The Bill Goodman story
Bill Goodman was just 7 years old when he moved into his step-grandmother’s home in Fort Dodge to live with her and 10 of her children.
His mother, Carrie, had died in an auto accident two years earlier. His father, Louis Goodman, who worked for a steel company, believed Fort Dodge would be a better place for his only son to grow up than the city where he was born, Chicago.
“It was very hard for me,” Goodman recalled. “The reality was that even with all those kids around, I felt alone. I was a lonely, quiet kid. It’s probably one of the reasons I got involved with athletics. They gave me something to grab on to, a feeling of belonging.”
Looking back from his home in Burnsville in suburban Minneapolis-St. Paul, Goodman appreciates that so much of what he has today — the love of a wife, four children and three grandchildren, a successful career in sports and the business world, and the ability at the age of 71 to still teach others — traces to participating in sports and the support of friends and coaches in Fort Dodge.
That shy, lonely kid, one of only two black students in his 1965 FDSH graduating class of 449, became one of the finest all-around athletes in Fort Dodge history. He signed a professional baseball contract and played seven years in the Reds and Twins organizations; joined the Twin Cities business community and excelled in human resources; and today is head baseball coach and a substitute teacher at a nearby high school while operating his own HR consulting business. And he’s watching his youngest son, Kris, forge a baseball career of his own.
Goodman lived in the household of Gracie Grady, who was the mother of Eloise, the woman his father remarried. His father met Eloise in Chicago and the couple lived in Fort Dodge for a short time, Goodman said, but his father believed he could earn more in Chicago and moved back. Bill stayed, and shared a room with three other boys in Gracie’s home in the Flats area of Fort Dodge, near the Des Moines River.
“I was withdrawn,” he said. “I spent a lot of time in books, building model planes, things I could do by myself. But those kind of things also teach you discipline.”
Bill was attending Pleasant Valley Elementary School when he latched onto a sport that would come to define his life — baseball — and found “I was a totally different person when I put a uniform on than when I didn’t have one on.”
Bill had learned to play catch with his dad, but a YMCA League team in Fort Dodge was his first exposure to organized baseball. His abilities were noted by Jerry Patterson, who invited him to join his Fort Dodge Demons 15-and-under baseball team that competed throughout Iowa and the Midwest. Goodman was a pitcher and outfielder for the Demons and until his senior year of high school, when Coach Ed McNeil moved him to center field.
At 5 foot, 11 inches, and 185 pounds, Goodman played football, basketball, baseball and track at Fort Dodge Senior High, where he was inducted in 2016 into the Dodger Hall of Fame. He was an 11-time varsity letter winner in the four sports and was selected first-team All-State as a football halfback. He considered McNeil as his second father — “I just loved the guy.”
McNeil died in 1991.
“I don’t know if I was that good an athlete,” he said, “but I was as mentally tough as anybody. I don’t know if I was good, but I loved what I was doing. There were people who were very good in helping me be confident in school work and athletics. One of them was Jake Townsend, who taught civics. He challenged me when I didn’t speak up: ‘Billy, you know the answer, now give me the answer!’ Those guys believed in me and I think that made me a better person and athlete.”
He was one of two blacks in his class — the other being Ernestine Benson, who is now deceased, his date to Senior Prom.
“Those were the best of times,” Goodman said. “I knew kids from Fort Dodge High and St. Edmond, and I don’t remember any of those people being biased because of the pigment of my skin.”
“Many a night at (classmate) Tom Bice’s house, if it snowed, they wouldn’t let me go home.When I was a sophomore playing varsity football, (Coach) Roger Higgins set up a situation where one of the seniors would give me a ride home after every varsity game. It showed me how decent people were. Larry Erickson and his girlfriend would give me a ride home before they went on their date. Growing up in Fort Dodge was not tough, it was different but not because of me being one of the few blacks in school.”
His dad visited from Chicago on holidays and saw Bill play on Dad’s Night at Dodger Stadium his senior year, when Bill ran back a punt for an 85-yard touchdown the first time he handled the ball. Bill treasures a photo of him with his dad from that football game.
Among the classmates he remains in touch with are Bice, a district court judge in Fort Dodge; Tom Goodman, an Iowa Basketball Hall of Fame player and coach who lives in suburban Des Moines, and Fred Moeller, owner of Moeller Furnace Co. in Fort Dodge. “I’m the godfather of Fred’s youngest son (Nate),” Goodman said.
“All of our parents were parent figures to Bill, our sisters and brothers were his sisters and brothers,” Moeller said. “Bill was always smart and took his education seriously, worked hard at everything but had fun along the way.”
Baseball was always his first love, Goodman said. “I loved baseball and football and basketball and track — I loved doing them all,” he said. “Baseball intrigues me. It’s kind of like a chess game. I loved the mind aspect that goes into baseball.”
