Baseball is unique among the major sports in terms of how common it is for players to be drafted more than once, often including players who are chosen both out of high school and college. Since the inaugural Draft in 1965, 30 players have been picked in the first round multiple times, with five going in the top 10 twice -- most recently Kumar Rocker in 2021 and 2022.
But even with that, only one player in history has the distinction of being the top overall pick twice. Two separate instances, four years apart, the team with the power to select anyone decided that this was the best individual professional baseball prospect that the nation had to offer.
This is the story of Danny Goodwin.
A budding star
Goodwin was born in 1953 in St. Louis, though he moved around a lot in his youth as a result of his father, James, working for the government. By high school, he had settled in Peoria, Ill., where his athletic prowess was evident right away.
While at Peoria (Central) High School, Goodwin played both basketball and baseball. But baseball was his bread and butter. He was a four-year varsity letterman and made the Mid-State 9 All-Conference team three times, according to the Greater Peoria Sports Hall of Fame. Peoria High School retired his No. 6 as a result of his outstanding baseball accomplishments, and he was inducted into the Greater Peoria Sports HOF shortly after.
His senior season of 1971 was his best, earning him recognition as the Topps High School All-American catcher. At 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, Goodwin was dominant both at the plate and in the field, hitting .488 as a senior, according to Bruce Markusen’s profile for The Hardball Times. This included a monstrous home run in front of approximately 20 MLB scouts in April that allegedly traveled more than 400 feet -- quite an achievement for a high school player swinging a wood bat.
This home run, and Goodwin’s senior season as a whole, led to a conclusion that “almost every club agreed upon,” according to Jack Lang of The Sporting News: Goodwin was the nation’s No. 1 prospect. The White Sox, who finished an MLB-worst 56-106 in 1970, had the top pick, and they verified that conclusion by drafting him.
Up to this point, the story is pretty conventional: Stud high school player has a remarkable senior season and gets picked No. 1 overall by the reigning worst team in MLB. But here is where Goodwin’s tale diverges from that of your typical top prospect.
In all sports, but particularly baseball, it’s never a given that your Draft pick will sign with you. Chicago found that out the hard way. The White Sox offered a relatively underwhelming signing bonus to Goodwin, which the L.A. Times estimated as “between $50,000 and $80,000.” That lower-than-anticipated figure, combined with Goodwin’s desire to earn a college degree, led to an unprecedented decision at the time: the No. 1 overall pick declining to sign with the team that chose him.
Instead, he chose to accept a scholarship from Southern University, an HBCU in Louisiana, where he earned a pre-med degree in zoology in addition to his baseball pursuits.
“All I ever wanted was a college education,” Goodwin, who declined an interview request for this story, told the L.A. Times in 1988. “That was the most important thing to me as a 17-year-old kid."
“[Declining the White Sox’s offer] wasn’t as hard as you might think,” Goodwin added in 2011, when he became the first former HBCU player to be inducted to the College Baseball Hall of Fame. “I played for, and I know it’s a cliché, the love of the game. I knew exactly what kind of player I wanted to be, and I was single-minded about it. The thing that I wanted to do, more than anything, was just play as hard as I could, and help my team win.”
Goodwin was the first, and still one of only three, baseball players to be drafted No. 1 overall and then not sign with that team. The second one was Tim Belcher, who had a contract dispute with the Twins in 1983 (and was represented by now-mega-agent Scott Boras very early in Boras’ career). The third was Brady Aiken, who failed a physical with the Astros after being drafted in 2014, and has not yet appeared in an MLB game to this day.
The next Johnny Bench?
As his College Baseball Hall of Fame status would suggest, Goodwin’s dominance on the diamond did not end after high school. Though Southern was an NAIA school at the time of Goodwin’s commitment (eventually transitioning into the NCAA during his tenure in college), that didn’t stop Goodwin from continuing to turn heads with his elite play.
When all was said and done, Goodwin became a three-time collegiate All-American: twice at the NAIA level, and then also at the NCAA Division II level in his senior year of 1975. Even though he was at a D-II school at the time, he still managed to be named the College Baseball Player of the Year by The Sporting News in 1975. He had an incredible .408/.543/.728 batting line as a senior, and for his college career as a whole, he finished with a .394 average along with 20 home runs and 166 RBIs.
“Danny has devastating power. He can catch and throw as well as Johnny Bench and he can run better,” Southern University baseball coach Emery Hines said in 1975, according to the L.A. Times. “He has as much ability as a Bench, a [Roy] Campanella, a [Manny] Sanguillén.”
Goodwin may not have had D-I competition, but he had the numbers, the accolades, and the praise (Bench and Campanella are now enshrined in Cooperstown, while Sanguillén was a three-time All-Star). As a result, when Draft season came around, the team in question was different than four years prior, but the decision was the same: the Angels chose Goodwin No. 1 overall, making him the first, and still only, player to earn that status twice.
