THE BLOG

Remembering Herb Goodwin, Judge, Baseball Buddy and Angel, R.I.P.

06/26/2015 09:21 pm ET | Updated Jun 26, 2016

Of his father, Hamlet says to Horatio, "'A was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again."

Herb Goodwin was not my father, whom I love, but Herb was an angelic father figure to me, and I know I shall not look upon his like again.

A retired chief district court judge, based in Brookline, Mass., Herb passed away at the age of 80 on June 26. For years, he suffered from multiple sclerosis.

I first met Herb when I was a boy in 1976. My mother, who had roomed at Boston University with Rhoda, Herb's wife, took me to Herb's house in Brookline. I can still picture him scooping up his scrambled eggs with ketchup as he ate breakfast in his kitchen.

I asked him if I could watch an NFL playoff game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Washington Redskins, and he happily obliged.

Years later, in 1990, when I was briefly a law student at B.U., I was invited to attend Herb's swearing-in as a judge at the State House.

I remember hearing testimonials from his friends about how he had grown up a baseball fan. What particularly interested me was that his favorite team when he was a boy was the Boston Braves, not the Red Sox.

When I approached Herb after his swearing-in, I told him that I too was a baseball fan.

He invited me to his house, and so we began our friendship.

I can still recall him answering the door at his Brookline home. He was wrapped up in his bathrobe, looking like a boxer's corner man.

As some of his friends noted, he looked a bit like Yogi Berra. But he reminded me more of Red Auerbach, not only because he was a Jewish man who enjoyed smoking cigars, but also because he had a remarkable degree of wisdom.

"So, you're a baseball fan?" Herb said, as he smiled at me and we started munching a dozen bagels I had brought from a nearby deli. "Then I hope you won't mind if I get out this book I have here."

I told him that I did not mind at all. He shuffled over to a bookcase in the hall and returned with the Baseball Encyclopedia or equivalent tome.

He then asked me how many home runs Reggie Jackson, one of my favorite players, hit in his first full season, 1968.

"29," I responded with gusto.

"How about the next year?"

"47," I said. "He had 37 at the All-Star break, was on pace to break Ruth and Maris' records."

"What happened?"

"The pitchers stopped pitching to him, and he went into a slump."

"Who else do you know?"

I told him that I was a Pete Rose fan too, and we went through a series of exchanges on Rose as well as a few on Jim Rice.

Herb snapped his book shut. "You piece of shit!" he said with a grin, after I had answered several more stats-related questions.

Herb and I became the best of baseball buddies.

I never really took to the law, but Herb, an eminent jurist, never allowed that to affect the way he felt about me.

He had worked in the Justice Department during the Kennedy administration and later for the U.S. Attorney's office in Boston.

Appointed to the bench by then-Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, Herb was later elevated to chief judge of his district.

When I was very ill and diagnosed with schizophrenia in January 1999, I phoned Herb in a panic at 2 a.m. from a pay phone on the streets of Los Angeles. I was terrified that I was going to be killed and blamed for a series of murders sweeping the nation.

Herb phoned me a few hours later at 8 a.m. As gently as possible, Herb chided me because I had not taken my meds, which I had forgotten to do for about a week.

"Now, I thought I told you to take your medication," he said with sublime tenderness, as I told him that I had walked the perimeter of the Federal Building in Westwood, near UCLA.

He asked me if I had done anything wrong. I told him I had not, but that I thought there was a conspiracy to destroy me, and I wanted to confess to my innocence, not guilt, and clear my name.

As soothingly as possible, and with the prescience of Red Auerbach, Herb then said to me, "There are some things I can't control. But there's one thing I know. Nothing is going to happen to you."

Those were extraordinarily kind and reassuring words from a man who had almost unlimited compassion and strength.

Though I did end up a day or so later trampling for six hours across L.A. County on a harrowing psychotic trek, I thankfully made it to the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, where I stayed on a 72-hour hold.

In the years since that episode, Herb remained in my corner. He and I talked on the phone fairly regularly, even as his body deteriorated from multiple sclerosis.

We talked about politics and race, movies and gay marriage (he was an early supporter of it). But more than anything else, we talked about baseball.

As a youngster growing up in Brookline, Herb worked as an usher at the old Braves field, which was later razed and is now the site of Nickerson Field, where B.U. plays its soccer and lacrosse games.

He was a huge fan of Tommy Holmes, who set the modern-day National League record for a consecutive games hitting streak that was later broken by Pete Rose. Herb had befriended some of the old Braves when he was a kid and traded the cards of, among others, Carden Gillenwater, a not so well-known member of the squad.

Recently, my wife Barbara and I traveled back East to see my family. We made arrangements to drive up to Boston to see Herb.

Unfortunately, he was in a great deal of pain from a surgery in May. He was shuttling from the hospital to a rehab facility and back.

Rhoda and I spoke on the phone and decided that it was not the best time for me and Barbara to visit Herb.

I told Rhoda that I would come back East again when he was feeling better.

While Herb's physical condition worsened, his mind never lost its sharpness, even if his words were slightly garbled.

I called him on his cell phone on June 20, the day before Fathers' Day, and told him that I loved him. He said, "I love you, too."

He spoke with a bit of a slur from all the medication he was taking. I thought I heard him say that he was "in hospice." I must have misheard him because he was in the hospital at the time, as Rhoda later told me.

At the very end of our conversation, I told Herb what a great friend he was to me. "I feel the same way," he said.

Besides his wife, Rhoda, a psychologist, Herb is survived by his daughter, Lauren Berkowitz, and her husband Adam; his daughter Joanne; his daughter, Carolyn Goodwin, and her husband Dan; his grandson, Gabriel Goodwin Berkowitz; his brother Richard and his sister-in-law Doris.

As the Ghost of Hamlet's father says, "Remember me."

I will always remember you, Herb, and I shall not look upon your like again. The rest is silence.