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01/09/07 3:46 PM ET
Gossage falls short, but inches closer
History suggests closer's latest vote total will lead to induction
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
For Goose Gossage, this time, disappointment is tinged with anticipation. Uncertainty makes way for inevitability. And there should be no anger, only regret. Rich Gossage's eighth run at the Baseball Hall of Fame again fell short on Tuesday -- agonizingly short: With 71.2 percent of the ballots, according to results announced by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, Gossage became one of the few in 72 years of voting squeezed in that purgatory between 70 and the anointing 75 percent. As anticipated, Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn were elected by being named on 98.5 percent and 97.6 percent of the ballots, respectively. Voting precedents are now very encouraging for Gossage, one of the game's pioneering crossover relief sensations. No candidate has come so close to nirvana without eventually joining the baseball gods, usually the ensuing year. Most recently, Don Sutton (73.15 percent in 1997) and Gaylord Perry (72.07 in 1990) gained next-year admittance from the BBWAA sentry. Other candidates to score such near-misses late in their 15-year ballot lives (such as Orlando Cepeda with 73.63 in 1994 and Jim Bunning with 74.24 in 1988) eventually gained admission through Cooperstown's Veterans Committee. So Gossage will wait. He will wait patiently, now that the urgency that fueled his past criticism of Hall of Fame voters is gone. In a pre-announcement chat with Denver-area reporters on Monday, the resident of Colorado Springs discussed how the September death of his 92-year-old mother softened his edge. "I guess any urgency on my part was always due to her," Gossage was quoted in the Rocky Mountain News. "She always wanted me to go in, and she would've loved to have been there."I know she's not going to be there. There isn't any pressure, and I feel much more relaxed about it." Yet, with a few more votes, there would have been some symmetry about Gossage being inducted alongside the best pure hitter and the ironman of his generation. Because the fierce right-hander humbled great hitters and was himself durable. Gossage logged his first save in 1972 and No. 310 in 1994. In the 22 intervening seasons -- he was out of the game in 1990 -- he excelled as a workhorse closer for three franchises -- the White Sox, Yankees and Padres. Gossage also had shorter stints with six other teams later in his career, and this vagabond exit may have weakened his Hall of Fame stature in the eyes of some voters. However, his platform includes an extra dimension that separates him from the glut of closers who have faced an apparent electorate bias, just as did two relievers elected recently. Dennis Eckersley (2004) had re-invention going for him, having been a successful starting pitcher before embarking on a second career as a closer. Bruce Sutter (2006) and his split-fingered fastball pioneered the modern role of closers. Gossage was the last of a breed, a fireman whose hose was ready any time and for any length and for whom saves were an incidental reward, not the sole objective. He mixed his saves with 114 relief wins, a total out of the reach of today's ninth-inning specialists. Pride in such accomplishments sparked Gossage's fury a year ago, when Sutter gained election with 76.9 percent on 400 votes, while Gossage got 336 for 64.6 percent. "I just don't get it," Gossage said at the time. "I'm at a loss for words. I don't know if I ever will make it." He knows better now. He will wait one more year, resting on his qualifications and, this time, on pins and needles.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.