After graduating from FDSH, Goodman got a scholarship offer to play football and baseball at the University of Arizona. He was spotted by Cincinnati at a tryout camp in Algona, was drafted, and selected by the Reds for a program paying a player to attend school while playing minor league baseball from June through September. He attended Morningside College in Sioux City, majoring in education with an emphasis on history and political science, and roomed with Paul Splittorff, who later played for the Kansas City Royals (and died in 2011).
Goodman was a member of the 1968 Northern League All-Star team while with the Reds. He was asked by the team to attend spring training in his senior year at Morningside or be released, and he chose to remain in school, graduating in 1969. He was signed as an outfielder by the Minnesota Twins and played at the AA level, leading Florida State League outfielders in 1970 in putouts and double plays. Reality set in when the Twins told him the highest he would likely play was AAA. They offered him an opportunity to be a coach of its Orlando team but he decided it was time “to get a real job.”
“I would have loved to have played in the big leagues,” he said, but armed with his degree from Morningside, with no regrets, he started a new career path. Goodman said he “made a lot of good friends” in his seven years of professional baseball, and was a teammate of Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Sr. in the minor leagues. “The whole foundation for me, baseball set it up,” he said. “I still know some people in the Twins organization, I still have guys who I stay in touch with going back to the Reds. When you’re 18 years old, playing baseball with these guys, they’re all brothers.”
Goodman taught and coached for five years in Buchanan, Michigan — where he met his first wife, Barb, and they had two children, Keisha and Torre. They divorced and in later years Goodman traveled countless times to see Keisha play softball and Torre play football and basketball. “To me, it was worth the drive to do that,’ he said. “Things happen, you look at it and learn. I tell my kids that a lot. I tell them, no matter what, you can’t get rid of me as a father. You’re stuck with me.”
Goodman returned to Fort Dodge in 1974 to teach and coach — he was sophomore football coach under Dave Cox, assistant basketball coach under Jim Friest and assistant baseball coach under McNeil. A defining life’s moment came one day when McNeil took him aside and said, “Take a look at me, is this what you want to be doing at my age?”
In 1977, Goodman moved to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and over the years worked in human resources for Land O’Lakes, Pillsbury, ITT (where he was a vice president), Aveda, Rollerblade USA, Moore Data Management Services and then Bethel University, where he was director of human resources. During his corporate life, Goodman found time to coach baseball at Macalester College, Augsburg University and Bethel — and to coach Kris’ Little League teams. He retired in 2012 to devote more time to seeing Kris play baseball at the University of Iowa.
“I loved the people contact,” Goodman said. “I had been in baseball and education and people said I have the gift of interacting with people. This is where my time in Fort Dodge was a great asset to me — treating people with respect. They all taught me I could interact with people with integrity and respect. Sometimes it was tough. But you treat everybody with dignity and respect, even with allegations against them.”
Goodman and his wife, Dianne, will celebrate their 35th anniversary on Feb. 12. They met while working at Land O’Lakes. She now works for NorthstarMLS in St. Paul as an HR coordinator and executive assistant.
His oldest, Keisha, is a registered nurse in Niles, Michigan, and she and her husband, Pete Byrd, have three children: Kennedy, Caleb and Karleigh. Next is Torre, an IT executive in Kalamazoo, Michigan (yes, Bill said, named for baseball legend Joe Torre). His two children with Dianne are Katie, a law graduate finishing her master’s degree in environmental law at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, and Kris, an Iowa graduate. All of the kids were involved with sports, as are his grandkids, Goodman said, “but we didn’t force them into it. Each one of them loved it to a point.”
Kris was drafted by the Miami Marlins after playing as a third baseman and outfielder for the Hawkeyes. He competed in the Marlins’ minor league system for two years and then played last summer with the Gary SouthShore RailCats of the American Association. He is working out at home now, seeking an invitation from a major league team to take part in spring training. He hopes one day to become a sports psychologist.
“I see a lot of myself in him,” Goodman said. “We both love history, both love the game of baseball, we both are driven, I mean driven, wanting to excel. He probably is much better than I was talentwise.”
This spring, Goodman will enter his second season as head baseball coach at Lakeville South High School, close by their home in Burnsville, and is a substitute teacher there and at two other area schools.
As a substitute teacher, he said, “I can be near the kids, day in and day out, and they can get to know me not just as a guy in uniform. I work some Twins camps during the summer and work with kids on how to play the game, have some fun with them. For me, I get to put on a Twins uniform again.”
“Life has been good,” Goodman said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything from the standpoint of growing up where I grew up. Life to me is all about the people you meet going through. I could run through a list of hundreds of people from my teachers and coaches and teammates and others who left an impression on me. The ripples we put into the water, they touch a lot of people.”