07/24/08 10:00 AM ET
Gossage credits former skipper
Tanner influenced former closer's Hall of Fame career
The sad day in 1977, when he packed up and left Chuck Tanner and the Pittsburgh Pirates behind, he cried. Like a baby.
The Goose -- aka Richard Michael Gossage -- admittedly a sentimental sort, swells up whenever his button is pushed reminding him of a very special moment during the journey of his 57 years.
When he's inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame on Sunday I'll be astonished if he gets through his speech with dry eyes.
So will Tanner.
The Goose and Chuck began their relationship in 1970 when Gossage was a hard-throwing 19-year-old pitcher, a few weeks removed from Wasson High School in Colorado Springs. Tanner was in his first year as manager of the Chicago White Sox. Gossage says if it weren't for Tanner, "I wouldn't be going to the Hall of Fame. I owe an awful lot to him."
After Tanner left the White Sox in 1975, he piloted Oakland for a year, then took over the Pirates in '77. He guided them to a World Series title in '79.
One of his first moves after arriving in Pittsburgh was to go after Gossage and Terry Forster, mainstays in his White Sox bullpen.
Some of Gossage's best years were ahead -- he pitched six years for the Yankees beginning in 1978 -- but preferred to remain with the Pirates and Tanner.
That's why leaving as a free agent following the '77 season was so difficult.
"When my wife Corna and I packed up our apartment in Pittsburgh and the last stop was Three Rivers Stadium," Gossage said earlier this week. "I had to get my stuff because I knew the Pirates weren't going to sign me. Their offer wasn't even close.
"I put my bags in the car and just sat there and cried. I loved it there, loved the team and playing for Chuck. To his credit, when the Pirates refused to keep me, Tanner wished me well and said I was making the right move."
Gossage says Tanner, late pitching coach Johnny Sain and former All-Star teammate Dick Allen "were the most important people in my career."
In fact, Tanner and Allen received special invitations from Goose to attend the ceremony.
"I'm picking Dick up and we're driving to Cooperstown together [from New Castle, Pa.]," says Tanner.
Tanner adds "I had to baby Goose, use a lot of psychology and move him along, but I knew how great he could be. I had in the back of my mind all along he was best-suited for the bullpen."
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Bottom line: Tanner's decision to put Gossage in the bullpen, where he excelled, was what made him a Hall of Famer. During 22 years Gossage saved 310 games and compiled a 3.01 earned-run average. Four of those 22 years his ERA was below 2.00, including an uncanny 0.77 with the Yankees in 1981.
There was never any question about his fastball, but to be effective he needed an off-speed pitch.
"Johnny Sain told me how to teach Goose a changeup," remembers Tanner. "Roland Hemond [White Sox general manager] and I met him where he was pitching in the Minors his first year -- I think it was Quad Cities in the Gulf Coast League -- and taught him the pitch."
The next year at Appleton in the Midwest League, young Gossage was 18-2, with a 1.83 ERA.
"The timing was perfect," Gossage says. "I threw very hard and could command my fastball, but had no idea about anything off-speed. Sain showed Chuck how I could throw it. I picked it up in one session. That was amazing. I then had the 18-2 season and the following year was invited to the Major League camp and put in the bullpen."
Gossage adds, "I was a green-behind-the-ears kid. Chuck taught me how to act, taught me how to play the game. "
It wasn't all love and kisses, though.
"I thought I was a great psychologist," says Tanner, laughing. "One day early in his career in Spring Training I called him into my office. I said, 'Well, I think we're going to have to send you down [to the Minor Leagues].' I wasn't, but wanted to shake him up a little.
"He said, 'I'm better than any pitcher here.' We went at it. I grabbed him and pinned him against the wall. I said, 'OK, you're pitching today. Show me something! All I hear is talk, talk.' I said to myself, 'This is going to be fun.' "During three innings he struck out every batter he faced and I believe threw just two balls. He was so sky-high. He'd come back to the dugout and just stare at me, but I'd look straight ahead. After that, I told him, 'Well, you were OK. I guess I'll take you north.' He started smiling."
Gossage's version: "I remember being called into his office at Payne Park in Sarasota. He said, 'I want to show you a list.' My name was crossed off. I said, 'What does that mean?' He said, 'As of now, you're not going north, You're not going to make the team.'
"We got into it pretty good and he said, 'You haven't improved. You're pitching the same way you did when I first met you.' It got heated and Johnny Sain separated us. I said, 'I'm the best pitcher you got.' He fired back, 'Why don't you go out and prove it?' And I did."
To Gossage and Tanner, Allen was like a manager on the field.
"He taught me how to pitch from a great hitter's standpoint," says Goose. "No amount of money could have paid for that kind of experience or advice. I didn't realize it at the time, but Dick Allen was the greatest player I ever played with."
Tanner, an iron-fisted, take-no-prisoners manager, says when Goose would get two strikes on a batter, Allen would often go to the mound and say, "Hey, let 'em know you're out here. Don't be afraid to throw one under their necks. Not only will the batter see it, but also everybody on the bench who's going to hit against you." Tanner says "suddenly people noticed his style. He was vicious."
Gossage got the message, an approach that doesn't work in today's baseball where pitching inside to batters is a forgotten art.
"When I came to the big leagues Chuck said, 'Son, if you don't make that hitter as uncomfortable as you can you might as well go do something else.'
Sunday, Goose Gossage is planning to throw a fastball down the middle.
Don't be surprised, though, if he has to use his changeup.
And shed a few tears.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.