielders diving for catches, or a hitter run his butt off trying to beat out a bunt.