Back in the spring of 1965, when Casey Stengel was managing the
New York Mets, he introduced a rookie to the press by saying,
"This is Greg Goossen. He's 19 years old, and in 10 years he's
got a chance to be 29."
It's three decades later, and in December, Goossen has a chance
to be 51. His career as a second-string catcher did not qualify
him as one of the game's immortals. He has a baseball resume as
long as a Chicago Cubs season, having switched teams a
staggering 37 times, he says, in eight major and minor league
"Either everyone wanted me or everyone wanted to get rid of me,"
he says. "I could never figure out which."
He was known for his bat, not his glove. A scout once observed,
"Goossen's a hell of a hitter."
"Yeah," said another scout. "But what kind of catcher is he?"
"He's a hell of a hitter."
The years have left crags in Goossen's weathered features--teams
of mountaineers could lose themselves in his deep, shadowed
ridges--but he's still the same stubbled, sweet-natured,
slightly goofy guy who once said, "I can't play if I feel good.
I've got to have a little bit of a hangover to get the best out
of me." And he's still a backup, only the star he's filling in
for is Gene Hackman.
Goossen has been Hackman's stand-in for every movie the actor
has made since Split Decisions, in 1988, and their most recent
collaboration is the new thriller The Chamber. Hackman plays a
white supremacist on death row. Goossen has a one-line cameo as
an inmate. "See you soon, Sam," he shouts, as Hackman is led to
the gas chamber.
Goossen and Hackman met cute, as the showbiz expression goes, in
a Van Nuys, Calif., boxing gym run by two of Goossen's brothers,
Joe and Dan, whose stable of prizefighters includes former WBC
super featherweight champ Gabriel Ruelas. Greg taught Hackman
the art of throwing a punch--an art Goossen says he refined in
baseball brawls. One day Hackman asked Goossen, "If it wouldn't
be too degrading, would you like to stand in for me?"
Goossen laughed. "Degrading?" he said. "There must be a million
people who'd jump at the chance to be degraded that way."
The two have been friends ever since. Hackman has Goossen
written into all of his contracts. Besides a lavish salary,
Goossen gets first-class accommodations and airfare. And all for
standing on Hackman's mark while lights are being set up. "I've
had to stay on the same spot for three straight hours," says
Goossen. "But it never gets boring. Every day I think how lucky
I am to be with Gene Hackman."
They have a lot in common. Both once sold women's shoes--Hackman
before his career started up, Goossen after his wound down. Both
have three children by former wives. And both exude a certain
quality of anonymity. Goossen learned the meaning of the word
while playing for the Seattle Pilots in 1969, the team's first
and only year. He was chatting up a woman in a Manhattan bar
when she asked, "What do you do for a living?"
"I'm with the Pilots," he said.
"Oh. Which airline?"
"No, the Seattle Pilots."
The woman stared at him. Goossen stared back at her. "TWA," he
said at last.
Goossen broke into baseball in 1965, around the time Hackman
broke into films. He left the majors for good in 1970, the year
Hackman did his Oscar-winning turn as Popeye Doyle in The French
Connection. Of all of Hackman's film characters, Goossen most
reminds the actor of Buck Barrow, the infectiously likable rube
in Bonnie and Clyde. Goossen likens the 66-year-old Hackman to
his own father: "Not that it's a father-figure deal!" he sputters.
Hackman's concern for Goossen is almost touching. Goossen, he
says, keeps him honest. "You can't put on many airs around Greg.
He'll make fun of you." Which makes Goossen grin his goofy grin.
"We're just two honest guys," he says. "One of us is very
talented. The other's just hangin' in there."
COLOR PHOTO: HOLLY STEIN Hackman (left) won't sign up for a role unless he is assured that Goossen will be there by his side. [Gene Hackman and Greg Goossen]