Where Are They Now? Former Reliever GOOSE GOSSAGE
During his prime seasons, hard-throwing right-hander was one of the most dominating bullpen specialists in the major leagues
THERE WAS A TIME GROWING up in Colorado Springs when Rich “Goose” Gossage looked at major league baseball as a make-believe place well out of his reach.
Not even a prediction by his father, Jake, that his strong right arm was his ticket to the big leagues could sway Gossage’s opinion.
“I’d usually just get all embarrassed, when he’d say he thought I’d pitch in the big leagues,” said Gossage, 48. “I still thought players like Mickey Mantle had to be fictitious people.”
But once Gossage was beamed into what he thought was never-never land, he quickly proved he belonged.
Driven by fierce competitive fires, Gossage put together a superb 22-year career in the major leagues, making his mark as one of the most feared and proficient relief pitchers in baseball history.
He parlayed his desire, a raging fastball and the intimidating appearance of Attila the Hun into a career that likely will get him inducted to baseball’s Hall of Fame.
With a thick mustache and long sideburns framing a trademark scowl, Gossage was a menace on the mound at 6-3 and nearly 220 pounds. He added to his reputation by telling all that he would hit his mother with a pitch if she walked into the batter’s box.
Gossage was driven by an inner fire that flared every time he went to the mound. But unlike those afflicted with intense heartburn, Gossage couldn’t simply contact his local pharmacy for relief. His only relief came from winning battles with the best major league hitters of his generation.
The sight of hitters such as Carl Yastrzemski, Eddie Murray, Don Mattingly, Tony Gwynn, Hank Aaron, Dave Winfield, George Brett and members of the famed Big Red Machine–Johnny Bench, Pete Rose and Tony Perez–facing Gossage in the batter’s box just fanned the flames.
Even now, more than five years after Gossage retired from baseball, the voice and the expressions as he talks about his career reveal the embers still smolder.
Gossage believes that among today’s pitchers, his only soulmate would be Randy Johnson, the hard-throwing, aggressive left-hander of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“If I was a hitter and I knew what I know about Randy Johnson, I’d never get in the box,” Gossage said of his former Seattle Mariners teammate. “He’s scary. Heck, if I’m a batter, I wouldn’t hit against myself. We both pitch with a task and we’re going to accomplish it.”
Gossage is home again in Colorado Springs, where he graduated from Wasson High School, building a life after baseball. There were some withdrawal symptoms at first from a 1972-1994 major league career.
“The highs and lows in baseball are incredible,” Gossage said. “The confidence you have is directly related to your success. The hardest thing was to find something to replace the competition. I still don’t know what the hell that would be. I’ve started to play golf, but nothing’s going to replace the feeling of me and that hitter.”
Gossage is satisfied with his accomplishments, which include 310 saves, a 124-107 record and 1,502 strikeouts in 1,809 innings. He has a World Series championship ring from the 1978 New York Yankees.
“I still have to pinch myself to make sure I really was able to do the things I did in baseball,” Gossage said. “Sometimes I think there’s 26 years of my life that are gone. It was such an awesome experience that I still have to pinch myself and say, `Did it really happen?’ I’m totally at peace with my career. I played the game the way I wanted.”
On the other hand, he still misses the camaraderie he experienced with teammates and the showdowns he encountered on the field.
The Yankees invited him to spring training the past three springs as an unofficial coach to help with their pitching staff. He spent his time in Florida in the bullpen talking with relief pitchers. But he found that something happened to him as the exhibition games got into the later innings.
“The first year was weird,” he said. “I knew I was just there to talk to pitchers and not step on any toes. I could feel my adrenaline start to flow in about the sixth innings. I had to tell myself, `What the hell are you getting excited about? You’re not going anywhere, big boy. Just go sign some autographs.’ I was still programmed.”
Gossage believes, and with some compelling evidence, that during his prime years he made the mold for relief pitchers.
“I had set the standard for my style of relief pitching so high that when I came back to the rest of the pack, everybody said I was done,” Gossage said. “I was so aggressive on the mound and thought I could throw the ball by anyone. I was so high up there in terms of how I went about my job and being overpowering.”
His most productive span consisted of the 1975 season with the Chicago White Sox, the ’77 season with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the next six seasons with the Yankees and the ’84, ’85 and ’86 seasons with the San Diego Padres. He registered 20 or more saves in all but one of those seasons, and his 26 saves in 1975, 27 in ’78 and 33 in ’80 led all of baseball.
Gossage’s career also consisted of stops with the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers and Oakland A’s. His last season was 1994, when he pitched for the Mariners.
Gossage remembers Johnson from his first day in the Mariners’ clubhouse.
“Randy and I had lockers next to each other,” Gossage said. “He was starting that night and when he came in, I said, `Hey, Randy, how you doing?’ He just looked at me and didn’t say a word. I learned not to say a word on the day he was pitching.”
Gossage’s heyday was before the big contracts. His life after baseball is comfortable, but not excessive.
“I had some investments go south and I had some people handling my money who didn’t do a very good job,” he said. “I should be better off than I am now, but money never was my main objective. When I broke in, the minimum salary was $12,500.”
But after 22 years in the big leagues and one in Japan, Gossage returned to another part of Colorado Springs. He grew up west of the Fillmore interchange on I-25, but his new home is in the tony Broadmoor area.
“The school district decided it for us,” he said. “We’re not status people and never have been. I came from a poor family, but we had a lot of love for each other.”
