The early years
The New York Yankee Richard Michael Gossage was born on July 5, 1951, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where at age 68 he still lives. He was one of six children that lived in a one-bedroom house as his father was an unsuccessful gold prospector. Every evening before dinner, his father Jake would take Rich out to the backyard for a game of catch. Goose would later say, after dinner, we would sit on the front porch and talk baseball and all the stars like Mikey Mantle, Willie Mays and the like.
Jake died in Rich’s junior year of high school. Even though he would not play in the field as well as some of his friends, his father always said that due to his strong arm, his son would play in the majors. Mother Sue also played a key role in her son’s early development as a player. After one tough loss as a schoolboy, she sat with Rich on the bed and hugged him. She taught him to respect rival players.
Gossage’s career at Wasson High impressed the Chicago White Sox, who took him in the ninth round of the 1970 amateur draft. He was sent to the Sarasota White Sox and, after getting just 21 strikeouts on four walks, was promoted to the Appleton Foxes, and he didn’t fair very well. But as a starter the following year, he went 18-2, opening everyone’s eyes. He attributed his wins to an off-speed slerve he learned at Sarasota. In 1972 threatened by his manager that he wouldn’t make the team. Rich went out and struck out nine batters in a row while only throwing 2 balls.
One day while up north, the star player Dick Allen, told Goose to be aggressive and move them off the plate. Let them know you mean business. In 1975 manager Tanner decided to move Goose from starting to the bullpen. Bullpen pitchers back then were unusual and Tanner may have been ahead of his time. He figured after hitters hit to a Knuckleballer of a pitcher with a curve, that putting Goose out there after six or seven with his grunting and snorting in 98 mph increments, it would set the hitter off and it did. Goose began to pitch regularly out of the pen. By the way, when Goose would watch for signs, other players noticed he would stick his head forward like a goose, and you know the rest.
You really can’t compare relievers of today, like Chapman or Rivera to Gossage. Pitchers today, for the most part, will pitch an inning or two. Back then, if the starter got knocked out in the forth, Goose would come in and close the game, so you can’t really make stat comparisons. Many that study the game say that Goose was one of the earliest that could be called a closer.
He would pitch five years for the White Sox and one in 1977 for the Pirates, mostly because Tanner moved to the Pirates. He really liked Tanner, and when he found out the Pirates were not going to extend his contract, he and his wife packed up their bags, their last stop was Three Rivers Stadium to clean out his locker. Tanner wished him the best. Goose went out to his car and just sat there crying while being consoled by his wife, Cornelia. He wouldn’t be able to be sad for long, for New York Yankee owner George Steinbrenner was trying to beef up his team by buying the best talent out there and he signed Goose to a six-year contract on November 27, 1977.
Gossage becomes a New York Yankee
Gossage had a horrible start with the Yankees, blowing saves and making errors. He was so bad that one day Micky Rivers jumped on the hood of the car they used to transport pitchers to prevent him from entering the game. But despite blowing the save of the 78 All-Star game, he quickly found his form leading the American League with 27 saves. He helped the Yankees to come back after trailing Boston by 14 1/2 games in the American League East. He saved a one-run lead in the one-game playoff against the Red Sox. He went 2 2/3 rather rocky innings, finally getting Carl Yastrzemski to pop up to Graig Nettles to end the game. There was no way to measure pitch speed, but many guessed the pitch was over 100mph.
In 1978, Gossage got a win apiece in the AL Championship Series against Kansas City and the World Series against Los Angeles. In 1979, the Yankees didn’t win the World series; most think it was because Goose was out for three months with a torn ligament in his thumb. Gossage appeared in the postseason in two other years for the Yankees. In 1980, he lost one game as the Royals advanced to the World Series behind a booming George Brett homer off the Goose. In 1981, he recorded six saves against Milwaukee, Oakland, and the Dodgers.
The 1981 season was also when Gossage first grew a mustache. It soon became the Fu Manchu version that he still sports today. It was no secret that Goose and George didn’t get along very well, the mustache below the lip was just to irritate the “boss”. The clashes became more frequent, finally, Goose had had enough and signed with the Padres.
After leaving the Yankees he would pitch from 1984 to 1994 for seven different teams as a closer. Many say that the Goose was the greatest reliever of all time, during a time when there were few closers. In interviews, Gossage would say pitchers are babied today. Starters are taught to get the team through five or six innings and then be replaced by a reliever. When he pitched the team didn’t care if your arm fell off, if you were out, there you were there to finish the game. He once pitched seven innings of a fourteen inning game. He said of today’s relievers, if you don’t stretch them out they will only pitch an inning.
Gossage inducted into the Baseball Hall Fame
Richard “Goose” Gossage ended his career saving 310 games in 1810 innings pitched. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. Gossage remains active in youth sports in Colorado Springs. For several years, he has served as an instructor for the New York Yankees in spring training. When he pitches in the Old Timer’s Day games at Yankee Stadium, it sure looks like at age 68; he’s still got it.
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EmpireSportsMedia.com’s William Parlee is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research.