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07/24/08 10:00 AM ET

Gossage elected for impact on game

Reliever's dominance, power overshadowed his statistics

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- A reliever by trade, he never won a Cy Young Award in either league nor was he named the Most Valuable Player during the regular season or any postseason series. Never even came close on either. He was a nine-time All-Star, but only pitched in six Midsummer Classics.

He led the American League in saves three times -- 1975, 1978 and 1980 -- and his zenith was the 33 saves he recording during that '80 season. Frankie Rodriguez of the Angels, in comparison, leads the Majors right now with 41.

Yet on Sunday, Rich "Goose" Gossage will join the pantheon of baseball's elite when he is inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame along with two managers (Dick Williams, who had Gossage with the Padres, and Billy Southworth), one Commissioner (Bowie Kuhn) and two owners (Walter O'Malley and Barney Dreyfuss).

"Well, you know what? Goose deserves it," said Kirk Gibson, the former Tigers slugger and current Diamondbacks bench coach who hit one of the most important homers of his career off Gossage and the Padres in Game 5 of the 1984 World Series. "I respect him. He did it the right way. I'm proud to say that I competed against him."

Gossage will become just the fifth reliever elected and inducted into the hallowed Hall. He will follow Hoyt Wilhelm and three others from his own era -- Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley and Bruce Sutter. All except Sutter were starters at some point in their stellar careers.

Gossage, with 310 saves, is one of 21 relievers to have recorded at least 300 career saves, although 17 of them have recorded more, with Trevor Hoffman leading at 542.

But after Goose reached the 300 plateau with the Cubs in 1988, he hung on as a setup guy and recorded only 10 more saves before retiring in 1994, his 23rd season.

Gossage, though, was elected this past January by eligible members of the Baseball Writers Association of America in his ninth time on the ballot not so much because of numbers or longevity, but for the way he altered the game.

"When I came into the game he was the best," said Gibson, who joined the Tigers for good in 1979. "He got on the mound and I don't even think he took signs. He just nodded and said, 'Here it comes.' He'd wind up, his arm would come back and he would just fire it. It was the hardest ball I'd ever seen."

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Gossage threw so hard and had such a persona on the mound that he terrified hitters with a steaming fastball that was just wild enough to keep everyone honest. Gossage said recently that he would've hit his mother if he had to.

"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. "Nobody did it the way I did it. Nothing beats pure power. There's nothing more exciting than power. Power takes a back seat to nothing."

Gossage played on one World Series winner (1978 with the Yankees) and two other pennant winners (1981 with the Yanks and 1984 with the Padres).

His playoff numbers -- a 2-1 record, eight saves and a 2.87 ERA in 19 appearances for the Yankees and Padres -- pales in comparison to those compiled so far by Mariano Rivera. In 76 postseason appearances for the Yankees, Rivera is 8-1 with 34 saves and a 0.77 ERA. Rivera was also named MVP of the 1999 World Series and the 2003 American League Championship Series.

Gossage, who recently turned 57, had one of his best years on the Williams-managed Padres in 1984, his first of four seasons in San Diego, when he finished 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 National League Championship Series, his final postseason save.

"I'm really happy he got in [to the Hall] because I really thought he should have been in a long time ago," said Tony Gwynn, a teammate of Gossage with the Padres and a Hall inductee last year. "Goose was one of those guys who was very outspoken. He wanted to win. You got a chance to see firsthand a guy take control of the game."

Gossage's 1978 Yankees team defeated the Dodgers in a thrilling six-game World Series -- after the right-hander pitched the final 2 2/3 innings to vanquish the Red Sox in the now-famous one-game division playoff at Fenway Park.

He was the winner of Game 4 of the '78 World Series, pitching a final two scoreless, hitless innings of a 10-inning, 4-3, come-from-behind win. He was named the AL Rolaids Relief Award winner that year. He also saved the first two games against the Dodgers in the 1981 World Series, although Los Angeles came back to win the four straight and take the series.

As opposed to today, Gossage pitched in an era when relievers routinely were given the ball in the seventh inning and asked to close out the game.

"When we went out to play we honestly thought it was a six-inning game," Gwynn said. "If you didn't do much damage against us in the first six innings, Goose was going to come in and shut the door. I saw him do it a lot."

Remarkably, 52 of his 310 saves were in games in which he was required to record seven or more outs. By comparison, of his 390 saves, Eckersley pitched five such games. Hoffman has two of 542, and Rivera, third all-time, one of 467.

"I set up for Dennis [with the A's in 1992 and 1993], so I know the way he was handled, how pampered he was over there," Gossage said. "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. I remember under Williams with the Padres in 1984, I pitched five or six innings one day. He brought me on in the fifth inning. They wouldn't even think about that now."

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.