June 11, 2020
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Tom Goffena, the first player the Toronto Blue Jays ever selected in the MLB June amateur draft, has passed away at the age of 61.
According to his friend, Mark Bulle, Goffena had been battling colon cancer for the past 10 years.
“Tom passed away today after over a 10-year battle with colon cancer,” Bulle wrote in a comment on my previous blog post about Goffena. “He was a fighter, and one of the most generous people I ever met. He will be truly missed.”
An obituary has also been posted for Goffena at the Cromes-Edwards Funeral Home & Crematory, Inc. in his hometown of Sidney, Ohio.
Goffena was a promising high school shortstop in his hometown when the Blue Jays selected him 25th overall in the 1977 draft – the first pick in the franchise’s history.
“It’s not really something that I ever think about until people mention it to me. I was just tickled to death to get drafted,” said Goffena in a 2008 interview.
A star shortstop in high school, Goffena began noticing scouts at his games in his sophomore year. The Blue Jays had informed him of their interest, but he was still uncertain who would select him on draft day.
“My dad, myself and a couple of friends were just sitting around waiting to get a phone call from somebody – or hoping to get a phone call from somebody,” he said.
He was elated when that phone call came from the Blue Jays.
“I was more than happy to be drafted by Toronto. At that time, Toronto had just started out. You’re not looking in the long run. You’re thinking, ‘Heck, I can get up to the big leagues a lot quicker,’” he said.
After celebrating with his friends and family, he signed his first contract – which, he believes, included a modest $38,000 signing bonus – and was assigned the Blue Jays’ short-season Class-A club in Utica.
When he reported, Goffena was 6-feet tall and weighed just 155 pounds.
“About two weeks into the season, I was homesick and I was 6-feet, 135 pounds,” he recalled. “They put me on a weight program. Then every single day from there on out the rest of the year, I had to go work out for four hours.”
With a young slugger named Jesse Barfield as one of his road roommates, Goffena hit a respectable .255 in his first season, earning a promotion to class-A Dunedin the following campaign. But it was in 1978 that he would injure his back.
“We were playing the Yankees (affiliate) and I turned second and was going to third and something went in my back,” he said.
The injury cut his 1978 season short, but after an extensive rehab program, he returned to Dunedin in 1979 to toil alongside Lloyd Moseby and Dave Stieb.
“Stieb would pitch a game and then he would play outfield a couple of days. He was one of those prospects where it was just a matter of time before he would be in the big leagues,” said Goffena.
Unfortunately, Goffena was still experiencing back pain and had lost significant speed, which was a key part of his game. He underwent back surgery that year.
“I came back in 1980 bound and determined I was going to stick it out. But I told my wife it didn’t look good because you could just tell it wasn’t there like it was before. I came back in 1980 and I made it about half way through spring training and I got a base hit and I came around first base and I tweaked a hamstring. And I said, ‘That’s it.’ I was just not running right,” he recalled.
Goffena asked the Blue Jays for his unconditional release. He returned to Sidney, Ohio, where he served as a golf pro for a short stint, before spending 32 years working for the Shelby County Highway Department as a road and bridge supervisor.
Goffena’s brother, David, was also drafted by the Blue Jays in 1980. He played two seasons in the Jays’ system.
In November 2008, Goffena’s wife, Karen, planned a surprise 30th anniversary trip to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont. She contacted the baseball shrine in advance to arrange the visit.
Aware of Goffena’s significance in Blue Jays’ lore, Scott Crawford, the Hall’s director of operations, agreed to open the museum (which had been closed for the season) and asked Karen if she would send some artifacts from her husband’s career. She agreed and several items – including Goffena’s first contract and a game-used bat – are now part of the Hall’s collection.
Goffena is survived by his wife, Karen, daughter, Elizabeth (Rob) VanMetre; brother, David (Deb) Goffena; sister-in-law, Bonnie Goffena; and granddaughters, Emma, Sophia, and Stella VanMetre.
Our condolences to his family.
You can read his obituary here.