The reporters covering Red Sox baseball back in the late forties and early fifties used to call it “the Goodman problem.” Each year, when Boston opened its spring training camp in Sarasota, Florida, whoever happened to be managing the club that year was bound to be asked the same question during his first interview with the press, “Where you going to play Billy Goodman this season?” As one Boston manager after another found out, it was a great problem to have.
The son of a North Carolina farmer, Goodman was a three-sport star in high school and a veteran of WWII. After he put together two great seasons in the Southern Assocoiation, the Red Sox signed him for $75,000, which was a huge amount of money back in 1947. He made the parent club’s roster permanently by 1948 and began a 15-year big league career as one of the most versatile position players of all-time. During his decade as a Red Sox he started at every position except pitcher and catcher and played them all well.
But Goodman’s calling card was his crafty work at the plate. He had little power but he could hit the ball hard and he rarely struck out. In 1950 he won the AL batting title with a .354 average, the only player in big league history to do so without playing as many as 50 games in any one position on the field. Boston had an all-star-laden lineup back then and Goodman was used to back up most of them. During his days at Fenway he filled in long stretches for Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr and Walt Dropo.
When he was traded to the Orioles for pitcher Mike Fornieles in June of 1957, Goodman’s career lifetime average as a Red Sox was .306 and his on-base-percentage for Boston was a robust .386, good enough to place him 13th and 14th respectively on the franchise’s all-time leader lists in those two categories. He continued playing until 1962 and then became a long-time coach and instructor at the minor league level. He died from skin cancer at the age of 58 in 1984.