Hall welcomes Gossage into its doors
Dominant right-handed reliever lone selection by writers
NEW YORK -- The "Goose" is on the loose in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.A year after Tony Gwynn was a first-time electee, along with Cal Ripken Jr., the induction ceremony on July 27 in Cooperstown, N.Y., will again have a distinct Padres flavor. Rich "Goose" Gossage, who may be better known for his first tour with the Yankees (1978-83), was elected on Tuesday in his ninth year on the ballot. He'll join his former Padres manager, Dick Williams, on the stage behind the Clark Sports Center this coming summer. "This was very emotional, off the charts -- I can't even describe this," Gossage said about taking the phone call telling him that he was selected. "I've waited a while, but there isn't anybody I'd rather go in with than Dick Williams. He was a great, great manager, and I really enjoyed playing for him." Jim Rice, the former star of 16 seasons, all with the Red Sox, barely missed by 16 votes, as he fell 2.8 percent (72.2) below the necessary 75 percent to gain admission to the hallowed red-brick Hall on Main Street in Cooperstown. Voting trends suggest that he could very well break through in 2009, when Rickey Henderson will be an obvious first-time favorite. Rice then will be on the writers' ballot for his 15th and final year. "Today's results are obviously a disappointment," Rice said in a statement released by the Red Sox. "I believe my accomplishments speak for themselves, and a majority of the voters seem to agree. It is tough to come this close, but I remain hopeful for the 2009 results." Rice should take heart: of the 20 previous players who have registered 70 or more percent but less than 75 percent, every one of them has ultimately been elected. Williams, who won the World Series twice as manager of the A's and will go in wearing an Oakland cap, teamed up with Gossage in 1984, as the Padres won the first National League pennant in franchise history, but lost a five-game World Series to the Tigers. Williams' wife, Norma, answering the phone on Tuesday at their Las Vegas home, said Williams had already spoken to Gossage, and that her husband "was just as giddy as the day he got into the Hall of Fame." "They just acted like two crazy little people," she said. Williams was one of five managers and executives elected last month by separate, newly formed Veterans Committees. World Series-winning managers Williams and Billy Southworth were elected along with Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and owners Walter O'Malley and Barney Dreyfuss. All will also be inducted late in July, although Williams is the only living member of the quintet. "It's terrific, it's terrific," said Williams about Gossage joining him. "I got a hold of him and we were just like two little kids. I'm as thrilled about him getting in as the day they called me. This is wonderful." Gossage, who fell short by 21 votes in 2007, was this time named on 85.8 percent or 466 of the 543 ballots cast. Andre Dawson, who hobbled on bad knees through many of his 21 seasons with the Expos, Cubs, Red Sox and Marlins, received almost a 10-percent uptick to 65.9 percent and may be right on the bubble in 2009. Voters from the Baseball Writers' Association of America also are taking another look at Bert Blyleven, a pitcher whose career ended after 22 seasons, just 13 victories shy of 300. Blyleven finished fourth behind Gossage, Rice and Dawson with a healthy 61.9 percent of the vote. Gossage said that all three of the runner-ups should eventually get the Hall call. "Just what I know about facing these guys, I think Jim Rice deserves to be in the Hall," said Gossage, who retired Rice and Carl Yastrzemski with a pair of runners on base and the Yankees clinging to a 5-4 lead, thus ending that famous 1978 playoff game for the division title in Boston. "No hitter scared me, but Jim Rice came the closest. Dawson should [be elected], because he also has great numbers. He was a teammate of mine with the Cubs. And Blyleven was a tremendous pitcher over a great career. Those are three guys who come to my mind right away." In the wake of last month's Mitchell Report, Mark McGwire, the first star player tainted by the steroids era to face the electorate, finished at 23.6 percent, almost exactly the same place as last year, when he also received 128 votes despite hitting 70 homers in 1998 to win his famous record home run race against Sammy Sosa and finishing with 583 in his career. In 2007, McGwire also received an underwhelming 23.5 percent. Gossage said he felt for McGwire and the voters who have to make that decision. "I don't really know how to approach this," Gossage said. "McGwire was a great guy and a great teammate of mine the two years I played with him out in Oakland. And what a thrill it was to play with him. But this steroid thing is hanging over baseball now, and hopefully we can put this thing behind us and clear the gray areas out. I have a lot of empathy for [the voters] on how to go about this. I'm glad I'm not voting."
