Friday, July 10, 2015

Yankees’ legend and Hall of Famer Goose Gossage talks baseball past and present

As part of Hormel Foods’ No-hassle Major League Tailgate Tips promotion, I had the distinct pleasure and honor of speaking with former New York Yankees’ reliever and Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Rich "Goose" Gossage by phone Friday.

Photo credit:
Gossage pitched for nine different teams across 22 seasons in the big leagues. He spent six seasons with the Yankees (1978-83) and finished the 1989 season in pinstripes after being picked up on waivers that August.

Gossage, who threw 100-mph gas, intimidated batters while compiling a career mark of 124-107 with a 3.01 ERA and saved 310 games. Gossage nailed down 52 saves in which he recorded at least seven outs, 125 with at least six outs, something unheard of today.

Gossage, now 64, was a nine-time All-Star and a member of three World Series teams including the 1978 World Champion Yankees. Gossage was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008, his ninth time on the ballot.

After over 20 years passing since he was last called from the bullpen, I got the impression while speaking with Gossage that if I handed him a ball and told him there was a game to save he’d take it and blow batters away. He misses the competition and being with teammates; something he remembers since he was 7 years old.

“I miss it, I think we all miss it; there is nothing like facing that hitter up there,” Gossage said. "I miss that competition the most.”

Gossage noted that the camaraderie with teammates was another thing absent from his life since hanging up his spikes. I asked him about first impressions with teammates and how they might change over time. He laughed and jumped straight into talking about his favorite teammate, Thurman Munson.

“We ended up being best friends,” Gossage said. “He was one tough customer. He didn’t leave games.”

Thurman Munson
Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons
Gossage’s respect for Munson and the excitement in his voice was unmistakable when he spoke about the former Yankee catcher’s play on the field.

“Thurman was head and shoulders above everyone else,” Gossage said. “His competitiveness, his style was unorthodox. I’ve seen him grab a pitch on the outside corner, then end up like a turtle upside-down on his back after making a submarine throw from his knees to second base.”

Gossage continued to heap praise on his former battery mate.

“He could run, he was fast for a catcher, a little fat guy,” Gossage said with a laugh. “We loved him.”

Of course, losing Munson to the plane crash that took his life in 1979, still sits in Gossage’s throat and bleeds his heart.

“That was the most devastating thing that’s ever [happened] during my career; was losing Thurman,” Gossage said. “We still miss him dearly today.”

Gossage talked about some of the great managers he played for; Chuck Tanner, Dick Howser and Tony La Russa among them. But Dick Williams stood out above the rest, and they shared a special connection as they were inducted into the Hall of Fame at the same time.

“I hate to do that (differentiate between the managers) because these guys were all great managers, but Williams was the greatest I ever played for,” Gossage said. “I miss him dearly.”

After winning the Fireman of the Year Award (given to the league’s top reliever) in 1975 for locking down 26 saves, Gossage got a call from then White Sox general manager Roland Hemond in the offseason and was asked to be a starter in 1976. Gossage was quick to say he’d do what needed to be done for the team and he made 29 starts that season which included hurling 15 complete games. The game was different then.

While he didn’t mind the experience of starting, it also made clear he preferred pitching out of the bullpen and Tanner helped that process when the Pittsburgh Pirates traded for Gossage in the winter leading up to the 1977 season.

The phone call came into Gossage in the late night hours while he was in his Colorado home. It was Tanner, who told Gossage the Pirates traded for him and he was going back to the bullpen.

“That was music to my ears,” Gossage said. “Not that I minded starting, but I didn’t like the four days rest in between starts. I loved the opportunity to get in the game each night with it on the line.”

Gossage continued describing his love of being a reliever.

Gossage's Hall of Fame plaque
Photo credit: Neil R via Flickr
“I loved the workload that I had,” Gossage said. “I loved getting out of big situations. I could come in (in the seventh inning) and get out of bases loaded nobody out with strikeouts. I couldn’t even allow the ball to be put in play. And then I had to finish the eighth and the ninth.”

We spoke about the differences in how bullpens are handled now versus when Gossage played and he was adamant about not liking the mix-and-match strategies employed nowadays.

“I don’t ever think I’ll come to grips with it (the change in bullpen philosophy),” Gossage said. “The whole idea of pitching is upside-down.”

Gossage continued by differentiating his role with that today’s closer.

“I was my own setup man and my own closer,” Gossage said. “Closer wasn’t even a coined phrase. I take exception to being called a closer. I was a relief pitcher.”

“I think the pendulum has swung too far the other way,” Gossage said. “They baby these guys too much. I don’t think a three-run lead with a one-inning appearance should even garner a save.”

Gossage pitched in three World Series and recorded plenty of big outs in his career, but it was during All-Star Games in which he felt the most nervous and often unsettled. He also felt immense pride in being selected.

“I think it was the peer-pressure, and being in the clubhouse with all those great players,” Gossage said. “It’s a very intimidating place to be, especially in your first or second time. Even my ninth time when I was selected, going into the clubhouse was a very, very special [moment].”

Goose Gossage
Photo credit: Phil5329 via WikiCommons
Gossage does have some advice about getting back to the roots of what the All-Star Game was about and should be again. He felt as a player it was an honor to be selected and it became important for the players to try and win the game to show their pride of being chosen to participate.

“I don’t think the All-Star Game should determine that (home-field advantage), and I’ve always been against that,” Gossage said. “Back in the day there was such a rivalry between the American League and the National League, and that’s something that’s really lacking in the game.”

Gossage played for both sides of the rivalry and he got the sense that the National League took it more to heart than the American League and “upped the ante” and took pleasure in winning the Midsummer Classic.

“You look back at Pete Rose taking out Ray Fosse at home plate; that shows exactly how competitive that game used to be,” Gossage said.

The game has certainly changed a lot since Gossage glared from the mound, scaring the daylights out of batters. Seeing Gossage step to the hill and mow down batters for multiple innings as a Yankee ranks among my fonder memories of the game as a child.

Baseball is different now. Of course, nothing can stay the same forever, but there are some things that might have been better off kept as they were.


More from Hormel Foods:

Hall of Fame pitcher and father of three Goose Gossage is teaming up with Hormel Foods to bring baseball fans tips for a no-hassle major league tailgate. Hormel Foods has several simple solutions for packing delicious food that is convenient and easy to pack, including:
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Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a featured Yankees writer for His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.