The ‘Goose’ Cuts Loose

By Michael-Louis Ingram
Updated: July 16, 2008

LONG ISLAND, N.Y. – At a recent black-tie affair, I had an opportunity to click glasses with Rich “Goose” Gossage, who will enter Cooperstown as a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Gossage, who was part of a select group that included pitchers like Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, Dennis Eckersley, Dick Radatz and Lee Smith, was a power pitcher who circumstances put into the role of relief pitcher.

Gossage and his peers enhanced the position to such a level it evolved into the sport’s current lexicon as the closer.

Although pitching for several teams over the course of his 22-year career, Gossage came of age during his six year stint with the New York Yankees, utilizing a hi-octane fastball that consistently registered in triple digits on the radar gun.

When asked how hard he could throw now, the ends of his thick gray moustache curled up a little. “I probably could hit low-90s once I had suitable time to warm up,” laughing a bit as he spoke.

Knowing that Ron “Louisiana Lightning” Guidry was his teammate for a time, I asked if they ever competed to see who could turn up the heat with the fastball best. “I tell you this — Ron Guidry and Sandy Koufax were the best left- handed pitchers I ever saw.”

Naturally, spanning a career which has been time-tested, you’re staring down the mound at a lot of batters. When a young man posed the question of who were the toughest hitters, the Goose’s response brought a smile to my face. “Tony Oliva was, without a doubt, the toughest batter and best hitter I ever faced.”

Seeing a lot of young faces immediately mumbling who the great former Minnesota Twins outfielder was, I started laughing and got into the interview fray. So I asked who he felt should also have been part of this Class of 2008 at Cooperstown.

As if he was coming in with a high hard one, Goose didn’t flinch. “Oliva should definitely be in the Hall; (Angels’ pitcher) Bert Blyleven should be here with me; man his curveball was one of the nastiest I ever saw.

“And Jim Rice should have long been in. I don’t understand for the life of me what makes these guys (baseball writers) do what they do in deciding criteria. You ask any player from that era– any pitcher– they’ll tell you Jim Rice was one guy they did not want to see in the batter’s box.”

Given the buzz from Goose’s answer I could see the brain waves cookin’ across the room, which soon brought the issue of steroids and Barry Bonds. “I don’t it’s fair to accuse a man of something when you don’t have proof, “Goose paused.

“If Bonds did use steroids, then maybe it’s not a legit record; but if you don’t have proof he did, leave me the man alone. He earned the record, and it should stand without any asterisk or question about it.”

He went on to say that if he had so inclined, he would’ve used steroids, too. “If I had been put in a situation where performance-enhancing drugs might’ve helped my career, maybe I would’ve done it as well. It’s a big difference out there when you’re competing.”

Finally, Gossage sighed when he thought of former friends on the Bronx Bombers. “My best friends on the Yankees were Thurman Munson and Willie Randolph. I think it was funky how they did Willie (firing from the Mets), but knowing the class guy he is, he bounce back with another organization sometime soon.”

“One thing’s for sure, he’s a Yankee– in every positive sense of the word.”