Tuesday, September 22, 2015

#CollisionWithFame: October 18 1925 -- Marv Goodwin


Marvin Mardo (Marv) Goodwin was one of a select breed of major league pitchers: he was a legal spitball thrower. He would also become the first major league baseball player to be killed in a plane crash and the first active player killed.
In the early days of baseball, balls remained in play despite damage or despoliation, and pitchers would take advantage of the wear on balls to achieve breaking fastball pitches.  Some pitchers were especially skilled at doctoring the ball to achieve fabulous breaking stuff.   The grip on a spitball was similar to that of a split-fingered fastball, where the pitch breaks down and away from the batter. In 1920, as part of the effort to recover from the controversy surrounding the fix of the 1919 World Series, the major leagues sought to get rid of outlaw elements, banning spitballing.  However, a group of seventeen pitchers were designated as “legal spitballers” and were exempted from the rules banning pitch doctoring.  Marv Goodwin was one of the fraternity of spitters.
Goodwin came up out Gordonsville, Virginia, and played a total of fifteen seasons of organized ball with the Senators, Cardinals and Reds. Large for a player of the era (5’11”, 170lb) Marv hit and threw righty.  He broke into the majors  in 1916 with the Washington
Senators, but was dealt to Milwaukee of the American Association.  Milwaukee subsequently traded Marv to the Saint Louis Cardinals in exchange for Paddy Livingston, Sam Bohne, a player to be named later (Bob Bescher), plus cash on July 1 1917.  He stayed with the Cards through 1922 (taking time out in 1918 to go fight in the Great War).  Goodwin slipped back into the minor leagues (including a stint managing in the legendary Texas League), but made it back to the majors with the Cincinnati Reds in 1925.
Goodwin’s career was mediocre at best. Used mainly in relief, he lost more often than he won (going 21-25) and he notched just two saves in relief.  He completed 19 of 48 starts and posted a reasonably good 3.30 ERA. His best season, in 1919, he was 11-7 with a 2.51 ERA, compared to a 2.91 average for the league.  Like most pitchers he carried a light stick, hitting .186 for his career.
In addition to playing ball, Goodwin was a flyer.  He was a member of the Ellington Field Squadron in Houston, a unit of the Texas National Guard. On October 18, 1925, just a few weeks after the close of the baseball season, Goodwin was on a training flight with his Ellington Field unit when the craft he was flying crashed. 
At an altitude of 200 feet the plane went into a tailspin and crashed. Early reports said that only the pilot's superb handling of the plane saved his life and that of his mechanic.
Goodwin was so badly mangled that he lived less than three days. Both his arms and his legs were broken in several places, and he received terrible internal injuries. He died at Baptist Hospital in Houston at 5:05 a. m. on October 21 at the age of 34. The official death certificate listed the cause of death as fracture at the base of the skull with multiple fractures of the limbs as contributing factors.
In his last major league game, Goodwin pitched against league champs Pittsburgh Pirates on Oct. 4, the last day of the season. Goodwin pitched a complete game but lost 4-2. He was killed two weeks later.
Goodwin’s death was not the end of the story. Cardinals’ owner Branch Rickey, who had just traded Goodwin from to the Reds, asked Reds ownership for full payment of the trade. But the Reds argued they were not required to make full payment because Goodwin had not been with the team for more than 30 days. Baseball Commissioner Landis ruled in favor of the Reds.
            The Legal Spitballers: In 1920, Major League baseball allowed each team to designate two “legal spitballers” to continue to throw the ball in the majors.  The exemption was supposed to be for a single season, but baseball relaxed enforcement and allowed the seventeen exempted pitchers who were designated as legal spitballers to continue to throw the pitch for the rest of their respective careers.  The following list is from Charles F. Faber and Richard B. Faber, Spitballers: The Last Legal Hurlers of the Wet One:

National League Spitballers
Bill Doak (Saint Louis Cardinals)
Phil Douglas (New York Giants)
Dana Fillingim (Boston Braves)
Ray Fisher (Cincinnati Reds)
Marv Goodwin (Saint Louis Cardinals)
Burleigh Grimes (Brooklyn Dodgers)
Clarence Mitchell (Brooklyn Dodgers)
Dick Rudolph  (Boston Braves)

American League Spitballers
Doc Ayers (Detroit Tigers)
Ray Caldwell (Cleveland Indians)
Stan Coveleski (Cleveland Indians)
Red Faber (Chicago White Sox)
Dutch Leonard (Detroit Tigers)
Jack Quinn (New York Yankees)
Allan Russell (Boston Red Sox)
Urban Shocker (Saint Louis Browns)
Allen Sothoron  (Saint Louis Browns)