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 résumé as long as a Chicago Cubs season, having switched teams a staggering 37 times, he says, in eight major and minor league campaigns.
"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."