It isn’t surprising family considerations influenced the decision. Though away from home for up to eight months each of his years in baseball, Gossage remained close to his family, which traveled with him most of his career.
Gossage and his wife, Corna, still have their youngest son, Todd, at home. He’s 15, plays infield and is becoming a pitcher on the baseball team at Cheyenne Mountain High School. Older sons Jeff and Keith also are in Colorado. Jeff works on a ranch east of Colorado Springs and Keith worked for a restaurant at Keystone.
“The older boys played (baseball), but they didn’t have the passion,” Gossage said. “I sometimes think Jeff wishes he had given it more time. It was unfair. People would say, `You don’t throw like your dad.’ There weren’t many guys who did throw like me.”
Gossage plays golf at The Broadmoor and participates in other activities at the resort, but his heart remains loyal to his past.
Jake Gossage didn’t get to see his prediction of a big league career for his son come true. He died when Gossage was a junior at Wasson. Gossage knows he got his competitive spirit from his father.
Gossage’s mother, Sue, still lives in Colorado Springs and remains a strong influence on his life. Gossage credits her for giving him a friendly personality.
But his competitive spirit can show at times off the field.
“I hate rudeness,” he said. “I’m not rude unless someone is rude to me–and then I can really be rude.”
His upbringing left a mark that turned into a strong work ethic. He learned quickly what makes winning chemistry on a team, and he has little time for disbelievers.
“There are a lot of people in charge of some teams who don’t understand the game,” Gossage said. “(Dodgers general manager Kevin Malone) is a good example of someone running a ballclub who doesn’t know how big chemistry is. Chemistry is everything. I tell young kids, `You can’t believe what you can accomplish if you pull together as a team.’ Teams keep paying Albert Belle. He gets big contracts and yet he’s a cancer in the clubhouse. (Yankees manager) Joe Torre is a perfect example of a manager who can bring out the best chemistry in a team.”
Looking 60 miles north, Gossage believes the Colorado Rockies are on the right track.
“For the first time in Rockies history, they have a good pitching coach,” he said of the Rockies’ Marcel Lachemann.
Gossage still is searching for his niche in his life after baseball. He’d be a pitching coach in the right situation.
But during the Christmas season last year, his eyes were opened to what’s really important in life. He returned from an invitation to visit American soldiers in Kosovo the day votes were counted for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. It was Gossage’s first appearance on the ballot, and he didn’t receive enough votes to be enshrined this summer.
“It put everything in perspective,” Gossage said. “I talked about Kosovo all the way home. My wife finally told me when I got home that I didn’t make the Hall of Fame. I didn’t care. I don’t know if I’ll ever make it. If it happens, it would be the most awesome thing. Relievers are in a gray area.”
Gossage said relievers of his day were workhorses. There were no rifles such as closer.
But now there are new projects on Gossage’s horizon. He is entering a fast-food type of restaurant venture that features fresh food in a building decorated with sports memorabilia.
Gossage sometimes thinks his life as a player was a slower pace. His days no longer are a routine of going to the ballpark and returning home or to the team’s hotel on the road.
“It’s weird having him around all the time,” Corna said. “But mainly it’s strange staying in one place. The boys and I used to go with him quite a bit. I did like moving around, but I’ve always liked having Colorado as a home base.”
It’s a Tuesday in Gossage’s life after baseball. That means another quick trip to Dallas for the taping of Fox Sports Network’s Fantasy Baseball show, which appears on the Internet.
On this particular Tuesday, Corna’s morning schedule will have her away from home when Gossage leaves for the airport. But before she leaves the driveway, Gossage makes sure goodbyes are said. There also is time for a “good luck” to Todd, who has baseball games that afternoon. And in order to touch all the bases, Gossage takes time to talk to and pet the family’s two dogs: Beretta, a mixed breed, and Doc, a Huskie.
“I’ve always said that when I return, I don’t want to come back as Corna’s husband,” Gossage said. “I want to come back as one of her pets. They’ve got it made.”
RICH GOSSAGE’S CAREER PITCHING STATS
Year Team W L ERA IP SO Svs
1972 White Sox 7 1 4.27 80.0 57 2
1973 White Sox 0 4 7.43 49.2 33 0
1974 White Sox 4 6 4.13 89.1 64 1
1975 White Sox 9 8 1.84 141.2 99 26
1976 White Sox 9 17 3.94 224.0 135 1
1977 Pirates 11 9 1.62 133.0 151 26
1978 Yankees 10 11 2.01 134.1 122 27
1979 Yankees 5 3 2.62 58.1 41 18
1980 YanKees 6 2 2.27 99.0 103 33
1981 Yankees 3 2 0.77 46.2 48 20
1982 Yankees 4 5 2.23 93.0 102 30
1983 Yankees 13 5 2.27 87.1 90 22
1984 Padres 10 6 2.90 102.1 84 25
1985 Padres 5 3 1.82 79.0 52 26
1986 Padres 5 7 4.45 64.2 63 21
1987 Padres 5 4 3.12 52.0 44 11
1988 Cubs 4 4 4.33 43.2 30 13
1989 Giants/Yankees 3 1 2.95 58.0 30 5
1990 Played in Japan
1991 Rangers 4 2 3.57 40.1 28 1
1992 A’s 0 2 2.84 38.0 26 0
1993 A’s 4 5 4.53 47.2 40 1
1994 Mariners 3 0 4.18 47.1 29 1
Totals 22 years 124 107 3.01 1,809.1 1,502 310
COPYRIGHT 2000 Century Publishing
COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group