This could be the year for Gossage
With votes steadily increasing, pioneering closer may make Hall
For Rich Gossage, his best shot at the Hall of Fame seems to be this, his ninth year on the ballot.Each year, the Baseball Writers' Association of America is voting in increased numbers for Gossage, one of the top relief pitchers in history. Last year, when Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn were elected, Gossage fell 21 votes shy of the required 75 percent. With no clear-cut first-time candidate on the ballot, he could very well make up the difference. "Well, I'm not going to get my hopes up too high," Gossage told MLB.com when reached recently by phone at his home in Colorado Springs. "After coming so close last year, I'll just have to keep my fingers crossed and see what happens. I don't want to be disappointed. Maybe without the big guys on the ballot, that will enhance my chances. I'm just going to take it as it comes." Two years ago, the man they called "The Goose," who strode to the mound to close games with his spitfire fastball, was heartened by the fact that Bruce Sutter, another premier reliever from his era, was elected in the class of 2006. Sutter was preceded by Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers and Dennis Eckersley, three closers, like Gossage, who also started during their stellar careers. Sutter was the first reliever inducted who hadn't made at least one start. But Gossage still believes he separated himself from the rest. "I don't think anybody did it the way I did it," Gossage said. "Power against power. There was no messing around. All those strikeouts I had, none of that is padding. Just about every one of them meant something because the game was on the line." There is another incentive this time around: Dick Williams, who was recently elected by the Veterans Committee, was Gossage's manager in 1984 when the Padres won their first National League pennant, losing to the Tigers in a five-game World Series. It was the last trip to the postseason for both men. If Goose is elected this year, they'll be reunited in Cooperstown, N.Y., for the induction ceremonies on July 27. Williams is the only living member of the five managers and executives elected by separate Veterans Committees on Dec. 4. "That would be awesome," Gossage said about sharing the stage with Williams this summer. "I was elated to see that Dick got in. He deserved it. He's one of the best managers of all-time, in my opinion, and he's the best manager I ever played for. And that's taking in some great managers."
Gossage is mostly remembered for his first tour with the Yankees (1978-83), but he had one his best years in 1984 with the Padres, finishing 10-6 with 25 saves and 84 strikeouts in 62 games (102 1/3 innings). He was on the mound in the ninth inning of Game 5 against the Cubs in San Diego to close out the NL Championship Series, his final postseason save. That was also Gwynn's first complete Major League season of his 20 with the Padres.The Goose's career line over 23 seasons is a road map of baseball stops around the world: Chicago (White Sox), Pittsburgh, New York (Yankees), San Diego, Chicago (Cubs), San Francisco, Yankees again, Fukuoka, Japan, Arlington, Texas, Oakland and Seattle. Gossage finished 124-107 with 1,502 strikeouts -- nearly one an inning -- and a 3.01 ERA. His 310 saves are 17th on the all-time list, but he never had more than 33 saves in a single season -- 1980 with the Yankees. A power pitcher who snarled beneath his mustache and intimidated hitters with his 98 mph fastball, along the way Gossage went from rookie closer to starter back to veteran closer and finally finished as a set up man. Near the end of his career, Goose set up for Eckersley, who was elected to Hall of Fame in 2004 and may have broken some ground for relievers. But when it comes to closers, don't compare Gossage to Eckersley or any other in the recent era like the Yankees' Mariano Rivera or the Padres' Trevor Hoffman, who took over the all-time saves lead in 2006, Gossage said. "We're not even in the same league," said Gossage, who is 55 years old now. "Whether I belong in the Hall or not, I don't even know. I really don't. I guess what I based my hopes on, the reason that I thought I had a good shot, was that Rollie Fingers is in. I don't know what I did that Fingers didn't do. Is there something that I'm missing? I'm even more baffled because he's in the Hall." Fingers, who was inducted in 1992, had 341 saves and threw 1,701 innings in 17 seasons. Gossage had 31 less saves in 1,809 innings. Fingers was used by the A's as a starter, too, and appeared in both roles early in his career, many times in the same season. Even so, Fingers had seven seasons as a reliever when he logged 100 innings or more. Gossage did it four times and came close in several other seasons. In comparison, Eckersley did it as a reliever only once. So has Rivera. Hoffman never did it. And that's the real dilemma. The role of the closer has so dynamically changed since Gossage played that there's no criteria for how writers vote. But Gossage's star has been rising among that privileged class. In 2006, when Sutter was elected, Gossage's name was penned on 64.2 percent of the ballots, up from 55.2 percent in 2005 and a big rise from the scant 40.7 percent he garnered in 2004. Then he landed 388 out of a possible 590 votes last year -- 71.2 percent. Gossage would routinely pitch multiple innings in big games. Eckersley, with his 390 saves in 12 seasons as a reliever, Hoffman with his all-time leading 524 saves, and Rivera with 443, usually were and have been restricted to one or two innings. Most of the time, the trio would be handed the ball with a lead to open the ninth. "I think I had a lot to do with setting the bar for relievers and doing the job the way it should be done," Gossage said. "I went and set up for Dennis [1992-93], so I know the way he was handled, how pampered he was over there. Not to take anything away from these guys, to compare what I did with what they did ... It was even a joke with the coaches. We joked with Eckersley all the time. He's a good buddy of mine. "Don't even compare me with Dennis Eckersley or Mariano Rivera. I'd love to have been used like them."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.