The Perennial Appeal of Purnal Goldy

One of the brighter new faces at Comerica Park these days is Clete Thomas — a kid outfielder with a pretty typical history. Drafted in 2005, after kicking around in the minor leagues for the requisite length of time, Clete made it onto the Tigers’ Opening Day roster in 2008 – only to be sent back down to Toledo for seasoning. It’s a familiar pattern. A lot of rookies never make it very far beyond that heady first major league at bat. It looks as if Thomas is going to be around for awhile, but his very success, combined with the position he plays, have us thinking about another youngster who bounced back and forth from triple-A, and bounced, and bounced…

Purnal GoldyThere are “phenoms” every spring season, youngsters who it seems just can’t miss but somehow always do – hopefuls who, like ’gators and retirees, thrive only in the Florida sunshine. Sparky Anderson managed to come up with one every year – somebody for whom he predicted greatness, and whom “greatness” always managed to elude. But, in spite of the plethora of eager young ballplayers that Sparky knew, and the ones that are around today, it’s a safe bet that there never again will be a spring phenom with the perennial appeal of Purnal Goldy.

In his day, Purn’s dominance was absolute. There was something compelling about his brawny, golden youth – something of Mantle, perhaps…something suggestive of power in his build…something that made him look so good in March – and that made his struggles in April such a bitter disappointment.

Signed by the Tigers in 1959 as an 22-year-old amateur free agent, spring after spring Purn made the headlines. He hit for power; he hit for average; he could run, and he at least looked decent in the outfield. To a Tiger team that had flirted with winning it all in 1961, Purn looked as if he could be the magic ingredient to take them right over the top. Newspapers heralded him as the next Al Kaline.

And spring after spring, Purn quietly disappeared, generally fading from sight long before the team headed northward. He did make it into the majors in 1962 and 1963, having impressed such unflappable managers as Bob Scheffing and Charlie Dressen. But Purn played in a total of just 29 games in his entire major league career. His batting average was .237, and each of the 18 hits that he garnered represented gargantuan effort to swing the bat anywhere near the vicinity of the baseball. His uniform number was 5 – the number of times he would come to bat, on average, before striking out.

Yet Purn left his mark on the game, no matter how brief his career. Hope springs eternal, and each March somebody is heralded as the season’s greatest discovery – a potential rookie of the year – the next Willie Mays or Cal Ripken… And each time this happens, off in a corner somewhere, those who listen carefully will hear a dry voice uttering the ultimate two-word call to sanity: “Purn Goldy.”

One final note: Purn is living out west, these days. He turned up in the news about ten years ago in 1998, when, at age 60, he participated in the 4-Mile Fitness walk during the Denver, Colorado, Turkey Trot.  As did all his fellow walkers, Purn started out with a bang…and then he finished in classic form – 296th out of 500 entries.

15 replies on “The Perennial Appeal of Purnal Goldy

  • Karen Elizabeth Bush

    Thank you very much for sharing what is truly sad information. I hope that the fact that you’ve let us know means that Purn knew that we still remembered him here in Michigan, and I hope even more that he understood that, in spite of the wry humor of the column, he was remembered with fondness.

    For what it is worth, Purn died the same day as the ballpark where he played. The last scrap of Tiger Stadium fell at 9:24 a.m. September 21, 2009.

  • Sheila Terrell

    Karen’s post saddened me as I had just written a message to Purn on his facebook page last month, telling him how much I had admired him when he played with the Denver Bears back in the late 50’s and early 60’s. I had his autograph given to me, a 14 year old girl, until after my son was born in 1981, when my billfold was stolen. He and Frank Quilici of the Twins are still 2 of my all-time favorites who played on Denver’s AAA team.

  • Tom Sanders

    Purn hit a three run homer in the first inning of the 22 inning game between the Tigers and Yankees, played at Tiger Stadium 50 years ago today, on June 24 1962.

  • Jim Foss

    As a child growing up, I so loved this pro athlete. He in so many ways seemed similar to Mickie Mantle. Had he been given enough time to grow – who knows what might have been his overall career. I’ve often wondered what happened to him, and couldn’t understand why the Tigers let him go. I was so disappointed with Detroit due to their lack of reality. I saw him in the same way as Norm Cash, Rocky Colavito, and Al Kaline. It makes me sad.