Signing was a no-brainer for Goodwin this time around given that his college days were over, and the parties agreed on a signing bonus of $100,000 per the L.A. Times. Optimism was through the roof upon his arrival, as General Manager Harry Dalton put it during a press conference introducing Goodwin.
“The equipment is there. Whether it will take 25 or 50 or 150 games at the professional level to prepare him for the Majors is difficult to say,” Dalton said. “None of us believes it will take long.”
A quick rise encounters obstacles
What Dalton was right about was that it didn’t take long for Goodwin to reach the Majors. He played 46 games at Double-A El Paso before cracking the big league squad for four games in September 1975. Though it was much more common in the 20th century than it is nowadays for prospects to play MLB games in the same year they were drafted, it still gave the impression that Goodwin was on a trajectory to stardom.
Unfortunately, what Dalton was wrong about was that said trajectory never took off the way the baseball world was anticipating.
What went wrong? For starters, Goodwin never actually caught in an MLB game, having suffered an injury to his throwing arm almost immediately upon starting in the Angels’ Minor League system. Via the L.A. Times:
“The young catcher had not thrown in a competitive situation for several months [after his final college season ended] and was attempting to bring his arm along slowly. Instructor Vern Hoscheit, a regimental assistant to Angels manager Dick Williams, thought Goodwin was malingering and demanded he throw hard for nearly 20 minutes. Goodwin’s arm was never the same, and neither was the Angels’ investment.”
Though Goodwin did catch at times in the Minors, he became strictly a first baseman and DH in his MLB career, robbing him of one of the core traits that made him such a coveted prospect. This would’ve been easier to overcome if his powerful bat had carried him, but his production on the offensive side was never consistent, either.
Goodwin spent the entire 1976 season in the Minors, racking up a solid .306/.411/.451 line across two different levels. But when he was brought back up to the big leagues in 1977, those numbers vanished, with a .209 batting average in 35 games for the Angels.
The 1978 season saw a glimmer of hope for Goodwin, who was still only 24 years old for most of the season. While he largely spent the year at Double-A El Paso, he also had an .842 OPS in 24 MLB games. With his stock having been rebuilt somewhat, he was dealt to the Twins that offseason, leading to a career-best season in 1979 when he slugged .497 across 58 games, primarily serving as a left-handed DH specialist.
But his ascent would end there. He hit a combined .214 in 131 games across the ensuing three seasons (two with Minnesota, one with Oakland). Though Goodwin did prove to be successful in the Athletics’ Minor League system, having three straight seasons with an OPS above .835 at the Triple-A level from 1983-85, that success wasn’t enough for Oakland, or anyone else, to give him another MLB shot.
After one season in Japan in 1986, Goodwin decided to hang up the cleats. By the end of it all, he wound up playing just 252 MLB games, batting .236 with 13 home runs and a .674 OPS.
According to Baseball Reference, Goodwin’s -1.7 career WAR is the lowest by any player who was picked No. 1 overall and played in the Majors. (Three No. 1 picks never made it, excluding 2022 No. 1 pick Jackson Holliday).
As for how Goodwin’s lack of MLB success was possible, many potential causes are out there. The arm injury was certainly a factor, taking away one of the traits that made him such a tantalizing prospect. Lack of opportunity was arguably another: Both the Angels and Twins had managerial overhaul during Goodwin’s tenures with each team, forcing him to repeatedly need to make first impressions on new coaching staffs, and perhaps contributing to both franchises giving up on him early.
And of course, looking on a broader scale than Goodwin’s career itself, the Draft is notoriously an inexact science, and Goodwin is far from the only high pick to struggle in the big leagues. In fact, the entire first round of the 1975 Draft only produced five players with positive career WAR.
But the story of the sport’s most draftable player, now 69 years old, is not one that ends in sadness. Though Goodwin’s career was inarguably one filled with unfulfilled potential, it’s not one that is filled with regret.
“I still treasure the sport,” Goodwin told the L.A. Times in 1988. “Mainly, I’ll remember all the different players I’ve played with. [Bobby] Bonds, [Nolan] Ryan, [Frank] Tanana. It’s rare that you can associate with that many bona fide Major League stars. I wasn’t there very long, but I’ll always reflect on those days.”
In fact, he treasured the sport so much that he returned to it even without a bat and glove in his hands. Though he briefly worked as an investment broker after his retirement as a player, he proceeded to move into the Braves’ front office, where he worked from 1989-2000. He started as the team’s community relations director, and then eventually became the president of the Braves Foundation, helping develop programs to help underprivileged youth in the Atlanta area.
Goodwin himself has not been with the team in more than two decades, but the foundation is still going strong today. By making such a thorough difference in the Atlanta community, Goodwin found a way to make the long-term impact off the field that eluded him on the diamond.
“I like being able to say I saw it through,” he told the L.A. Times. “So many people didn’t make it because of one person, a coach or one circumstance. I’m not saying I was the best athlete in the world. Probably there are some [who didn’t get their shot] because they met a crossroad in life that changed them. I continued on, and I feel good about that.”
Cole Jacobson is a reporter for MLB.com.