Gossage anticipates emotional day
HOF inductee tears up at press event at sight of ex-manager
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- As his induction into the Hall of Fame neared, Rich Gossage talked incessantly about his expectations that it would be an emotional day and his hopes of being able to maintain his composure.But the former pitching great didn't have to wait until he stood erect on the stage at the Clark Sports Center on Sunday to break down. That came early Saturday when he bent to greet his former manager Chuck Tanner, and former teammate/mentor Dick Allen.
Tanner, the man responsible for turning Gossage into the ace and long-winded reliever who would post 310 saves, had repeatedly spoken of his pride since the right-hander's election to the Hall 6 1/2 months ago. He's looked forward to being in the audience as Gossage took his place among the game's immortals.But a recent operation for unknown reasons and attendant health concerns are expected to keep Tanner away from Sunday's ceremonies. Still, he and Allen visited Cooperstown on Saturday, driving over from New Castle, Pa., for some quiet moments with Gossage. "There were some tears shed with Chuck and Dick," Gossage said Saturday afternoon, during his final public appearance prior to Sunday's 1:30 p.m. ET induction ceremony. "They're driving back tonight. Chuck has some health problems. "Just knowing that they drove over so they could see me today ... it was very emotional just seeing them. He got out of the hospital just to be with me." Looking fit in shorts and a T-shirt and appearing relaxed 23 hours before his big moment, Gossage still seemed intent to commit every frame to his memory album, as he has all weekend. While the man with whom he shared the stage in the auditorium of Cooperstown Middle/High School, Dick Williams, answered a question, Gossage glanced over his right shoulder and studied a collage poster of his career highlights. "I still can't comprehend all this. I'm not sure I ever will," Gossage said. "Every time I turn around, I'm pinching myself. "There's a lot of anxiety. I've pitched in a lot of big games, but this is over-the-top." As he has for months, Richard Michael Gossage dotted his vocabulary with words such as "amazing," "overwhelming" and "unbelievable." He replayed a nightmare common to folks on the verge of ascending a very public stage. "This morning, I couldn't sleep worth a darn, so I got up at five, and I started to get dressed," Gossage said. "But I couldn't find my suit, so I had to put on some sweats, and that's how I went out to face all the people. "Then I woke up and said, 'Thank God it wasn't for real.'" But all of Sunday afternoon's feelings will be. The acceptance speech, the recital of a verbal biography, has overcome inductees through the years, and it will not be a simple task for Gossage. "I don't know whether I'll be able to get through it," he admitted. "It will be very emotional. A lot of people I will reflect on are gone." During the eight unfulfilled years he waited on Hall of Fame ballots, Gossage's disappointment was always geared toward wishing his mother could see his enshrinement. His mom, Susanne, passed away in mid-2006. Gossage's father, Jake, died while he was a high school junior.
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"That's the only two things I regret about the way my career has gone," said Gossage, the first Colorado-born Hall of Famer, who recalled his father as a big fan of the New York Yankees. "That I couldn't take my dad with me to Yankee Stadium after I became a Yankee [in 1978], and that mom couldn't live to see this."My parents were huge supporters of me. Reading my speech is going to be very emotional. But it will be a happy day. It won't be a sad day." Nor will it be a day for preaching. Gossage will speak from a dais, not from a pulpit. Unlike a recent recipient of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award who turned his acceptance speech into a chastisement of modern baseball writers, Gossage won't take contemporary closers to task. Even though the Goose has always had strong feeling about their "EZ Pass," compared to the workhorse shifts he and his peers pulled. "Closers are used the way they should be," Gossage said. "They're available to their clubs every night, and the setup guys have become almost more important by being the guys who make that happen. "Just please, don't compare me with these guys. Don't lose sight of the fact that it's apples and oranges. Today, it's so specialized ... pitch counts absolutely drive me nuts. " Gossage was pivotal to the dawn of the closer's era. Still, it was a different era: His single-season high of 33 saves (in 1980) would have placed him 14th in the Major Leagues last season; he logged 1,556 relief innings for his 310 saves, while all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman is at 972 for his 543. It was as different in temperament as in deployment. "I did not want to know any hitters," Gossage bristled. "If Tanner saw any of this hand-shaking and hugging going on today, he'd pull you away and say, 'That guy is not your friend. He's trying to take food off your table.' "We had rules against fraternization and they were enforced. I didn't want to be friendly with guys on the other team. That takes the edge away. I didn't want to get a thought like, 'I feel bad for this guy.'" A real hard-nose. Tune in Sunday afternoon to see his soft side.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.