  • Don Frankfort

    I am a summer seasonal National Park Ranger, at Wind Cave National Park, in South Dakota. On the Memorial Day weekend Sunday, May 29, 2005, I was on on duty at the visitor center information desk, assisting visitors and helping to sell cave tour tickets on a busy day. A tall, thin, bespectacled, gray-haired gentleman approached me to buy tickets for himself and his family. He gave me his credit card, and if time could have shuddered to a halt, it did so at that moment. The name on the card was Purn Goldy.

    I thought to myself, “I know who this man is and I need to tell him something about his baseball career.”

    “Did you ever play professional ball?”, I asked him.

    He leaned over me (his 6’5″ towering over my 5’7″) and demanded, “Who wants to know?”

    I replied, “I’m just a baseball trivia freak.” Then I blurted out, “Detroit Tigers, 1962.”

    The gentleman said nothing. After a brief pause, he decided to ask me a baseball trivia question, “Who was the only batter to ever pinch hit for Ted Williams?”

    “Gene Stephens”, I shot back confidently.

    “Nope”, said the gentleman. “Being from South Dakota, you should have known that one.”

    I then said, “Oh, that would have been Carroll Hardy, from Sturgis (SD).”

    After I sold the gentleman his tour tickets, I stepped from behind the desk, pulled him aside, and told him, “I have to tell you how I know your name. I am originally from New York and a New York Mets fan. One day, back in 1962, I was flipping channels on TV and found this Yankees-Tigers game. It lasted 22 innings.”

    At that point, the gentleman gave a big, almost a full torso, nod. I said, “You played in that game, you hit a home run in that game.”

    Mr. Goldy casually remarked, “I hit a three-run homer early in the game”, but then quickly added, “(Rocky) Colavito got 7 hits,” to which I added, “Six singles and a triple.”

    I had started watching the game in the 8th or 9th inning, so never actually saw his home run. We reminisced a bit about the game, how difficult it was, and that there was a mention of the game in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

    I think Mr. Goldy was quite impressed, although he did not show it, when he asked me who got the winning hit for the Yankees. “It was Jack Reed. He hit a two-run homer in the top of the 22nd.” (It was Jack Reed’s only home run in the majors.)

    I gave Mr. Goldy directions to the starting point of his tour, and said good-bye.

    What were the chances I would meet a former major league baseball player and be able to tell him something about his career from more than 40 years earlier?

    I still work at Wind Cave National Park, about to start my 46th season. I still tell this story, especially to visitors wearing Detroit Tigers baseball caps. “Did you ever hear of an outfielder named Purnal Goldy?, I will start.

    I am very sad to learn of his passing.

  • Mark Goldberg

    I was 9 years old in the summer of 1962. I remember that Purnal Goldy got his big chance with the Tigers after Al Kaline broke his collarbone making a diving catch on May 26 of that year. He had a star’s number, 5, close to Kaline’s 6, and it was also the number of an all-time Tiger great, Hank Greenberg. Both Hank’s last name and Purnal’s were similar to mine, so I paid close attention to Purnal as Kaline’s temporary replacement. Sorry to hear of his passing; I never forgot seeing him play for the Tigers.

  • Jeff Hauer

    When we were kids back in the early-mid 1950’s, my brother and I used to spend summers with an aunt and uncle in Watertown South Dakota. We became fans of the Watertown Lake Sox, a semi pro team in the Basin League. We saw Purn play there many times…he was a fan favorite.

  • Steve Davis

    I just happened to come across this site after googling Purn Goldy’s name. I got his autograph in the late 50s when he played for the Knoxville Smokies in the old “Sally League”.
    He was my favorite player…..and I never forgot his name. I saw him hit two homers in one game.

  • Pat Gartland

    I am proud to have been considered a friend to Purn and fortunate to have gotten to have spent some quality time with him in the outdoors during his final weeks. He was a wonderful traveling companion, a great conversationalist, a fine outdoorsman, and a great husband and father. I miss him and appreciate my daughter for sending me this link and allowing me to enjoy some reminiscence of Purn and his baseball career.

  • mark d walker

    On this day in 1980, Al Kaline was the first Tiger to have his number retired which caused me to look for Purnal Goldy who was going to be his heir apparent, but it wasn’t to be. What a great article & fan remembrances for a special person who will always bring a smile to Tigers fans.

  • jon batchelor

    I was a high school teammate of Purn Goldy. Purn never played any high school athletics until I talked him into coming out for baseball his junior year. I had been the catcher for 2 years until Purn showed up, then I was no longer the catcher but
    a centerfielder. I marveled at his skill, what an athlete he was. he could have played any sport he wanted to, however
    hunting muscrats was his passion. I loved my 2 years playing with Purn.

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