Mementos are everywhere in Joe Goddard’s home office in River Forest. Stories he wrote during his 44 years at the Sun-Times, including 27 years as a baseball writer. Cubs and White Sox jerseys with his name on the back from his 2006 retirement. A letter from baseball commissioner Bud Selig. A plaque commemorating his induction into the Hall of Fame at Hinsdale Central, a school he didn’t even attend.
Because of Parkinson’s disease and other medical issues, some memories need to be coaxed out, but when they come, they come with spirit.
Years ago, he and his wife, Carol, were walking through Central Park in New York and came upon a softball game composed mostly of Broadway performers. The pitcher? Inexplicably, Meat Loaf. So Goddard did what any good writer would do. He wrote about it. The story eventually landed in the hands of the rock singer. Not long after, the softball scribe received an angry voice mail about a perceived error in the story.
“It was Meat Loaf,’’ Goddard said. “He said, ‘I did not give up a grand slam to the guy who played the Phantom of the Opera!’ ’’
Goddard kept the voice mail for years.
The Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony is Sunday. Many of you are thinking about Frank Thomas and Greg Maddux, this year’s inductees. I can’t help but think of Goddard, 76, who classed up a game and a profession.
He twice finished second in voting for the writers’ wing of the Hall. He’s fine with that, saying he doesn’t think he deserved the award, which is the kind of thing he would say. You’ve probably heard somebody referred to as “a sweetheart of a guy.’’ I deal in opinions, but this is simply fact: Goddard is the sweetest sweetheart of a guy there is. Anybody who has been around him, even ballplayers and managers who don’t always take kindly to us media types, knows it.
Even when Goddard lost, he won.
“One day, [then-Sox manager] Chuck Tanner stuck out his hand,’’ he said. “I went to shake it, and instead he pulled hard on my mustache and brought me down to the ground. He said, ‘That wasn’t a very nice thing you wrote about Rich Gossage in today’s paper. You owe him an apology.’
“So I went to Gossage and said, ‘I’m really sorry about that article.’ Gossage said, ‘I deserved it. I was horse[bleep].’ ’’
It was a different time all the way around.
After Goddard stopped writing baseball for the Sun-Times in 2000, an editor gave him a new job: Track down former athletes, find out what they’re doing with their lives and tell their stories. Goddard feared nobody would call him back. Of course, this being Goddard, everybody did. They not only talked with him, they suggested other story subjects for his “What’s Up With . . .’’ column, slipped him hard-to-get phone numbers and put in a good word for him.
One of his favorite columns was on Mario “Motts’’ Tonelli, a former Notre Dame running back who was a Bataan Death March survivor.
“One day, a motorcycle with a sidecar came along during the march,’’ Goddard said. “An officer got out and said, ‘Is there a Sgt. Tonelli here?’ Tonelli thought that this was the day he was going to die. The officer said, ‘I saw you play for Notre Dame against Southern California. You had a great game. I’d like to give you back your class ring.’ A guard had stolen it.’’
Goddard teared up Saturday retelling that story. He also cried when talking about his long-ago proposal to Carol, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, seeing that he cried while proposing. That’s Joe.
He freelanced for 44 years for the Hinsdale Doings, writing mostly about Hinsdale Central athletics. (The Doings is also where the awesome Meat Loaf story appeared.) Goddard touched a lot of lives. It’s how he ended up in the school’s Hall of Fame in 2009.
“I directed photography at Montgomery Ward for years,’’ his wife said. “When one of the photographers I worked with found out I was dating Joe, he said, ‘Joe Goddard? He wrote about me in high school!’ He brought in his scrapbooks with all the articles Joe had written about his basketball career at Hinsdale Central.’’
The Parkinson’s disease has slowed Goddard, but it hasn’t stopped him. He struggles to write now, but he’s working to keep his mind and body active.
In 2011, some of his boyhood pals met with the Inverness Park District. Now the name of the ballpark they played at as kids is called Joe Goddard Field.
“That was my ‘Field of Dreams,’ ’’ he said. “I still feel real good about that.”
Nice guys finish first.