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March 17, 2010

Prospectus Q&A

Tom Goodwin

by David Laurila

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Tom Goodwin loves the running game. The erstwhile speedster stole 369 bases in his big-league career, four times topping the 50 mark in a season and once swiping 66. A first-round pick by the Dodgers in 1989, he played for six teams over parts of 14 seasons and now serves as a roving outfield and baserunning instructor in the Boston organization. Goodwin sat down with Baseball Prospectus late in the 2009 season in Lowell, Mass., where he was tutoring members of the Red Sox's short-season affiliate.

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David Laurila: Is the stolen base a lost art in baseball?

Tom Goodwin: I think it's coming back. There are a lot of guys out there today who are trying to take it to that next level, or to get it back to the level it was at maybe some 20 or so years ago, where teams have to actually defend against it. I think that's the main reason you want to have a running game. It makes teams do things they might not normally like to do, like slide steps, pitchouts, and pitchers trying to be quick. It definitely had been a lost art, but I think it's coming back.

DL: Have teams run more intelligently in recent years, or simply run less?

TG: Well, they've run less and I think it has to do with guys knowing how many home runs have been hit and how it's almost foolish to put yourself into a position where you might run into an out. I think that's why it stopped. There are obviously still home runs being hit, but I think it's coming back to the point where guys are a maybe a little smarter as opposed to being almost uncontrollable as they sometimes were in the past. I was always one of those guys who wanted to go out there and just run, and even if I was a little wild, it's fun to have a guy who's a little wild and you can tame him a little. That's preferable to having a guy who is passive and you try to turn him into a more aggressive base runner.

DL: In 1990, your first season with regular playing time, you stole 50 bases. It probably isn‘t a coincidence that one of your teammates that year was Vince Coleman.

TG: I learned a lot from Vince. I learned how to watch film. I learned how to watch guys on tape, not just looking for how they're pitching, but to actually gauge their moves. Maybe they do something different when they're throwing to first as opposed to when they're coming home. So Vince taught me a lot, both by getting me in the film room and by me just watching him.

DL: Another of your Kansas City teammates that year was a young Johnny Damon. What was the 21-year-old Damon like?

TG: Johnny has always been a special talent. Johnny could run, he could hit, he played great defense out there. He also got me moved over to left field and I'm still a little mad about that, but I'll handle that when I see him next time. No, just kidding. Johnny was young, and it was his first year playing, and it was my first year with consistent playing time, so we really learned together. Both of us were in Vince's ear a lot, and he was very good about his time with us, helping us out whenever he could while still getting his own work in.

DL: The following season you stole 66 bases, but were also caught 22 times. Did you maybe run too much?

TG: That year, no. We didn't have too many big boppers on that team, so we had to manufacture runs by moving runners and having a lot of action out there on the base paths. So no, that wasn't one of those times where I feel I ran too often, or was running into too many outs, because that was how we were trying to score runs.

DL: Your manager in Kansas City was Bob Boone. Can a basestealer learn from a former catcher?

TG: No doubt. Boonie was a mastermind of the game, because he was always looking at it from a catcher's perspective. It helped me out knowing what he thought, because I had in mind what the catcher wanted to do, and at the time there were some good catchers in the league. Pudge [Rodriguez] was tough to steal on; Dan Wilson, in Seattle, was tough to steal on. Guys like that. I wasn't in their heads, but I was kind of thinking along with them.

DL: You had a memorable game, both at the plate and on the bases, against Jamie Moyer in 2000. I assume you know which one I’m referring to?

TG: I do. I think I got four hits in that game, and four stolen bases, and I remember that in my first at bat I had a 2-2 count and fouled off four or five pitches. I ended up hitting the ball between third base and shortstop­—I think A-Rod was playing shortstop that game—and after I got on, I stole second. I don't know if I generally hit Moyer well or not, but I remember that Tom Lampkin was catching and that day everything just clicked for me. Later in that game we had a double steal. Brian Hunter stole second and I stole home on the play.

DL: Jackie Robinson was known for stealing home. You wore No. 42 in his honor.

