Ex-Oriole Goodwin faces tough pitch in staying focused

March 11, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

PLANT CITY, Fla. -- Ask Cincinnati general manager Jim Bowden about the volatile Curtis Goodwin, and he responds smugly, "We did our homework on him."

Is that so?

Goodwin looked shaky in the outfield early in this spring, so the Reds sent him to an eye doctor, and discovered that he needs contact lenses.

Funny, the Orioles made the exact same discovery after they promoted Goodwin last June.

"I didn't know that," Reds manager Ray Knight said.

Goodwin, 23, apparently thought switching leagues would correct his vision. "It's the same, old thing," he said. "They're trying to get me to wear contacts."

Will he?

"I'll put 'em in," Goodwin said. "But as soon as they irritate me, they'll leave my face."

A reassuring thought from the player the Reds project as their next leadoff man and center fielder.

Hindsight is 20-20, but with Opening Day three weeks away, the David Wells trade is, uh, looking better and better.

The Orioles traded Goodwin and minor-league outfielder Trovin Valdez for Wells last December rather than commit a multi-year contract to free agent Kenny Rogers.

The risk is that Goodwin will become the Kenny Lofton of the National League, while the Orioles will need a center fielder if they don't pick up Brady Anderson's $4 million option after this season.

Still, Bowden said the Orioles made a good trade, claiming that Wells will win 15 games this season.

If Goodwin doesn't mature soon, it could be a steal.

Oh, everything is hunky-dory so far. Through seven exhibitions, Goodwin is batting .160 with five stolen bases. Knight, the Reds' first-year manager, plans to bat him leadoff against right-handers at the start of the season.

"He never stops," Knight said. "He goes hard all the time. He's gained great respect from me already. He's willing to work. And I feel if he's willing to work, he's going to get better."

The Orioles had a different view of Goodwin at the end of last season. He stopped taking instruction. He refused to take pitches. He batted only .175 after the All-Star break, with only five walks in 160 plate appearances.

No one expected him to hit .354, as he did his first six weeks in the majors -- "This is a guy who was rushed to the big leagues," Bowden said. "Being rushed hurt him." But even Goodwin's staunchest supporters with the Orioles question whether he has the right personality to succeed.

His refusal to wear contact lenses is instructive -- former teammates and club officials describe him as complex, independent and moody. "I'm a whole lot different than I was last year," Goodwin insisted, but talking to him, you wonder if he'll ever change.

Former manager Phil Regan spoke with him several times about his hitting last September, but Goodwin seems to have forgotten those meetings. "They never said anything to me," he said. "Nobody ever approached me at all."

Taking pitches?

"I didn't play," Goodwin said. "How are you going to tell me about taking pitches when I didn't play? I probably played only 10 games the month of September."

Actually, Goodwin started 15 of the Orioles' final 22 games, and appeared in two others.

More walks?

"What pitcher wants to walk me?" he asked. "They'd rather throw me a pitch, and let myself hit into an out."

Never mind that Rickey Henderson, the game's all-time stolen-base leader, led the American League in walks three times, and averaged 99 per season from 1982 to '93.

In fairness, no one ever criticized Goodwin's approach in the minors. Reds coach Joel Youngblood, his manager at Single-A Kane County, said, "I never had a problem with him."

Still, Goodwin appears to need stroking, and the fiery Knight is already criticizing players after vowing to run a tighter ship than the Reds' previous manager, Davey Johnson.

So far, Knight and Goodwin are getting along swimmingly. But what happens if Goodwin starts pulling the same stunts he did last season?

"He's a sensitive young man," Knight said. "He needs a little extra attention. The attention needs to be direct and honest.

"I have not seen anything about Curtis that shows he won't take instruction. I may learn that, but it just hasn't been that way. He's been very receptive, very positive."

Goodwin is so young, Bowden said, "A lot of kids his age are still in A ball." Clearly, the Orioles asked too much of him last season. Regan, 58, was his biggest advocate, but in the end, Goodwin tuned him out.

Who knows how Knight will fare? Goodwin is a work in progress. He might snap out of it. He might run wild on the artificial turf at Riverfront Stadium and steal 50 bases.

Former San Diego GM Jack McKeon was the scout who followed Goodwin for Cincinnati, and Bowden said the Reds turned down offers from five other clubs to get him.

Like everyone else, they loved his speed, but it's no secret this game is as much mental as physical.

Goodwin needs to focus.

Contact lenses wouldn't hurt.

Pub Date: 3/11/96

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