What a relief " Colorado-native Gossage is a Hall of Famer at last
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. ” As a kid, Rich Gossage’s dreams never matched those of his father.
“My dad always said, ‘You’re going to play in the big leagues some day,’ ” Gossage recalled. “I pooh-poohed that. I would be like, ‘Aw, dad, please don’t say that.’ And sure enough, here I am.”
Gossage did more than just play in the major leagues. He became a dominant relief pitcher in a 22-year career that will receive its finishing touch on Sunday when he is inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
For Gossage, a shy, humble guy from the Rocky Mountains, what has transpired since those talks with his dad, Jake, is simply mind-boggling.
“I can’t even really comprehend my career,” said Gossage, elected in January on his ninth try. “Really, I just can’t believe that a kid from Colorado, just a big fan of the game ” it’s totally overwhelming being elected to the Hall and to have had the career that I had.”
What’s even more difficult to believe is that it took so long. The “Goose” was as significant a pioneer as anybody in the evolution of today’s relief pitcher.
Gossage finished his career as a Seattle Mariner in 1994 with a 124-107 record, 1,502 strikeouts and 3.01 ERA in 1,002 games. He ranks third in both wins in relief (115) and innings pitched in relief (1,556). Of his 310 career saves, Gossage worked more than two innings 52 times (by comparison, prior to the 2008 season, Yankees closer Mariano Rivera had done that just once in 443 saves and San Diego’s Trevor Hoffman, the career saves leader, has never done it) and recorded at least six outs in 125 saves.
“I saw that total evolution of what the bullpen was to what it became,” said the 57-year-old Gossage, the second top reliever to be inducted in the past three years (Bruce Sutter was elected in 2006 in his 13th year on the ballot, joining Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, and Dennis Eckersley). “I knew how the job evolved. No one had a better seat than I did.
“I think the closers today are so dominant in that role that people kind of forgot what we used to do, the number of innings that we pitched, the jams that we used to come in to. Now it takes three guys to do what we used to do.”
Gossage signed with the Chicago White Sox in 1970, and it’s no coincidence that
he has invited his first big league manager to Sunday’s ceremony. Acting on the advice of renowned pitching coach Johnny Sain, Chuck Tanner made a special trip to Appleton of the Class A Midwest League in 1971 to teach Gossage to throw a changeup. It only took about five minutes, and Gossage finished the season 18-2, was selected league player of the year, and made the jump to the White Sox the next season.
“Chuck Tanner was the most influential manager in my career,” Gossage said. “I would never have made it if he hadn’t made that trip.”
Up with the big club, the 20-year-old right-hander became a reliever and Tanner taught him the most important lesson of all.
“He told me when I first came to the big leagues, ‘Son, if you don’t make that hitter as uncomfortable as you can, you might as well go do something else,”‘ Gossage said.
Gossage was dubbed “Goose” by rookie-year roommate Tom Bradley, who said Gossage looked like a goose when he leaned over on the mound to get the catcher’s sign. And at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds with a blazing fastball, Fu Manchu mustache and menacing stare, following Tanner’s advice was easy, even for somebody whose demeanor off the field was the exact opposite of what he portrayed on the mound.
“He came out of that bullpen like John Wayne,” Tanner said. “He had no fear of anybody. He was an intimidator with a 99 mile-an-hour fastball, 100 once in a while, and that would intimidate anybody.”
“When I went between the lines, it was Jekyll and Hyde ” two different people,” Gossage said. “Playing in the major leagues is not for the faint of heart. It was kind of the law of the jungle. You either eat or get eaten. If you’re soft, you’d better be really, really good.”
Gossage was anything but soft, and though he was good at his new job he didn’t relish it initially.
“When Chuck put me down there, I didn’t want to be in the bullpen,” Gossage said. “That was an old junk pile down there where old starters went that couldn’t start anymore. But hell, I was in the big leagues. I would have cleaned the toilets, whatever was necessary
Gossage simply had to throw to stay, and he quickly became enamored with the frenetic pace of his new role at a time when the position was evolving. Fingers was instrumental in Oakland’s three straight World Series titles (1972-74) and Sutter was on the cusp of becoming a show-stopper for the Cubs.
“I hated the days off between starts,” Gossage said. “I really enjoyed the opportunity of coming to the ballpark every day and pitching in a big situation with the game on the line. The bigger the jam, the better I felt I was.
“But those were grueling outs. Every pitch was maximum effort, every out was so critical because I came into situations that God couldn’t get out of. I came into situations where you couldn’t even allow the ball to be put in play, and I got out of them because I could strike guys out.”
Tanner also helped Gossage when he urged the front office to trade left-hander Tommy John to the Dodgers for slugger Dick Allen in December 1971.
“Dick was a pro. He was like having a manager on the field,” Tanner said. “He’d go in to the Goose and say, ‘Hey, let them know you’re the boss out here. Don’t be afraid to throw one under their neck. Not only will you get his attention, everybody on the bench of the opposing team is going to look at you and you’ll get their attention.’ And Goose would listen to him.”
“He (Allen) took me under his wing and taught me how to pitch my first year in the big leagues from a great hitter’s standpoint,” Gossage said. “No amount of money could have paid for that experience and advice.”
Though Gossage played for nine teams, his star shone brightest in the six years he spent in the pinstripes of the New York Yankees, the team he idolized growing up in Colorado Springs, where he still lives.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.
Now more than ever, your financial support is critical to help us keep our communities informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having on our residents and businesses. Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.
Your donation will be used exclusively to support quality, local journalism.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User