An interview with former big leaguer and Vietnam veteran Chuck Goggin
Chuck Goggin made his first-ever trip to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum last weekend. The former big leaguer, who spent three seasons (1972-74) in the majors, was to participate in the 2013 Hall of Fame Classic until a constant rain curtailed those plans.
But for Goggin, 67, a change in plans is nothing new. The former infielder/outfielder had his professional baseball aspirations in 1966 and ’67 temporarily suspended due to his serving in the U.S, Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. Though his 13-month tour ended due to a landmine, he was able to resume his ball-playing career.
During an interview at Doubleday Field on Friday afternoon, Goggin talked about his life in and out of baseball.
Question: What is it like coming to Cooperstown for Hall of Fame Classic Weekend?
Chuck Goggin: When I got invitation to come, and I’ve not participated in one of these before, it was particularly important for me to be a part of the baseball aspect of being here in Cooperstown and actually getting a chance, which I haven’t done yet, to go to the Hall of Fame. But also because I am the only Major League Baseball player to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps and to fight in Vietnam, so this is particularly poignant to me to represent Major League Baseball and to represent my friends and comrades that I fought with in Vietnam, including those who didn’t come home.
Q: What was it like coming back to play baseball after serving in Vietnam?
CG: I signed with the Dodgers after high school and my first year was in 1964 in the minor leagues. I played ‘64 and ‘65 and then I got drafted. I went into the Marine Corps and missed two years of my career and then I came back and had to start over again. From a baseball standpoint it obviously hurt missing two years at a young age like that. It hurt quite a bit as far as my career was concerned. But the experiences and the memories, mostly the experiences that I got out of the Marine Corps, have helped me my entire life. It definitely helped me in baseball when I came back, having much more personal discipline. The leadership qualities of the people that I served with helped me to manage my own life much better after I got back. I don’t necessarily think that everybody should go to war but I certainly think that there’s an awful lot of people that would benefit from a couple of years in the Marine Corps somewhere and they’d come out better people on the end of it.
Q: Can you put in perspective the pressure of a baseball game after seeing military conflict?
CG: Striking out with the bases loaded to end the game, it was not as traumatic as surviving a firefight. Totally different experiences but both experiences have done me well. Maybe I didn’t have a Hall of Fame career in the big leagues, but I had a career in the big leagues and that’s what I always wanted to do. By the time I got there I was so beat up, banged up and broken up that my career was short because of injuries. So going forward with the rest of my life, the 40 years of my life after baseball was over, the fact that I had played in the big leagues opened doors for me, gave me an opportunity to get into some places and do some things. I had to deliver once I got in there but the fact that because I had been a major league ballplayer it actually opened the door which helped me out. The things that I learned in the Marine Corps have helped me in everything that I’ve done the rest of my life as far as personal discipline is concerned, following through, making sure that I take care of my buddies because I know my buddies are going to take care of me.
Q: Is Memorial Day special for you?
CG: It is. I reflect every Memorial Day. In my outfit we lost 38 men, men who did not make it to the age of 21, all killed my 13 months in Vietnam. We have a memorial to our unit at the Marine Corp Museum and those 38 people are honored with their names on a memorial. And every year I reflect on them.
Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Basrbsll Hall of Fame snd Museum.