TG: I did. Dave Henderson had the number, in Kansas City, before I got there. I had No. 47 my first year there and then Dave left, in 1995, and he said to me, "Take care of No. 42 for me." I didn’t know what he meant at first and he said, "42—Jackie Robinson. That’s why I wear it." I said, "OK, I got it." So I wore it, but unfortunately when I got to Texas, in 1997, they had already retired 42. I thought that I was supposed to be grandfathered in with that, but for some reason I wasn’t.

DL: I understand that you’re related to Rap Dixon, a notable Negro League player.

TG: Yeah, that's the word on the street. One of my cousins told me about that, and while I haven't been schooled on it too much, it's obviously a great honor for me, knowing about those blood lines. All of those guys who played in that era—we have a lot to be thankful for.

DL: You hit 24 home runs in your career. I’m guessing that the first is the most memorable, for more than just that reason.

TG: Yes. That was the one against Todd Stottlemyre, who was pitching a heck of a game. He was with the A’s at the time and I was with the Royals. We were in Oakland, and with me being from that area and having grown up a big San Francisco Giants fan, I had a lot of family come down to see that game. He was throwing a three- or four-hitter and was beating us 1-0 with two out in the ninth inning. I figured that I couldn't do any worse than I had been doing­—I think I had a couple of strikeouts and a bouncer back to him. He threw me a first-pitch slider and the bat and the ball just happened to meet at the perfect time.

DL: That one left the yard. How many inside-the-park home runs did you hit?

TG: I had two. One was in Seattle and the other was in Atlanta. The one in Seattle I hit to right-center—it was a fly ball and Jay Buhner was out there messing around with it a little bit. They maybe could have given him an error, but he was always winning Gold Gloves, or at least was near the top of the list when it comes to defense. The one in Atlanta was off of Kevin Millwood and Andruw Jones played it maybe a little too nonchalantly. I hit it to straight-away center field, and was running hard from the get-go, and he stumbled a little bit. I think it clanked off his glove and they gave me an inside-the-park home run on the play.

DL: You played with Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa, two guys who routinely hit baseballs a long distance. What were they like?

TG: I had a great time with them. Sammy worked as hard as anybody when it came to his defensive work, his offensive work, getting down to the cage, almost to the point where it seemed like it was too much. Barry was the same way, although for him it came a little more naturally because he had so much raw talent. But he still worked hard in the cage and to get himself in shape for a full 162-game season. Both of them of them were set in their ways. Sammy wanted to be liked by everybody, while Barry didn't care what anybody thought. They were different personalities in that respect, but those were attributes which helped to make them what they were.

DL: Bonds and Sosa have remained in the news, albeit not always for the right reasons. Someone who hasn't is a former teammate of yours who drove in 157 runs in 1998.

TG: And he had 101 [RBI] at the break, if I’m not mistaken. He reached 100 on the last day before the break; he hit a home run against Randy Johnson. But yes, Juan Gonzalez was incredible. Anytime somebody got on base, he was coming home and it was going to be on an RBI from Juan. He had the same tools, and same type of attitude that you need to be a great player. He just got hurt a little more than those other two guys. If he could have stayed on the field more, he would have been one of the best.

DL: You finished your career with the Cubs. How would you describe 2003?

TG: Hurt. Just hurt. Oh my goodness, we were right there, it just didn't happen for us, the team, or for the city—there is all of that great Cubs mystique. But I still had a great time. It was one of the greatest years I had playing, although I went to the World Series the year before, with the Giants, which was probably my most memorable. The year with the Cubs was outstanding, though. The guys really came together and Dusty [Baker] did a great job of bringing us together. It just wasn’t meant to be. We were five outs away. Five outs away.

DL: To close, you currently work with base runners in the Red Sox organization and three of the players here in Lowell—Derrik Gibson, Wilfred Pichardo and Ryan Westmoreland—have really good wheels. Are they faster than Tom Goodwin?

TG: Hah! Right now, yes. Back then…it would be close. Those are three guys who are going to be on my burner list—guys who I want to help get a lot of stolen bases. As far as whether I was faster than they are, we might have to do one of those simulation things, like how they have Muhammed Ali fight Mike Tyson. We'd have to do one of those video-game things to figure it out. But those guys can definitely run, and they're a lot of fun to work with, because that's a part of the game I've always loved.

Related Content:  The Who,  Inside The Park,  Running Game

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