Goose Gossage hopes Hall of Fame vote provides relief
NEW YORK -- Goose Gossage is filled with confidence. Always has been.
"I came into situations that God couldn't get out of, and I got out of them," he said. "I'm not blowing my own horn, but this is just fact. Nobody did it like me."
After falling short eight times in balloting for the Hall of Fame, the Goose could make it in when this year's results are released Tuesday. Only four pitchers who were primarily relievers have been given baseball's highest honor: Hoyt Wilhelm (1985), Rollie Fingers (1992), Dennis Eckersley (2004) and Bruce Sutter (2006).
Last year, when Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn were voted in, Gossage's percentage increased from 64.6 to 71.2 and he fell 21 votes short of the 75 percent needed for election.
"Goose and Rollie Fingers created the model for closers of the future," Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "Fearless, intimidating, hard throwing, and would take the ball every day and go as long as needed. Later would come Eckersley, Lee Smith, Jeff Reardon, Steve Bedrosian, and others all the way to Mariano Rivera.
"The great closers need to be represented more strongly in the Hall, as they are vital to a team's success. Trevor Hoffman has been mentioned as a Hall of Famer, but before that can happen Lee Smith and Goose must get the nod."
It would be appropriate for Rich Gossage to make it in on the ninth try. He was taken by the Chicago White Sox in the ninth round of the 1970 amateur draft.
Now 56, the right-hander pitched in the major leagues for nine teams from 1972-94 and became a nine-time All-Star. He got the final six outs of the Yankees' second consecutive World Series title in 1978, retiring Ron Cey on a foulout to win it.
Back when he pitched, closers frequently entered in the eighth inning and occasionally in the seventh. Wilhelm averaged 1.84 innings per relief appearance, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, with Fingers at 1.66, Gossage at 1.61 and Sutter at 1.58. Eckersley made closing a three-out business, averaging 1.14 outs. Rivera is at 1.16.
Even more striking is this stat: Gossage had 52 regular-season saves of seven or more outs. Rivera has one, when he was a setup man in 1996.
"For anybody to say that Mariano's the greatest relief pitcher ever -- maybe of the modern era, certainly, now that could be argued -- but please don't compare what we used to do with what they do today," Gossage said. "Apples and oranges."
Gossage hid the ball until late in his delivery with his big windup, developed when throwing in the front yard to his brother, who goaded him into throwing hard by telling him: "You're throwing like a sissy." Throw in the bushy Fu Manchu mustache Gossage grew as an adult, and he scared hitters.
"He didn't look at you. His arm started forward and he's still looking toward third base and he's throwing 100 mph," said former big leaguer Bob Watson, now vice president for discipline in the commissioner's office. "He was effectively wild, as I call it. Heck, he was the ultimate intimidator."
Gossage counted on that.
"I scared myself. I really did. I was ferocious out there on the mound," he said.
Watson was 0-for-7 against Gossage and Schmidt was 2-for-9 (.222) with a home run. Yankees broadcaster Ken Singleton, a switch-hitter, batted .343 (12-for-35) against the Goose, the sixth-highest among players with 20 or more at-bats. He said the key was to cut down his swing.
"He had a violent delivery. You really had to concentrate and try to follow his arm slot, because if you didn't the ball was up on you in a hurry," Singleton said.
Even with all his accomplishments, Gossage was selected by just 33.3 percent of voters when he appeared on the ballot in 2000. He didn't crack 50 percent until 2005. He was increasingly frustrated each time he fell short; he wanted his mother, Susanne, to be able to attend his induction. She died in September 2006 at 92.
"She always said to me if you do go into the Hall of Fame, I hope I'm around to see you go in," he said wistfully. "And she didn't make it."
Gossage pitched in 1,002 major league games, all but 37 in relief. He won 124 games, saved 310, finished with a 3.01 ERA and struck out 1,502 batters in 1,809 innings.
In his only season in a rotation, Gossage was 9-17 for the White Sox in 1976. He credits Chicago manager Chuck Tanner and pitching coach Johnny Sain for turning him into a closer.
"The bullpen was kind of a junk pile where starters went that couldn't start anymore. It wasn't a glamorous place to be like it is today," Gossage said. "Now it takes three guys to do kind of what I used to do."
He was fiery during his career. He broke his thumb during a clubhouse brawl with Yankees teammate Cliff Johnson in 1979. In August 1982, he said owner George Steinbrenner should "quit treating us like animals" and referred to him as "the fat man."
Steinbrenner didn't take it personally.
"Goose Gossage had a tremendous impact on the Yankees and he did change the role of relief pitching," Steinbrenner said through spokesman Howard Rubenstein. "He set a standard as a closer and helped the Yankees immensely over the years. He is a great competitor and I think of him in glowing terms. He deserves to be voted into the Hall of Fame."
Gossage's strong opinions have not been limited to his own career. He thinks there ought to be some method of denoting in baseball's history books that offense increased in the 1990s and 2000s, partly because of smaller ballparks, tightly wrapped baseballs and a shrinking strike zone.
He has harsh words for both the Mitchell Report and some of those implicated.
"If my name had been in this thing, I know I would have been down in Times Square on top of a soap box screaming," Gossage said. "I'm glad to see that some investigation was done, but the type of investigation that it was, it just left a bunch of questions and doubt and, 'Did they really do it?"
Gossage is deeply committed to baseball history and is proud he has a big place in it. If elected to the Hall, he probably will wind up going in with a Yankees cap. He spent six of his best seasons with New York, from 1978-83, and returned for part of 1989.
He finds it hard to believe that Yankee Stadium, the ballpark where he heard all those roaring crowds, is set to be torn down after this season. The place where he got all those important outs -- and gave up George Brett's big playoff home run and Pine Tar homer -- won't exist.
"Oh, my God, I can't even comprehend it. I really can't," he said. "The new stadium is going to be beautiful, and I understand they have to do it. But, man, I think there's going to be a lot more missing than people think."
AP Baseball Writer Ben Walker contributed to this report.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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