Of the 11 first-timers on the ballot, only one -- Tim Raines -- received the requisite 5 percent to remain. Raines earned 132 or 24.3 percent of the vote. Dave Concepcion, the shortstop on Cincinnati's great "Big Red Machine" teams of the 1970s, received 88 votes or 16.2 percent in his 15th and final chance among the writers. He'll now be eligible, beginning in 2011, to be elected by the Veterans Committee voting on players.Gossage had one of his best years under Williams in 1984, his first of four seasons 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 of his 20 Major League seasons with the Padres. "The impact that Goose Gossage had on this organization was incredible, on the field, in the clubhouse and for our fans in San Diego," said Padres president Dick Freeman, who was in a lesser role with the front office back then. "He was the final piece to our National League championship in 1984, which really established the San Diego Padres as a Major League franchise. It's hard to overstate what his contributions were to that team." The Goose's baseball career line over 23 seasons is a road map of baseball stops around the world: Chicago (White Sox); Pittsburgh; New York (Yankees, twice); San Diego; Chicago (Cubs); San Francisco; Fukuoka, Japan; Arlington; Oakland; and Seattle. His 1978 Yankees team, after Gossage pitched the final 2 2/3 innings to vanquish the Red Sox in that playoff game, went on to defeat the Dodgers in a thrilling six-game World Series. Gossage, a nine-time All-Star, never saved a World Series game, but he was the winner of Game 4 at Yankee Stadium for pitching the final two scoreless, hitless frames of a 10-inning, 4-3, come-from-behind win. Gossage said on Tuesday that signing with the Yankees as a free agent in 1978 was "an out-of-body experience." But he said he left the Yankees for the Padres as a free agent six years later because he was tired of the endless wars between in-and-out manager Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner, the team's longtime principal owner. "I needed a little change of scenery," Gossage said. "The fun had kind of been taken out of the game. I had always played the game for the fun of it." Steinbrenner was more than gracious on Tuesday after learning the news that another player who starred in Yankees pinstripes had been added to the Hall. "The Baseball Hall of Fame was really on the ball today in their selection of my close friend Goose Gossage," he said in a statement. "Goose was a fierce competitor and one of the all-time great pitchers, who in his career set a new standard for relief pitching. The New York Yankees are very proud of his achievement and I, personally, would like to congratulate him and his family on this wonderful honor!" Gossage finished his career as a Mariner in 1994 with a 124-107 record, 1,502 strikeouts 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 setup man. Near the end of his career, Goose set up in Oakland for Dennis Eckersley, who was elected to Hall of Fame in 2004 and may have broken some ground for relievers. It is the second time in the past three years that a premium reliever has been the only player elected to the Hall. Two years ago, Bruce Sutter was elected in his 13th year on the ballot. Sutter, who had 300 saves in a 12-year career shortened by arm injuries, was preceded by Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers and Eckersley, three closers, like Gossage, who also started during their stellar careers. Sutter is the only reliever inducted thus far who never made at least one start. Fingers, who was inducted in 1992, had 341 saves and threw 1,701 innings in 17 seasons. Gossage had 31 fewer saves in 1,809 innings. 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 a yardstick of how the job of closer has changed since then, Eckersley did it as a reliever only once. So has the Yankees' Mariano Rivera. San Diego's Trevor Hoffman, the all-time leader with 524 saves, never did it. Asked how effective Gossage might have been if he'd been restricted to one-inning saves, Williams quipped: "He'd still be playing." Hoffman and Rivera are almost certainly future Hall of Fame electees, although Lee Smith, who held the all-time record of 478 surpassed two years ago by Hoffman, has been an afterthought among the writers, garnering only 235 votes or 43.3 percent this year. Like Smith, Gossage said he always implored the writers not to compare him to the closers of this era. "I'm probably the only pitcher to see the evolution of the bullpen from the time I broke in to the way it is today," Gossage said. "That's the only point I've ever tried to make: please don't compare me to these modern-day relievers. It's apples and oranges. It's not the same game. That's the only thing I've tried to set the record straight on. The way they're being used today is the way they should be used." And the way the Goose almost never was.
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.