Having grown up with baseball in the 1970s, I have a strong appreciation for what a great relief ace can do when his talents are pushed to the limit. We call them "closers" today, but back in the day, "relief aces" or "firemen" often came into games in the seventh or eighth inning, and often with runners on base. They weren’t protected—or babied—the way that most closers are in the contemporary game. From 1978 to 1983, I was privileged to watch Goose Gossage up close and personal, as he simply dominated games for the Yankees from the seventh inning until their conclusion. Given how difficult it can be to register those final nine outs, the importance of Gossage to two different World Series teams became readily apparent. Furthermore, the inclusion of such relief aces in a place like the Hall of Fame became a necessity, as the burgeoning responsibility of relievers evolved throughout the 1970s and eighties. How can great relief aces, who play such a determining role over the final two to three innings of so many one and two-run games, possibly be excluded from representation in Cooperstown?
So it is with more than some small degree of satisfaction that I heard Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey announce on Tuesday afternoon that The Goose had finally earned election to the Hall—after eight failed attempts. I expected Gossage would finally receive the Cooperstown call in his ninth year of eligibility; the announcement that he had earned nearly 86 per cent of the vote nearly floored me. That represented a 14 per cent jump from last year’s tally, an almost unheard-of increase for a player in the year that he finally wins approval from the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Simply put, the Hall of Fame is a stronger place with a pitcher like Gossage. Then there are the peripherals. Harold Reynolds, a contemporary of The Goose, has already praised Gossage as being the kind of player eager to make minority teammates feel welcome in the clubhouse. Some white athletes remain aloof to black and Latino teammates, showing neither acceptance nor rejection of their presence in the game. That was not the case with Gossage, who was a well-liked teammate throughout his career. And then there is Goose’s colorful personality. Quick to the temper but always with a sense of humor about things, The Goose will state clearly how he feels. He’ll champion the causes of other Hall of Fame candidates he feels are worthy. Anything but corporate, Gossage will bring some homespun honesty and old-fashioned flair to the Hall’s membership. And that’s a good thing.
So with The Goose’s place in Cooperstown firmly reserved for the final weekend in July (that’s when his induction will take place), let’s examine an eclectic set of hallmarks from Gossage’s well-traveled 22-year career.
*Gossage made his first leap to the major leagues in 1972—all the way from Class-A ball. Pitching for Appleton as a starter in 1971, went 18-2 with a 1.83 ERA Convinced that he had big league stuff and readiness, White Sox manager Chuck Tanner persuaded his bosses to call up the burly young right-hander in 1972. Gossage pitched well as a 20-year-old rookie, then experienced two minor league demotions and endured a move to the starting rotation (the brainchild of Paul Richards) before eventually emerging as a star reliever for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1977.
*Contrary to what I had assumed for many years, Gossage’s nickname was not a play on his last name. During his early major league days with the White Sox, roommate Tom Bradley took note of Gossage’s unusual delivery and mechanics. "You look like a goose when you throw," said Bradley, whose own distinctive look was trademarked by ever-present sunglasses that he wore on the mound. The Chicago media latched on to Bradley’s observation, quickly tagging Gossage "Goose." The name caught on with a flourish. By the late 1970s, more people were calling him Goose than Rich. It certainly didn’t hurt that the name Goose Gossage had a lyrical flow to it.
*With the election of Gossage, there are now two "Gooses," or shall we say "Geese," in the Hall of Fame. The other is Goose Goslin, a hard-hitting lefty-swinging outfielder for the old Washington Senators.
*A number of articles written about Gossage since his election have claimed that he threw only one pitch—the fastball. That’s not exactly true. While the fastball became his primary modus operandi, Gossage did tinker with off-speed and breaking pitches. With the White Sox, Gossage learned to throw a change-up from pitching guru Johnny Sain. Later in his Yankee career, after his fastball had lost a mile or two, Gossage added a slider, which he threw occasionally as a way of giving opposing hitters a different wrinkle.
*When Gossage first joined the Yankees in 1978, he did not initially feature what would become his trademark Fu Manchu mustache. He later grew the mustache as a way of spiting George Steinbrenner, who hated his players to wear facial hair—at least anything beyond a normal mustache. The Goose and "The Boss" would develop a hate-hate relationship during Gossage’s six-year tenure in the Bronx. In one of the most famous recorded rants of all time, Gossage railed against Steinbrenner, repeatedly calling him "The Fat Man." Embarrassed by the publicity, Steinbrenner defended himself by saying that he was trying to lose weight. By the end of the 1983 season, the Gossage-Steinbrenner relationship had become exceedingly contentious. The Goose became so tired of Steinbrenner’s frequent criticisms of players that he left the Yankees as a free agent, citing The Boss as one of the primary reasons behind his departure for San Diego.
*During the course of his regular season career, Gossage saved 52 games in which he had to record at least seven outs. In other words, excluding any extra-inning games, Gossage compiled all of those saves by entering games in the seventh inning. (And that includes the famed 1978 tiebreaking game featuring one Bucky Dent.) By contrast, Trevor Hoffman has posted two saves of seven outs or more in his regular season career. Mariano Rivera has only one. Yes, the game has changed a little since the early 1980s.
*The Goose now has a mascot. During his Hall of Fame press conference on Tuesday, Gossage unveiled a ridiculous plastic goose wearing a Yankee helmet and a miniature Hall of Fame jersey. And that, folks, may be a case of "too much information" about The Goose, the latest entrant to Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books on baseball, none on Goose Gossage. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.