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One aspect of collecting baseball cards that constantly amazes me is just how often I make “new” discoveries in what should be well-traveled territory.
Take the 1981 Donruss Johnny Goryl, for example.
For context, I “bought” my first 1981 Donruss cards in the summer of 1981 (air quotes because my parents actually paid for the cards, but still …).
Baseball didn’t do much for me back then, so the cards were pretty much just another toy. I’d pull them out every once in awhile and thumb through them, but I didn’t know what I was looking at.
A couple of years later, though, I picked up the hobby for good when I somehow fell in love with a putrid Cincinnati Reds team that not only lost like a million games but was also on the verge of losing Johnny Bench to retirement.
Even so, something clicked that Spring, and I was hooked.
I pulled out those old cards of mine and learned every square millimeter of them, then started adding new ones.
By the time I left home in 1990, I must have devoured every 1981 Donruss card in my collection dozens of times over. Bet I’ve added another double-digit count to that tally in the last three decades.
And yet …
Somehow … I never saw this thing before. At least that I can remember.
And you know what?
I don’t even remember Goryl.
Now, in the Google Images thumbnail of that Donruss card, Goryl looked pretty youthful, so I thought I had uncovered a new player from my childhood.
A bit of research later, and I realized that wasn’t the case. There isn’t a lot of information available on Goryl, but here is what I found out …
Johnny Goryl, Saved by Expansion
Johnny Goryl was born in Cumberland, Rhode Island, in 1933 and made some waves as an infielder during his high school days. The Boston Braves signed him as an amateur free agent in 1951 several years before the draft was instituted, and he spent the next few seasons in the Braves’ minor league system.
Then, in November of 1954, the Baltimore Orioles drafted Goryl away from the Milwaukee Braves in that year’s minor league draft.
More minor league seasoning followed in 1955, and then the Chicago Cubs picked him up in the next minor league draft.
Finally, after spending most of the next two seasons with the Cubs’ Double-A affiliates (Tulsa Oilers, Los Angeles Angels, Memphis Chickasaws), Goryl made his Major League Baseball debut on September 20, 1957.
He logged nine starts at third base the rest of the way, then spent all of 1958 in Wrigley Field, where he saw time at both second and third.
That summer, collectors got their first look at Goryl on cardboard thanks to his 1958 Topps issue:
He got another shot of paper immortality in the 1959 Topps set:
Goryl spent most of that 1959 season in the minors, which meant no Topps card in 1960.
That spring, the Cubs traded Goryl with Lee Handley and Ron Perranoski to the Dodgers in exchange for Don Zimmer, which relegated Goryl to the LA minor league system for the next two seasons until expansion rescued him from baseball purgatory in November 1961.
That’s when the brand new Minnesota Twins selected him in the Rule 5 draft. That paved the way to a Major League return at age 28, and Goryl would stick with the Twins until the end of the 1964 season. During that stretch, he enjoyed his best Big League season in 1963, hitting .287 with nine home runs and 24 RBI in 174 plate appearances across 64 games.
The Minnesota reprieve also Goryl a few more cards, from 1962 through 1964 …
Goryl spent all of 1965 in the minors while the Twins were making their World Series run and then began his managerial career in the Minnesota’s farm system in 1966. After a brief return to the diamond as a player in 1967 with the Triple-A Denver Bears, Goryl turned his attention toward coaching full-time starting in 1967.
Through most of the 1960s and 1970s, Goryl served the Twins as a minor league skipper but also served two stints as the big club’s third-base coach. During that second run, Goryl was in position to take over the team when Gene Mauch resigned in August of 1980.
Goryl led the Twins to a 23-13 finish, lifting them from sixth to third in the old American League West division. That earned him a return engagement for 1981 and also a place in Donruss’s inaugural set. Here is that baby again:
This is where we came in, but this card offers mysteries beyond its mere existence.
First, it seems to be little-photographed, at least by web standards. The only examples I could find were a few eBay listings, including a couple of autographed copies. That probably speaks more to the obscurity of the set and the manager than to any actual scarcity, but I will be on the lookout for a live copy in the foreseeable future.
Second, there is the picture on the card.
We can assume Goryl is in a visitors dugout somewhere in the American League (thanks to the blue road jersey), but I’m having trouble pinpointing which one. If we look at the Twins’ 1980 schedule, we can build the list of stadiums that Minnesota visited while Goryl was at the helm:
- Cleveland Stadium
- Exhibition Stadium
- Tiger Stadium
- Comiskey Park
- County Stadium
- Arlington Stadium
- Royals Stadium
Did any of those have brick walls and, what, crossbows (?) in their visitors’ dugouts? I haven’t been able to find photo evidence of such, and for all I know, Goryl was taking in some night life at a local medieval club after a game.
Of course, there is also the possibility the shot was snapped before Goryl took the managerial reins, which opens up the list of candidate stadiums to include all AL parks (except Minnesota’s own Metropolitan Stadium).
What we do know is that the good times didn’t last for long. The Twins canned Goryl after an 11-25 start in 1981, replacing him with Billy Gardner.
And with that, Goryl’s long association with the Twins came to an end, but the Cleveland Indians picked him up the next year, and he spent most of the next three decades working for them in some capacity — MLB coach and minor league player development, mostly.
With a lifetime batting line of .225, 15 HR, 48 RBI and a Big League managerial record of 34-38, it’s easy to see how Johnny Goryl might fall through the cracks of my Generation X consciousness. Still, I’m glad I know something about him now … and grateful to him and Mike Ramsey for helping be uncover a lost 1981 Donruss card!
(Check out our other player card posts here.)
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