Baseball Digest Birthdays: Goose Gossage

When the name Goose Gossage is mentioned, you think big bushy walrus mustache, intimidation, upper 90′s fastball, and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. But things weren’t always so easy for the player originally known as Rich in MLB circles and Rick to his friends and family.

Richard Michael Gossage was born in 1951 in Colorado Springs, CO where he still makes his home today. After a stellar career at Wasson High School, Gossage was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 9th round of the 1970 amateur draft. He appeared in 13 games combined that year for the Gulf Coast rookie White Sox and low level ‘A’ Appleton Foxes with mixed results, but a year later as a starter he made everyone in the organization stand up and take notice.

24 of Gossage’s 25 appearances for Appleton in 1971 were indeed as a starting pitcher and he excelled. An 18-2 record, 1.83 ERA and 149 strikeouts in 187 innings jumped off the page at everyone. He also allowed just 141 hits and 50 base on balls. His performance earned the 20-yr old an invitation to the big league spring training in 1972. He then continued to open eyes that spring and went north will the ball club.

Manager Chuck Tanner, who later became Gossage’s manager with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the front office decided to move Gossage to the bullpen despite his prior year’s performance. It was felt that his electric stuff would work even better out of the pen. He made 36 appearances his rookie season, but despite a 7-1 record, his other numbers weren’t up to his minor league standards. He walked five batters per nine innings, allowed 72 hits in 80 innings, and posted a 4.28 earned run average. Control issues would be the reason was Gossage shuttled back and forth between the Majors and minors the next two seasons.

Bob Rubin of the Miami Herald profiled Gossage after the reliever saved 33 games in 1980. Click here to read all about it.

It wasn’t until 1975 that the player nicknamed “Goose”, by teammate Tom Bradley, (because of the way he stuck his neck out when looking for the sign from the catcher) started to put it all together at the Major League level. He led the American League that year with 26 saves, struck out 130 batters in 141.2 innings pitched, and allowed 99 hits (just three of which were home runs). His play earned him the first of his nine All-Star appearances, and he finished sixth in the 1975 AL CY Young voting.

Despite his fabulous year, the White Sox decided to move Gossage back to the starting rotation for the 1976 season. The results were semi-disastrous. Goose lost 17 games, struck out just 130 in 224 innings, and allowed 214 hits. The team led by Paul Richards also lost 97 games, so that winter owner Bill Veeck decided to make some changes. In December, Gossage along with lefty Terry Forster were shipped to Pittsburgh for outfielder Richie Zisk and pitcher Silvio Martinez. Zisk hit 30 home runs and produced 101 RBI in his one and only year in Chicago and never approached those numbers again. Meanwhile Gossage’s best days were ahead of him.

Back in the bullpen in 1977, Gossage saved 26 games and combined with Kent Tekulve and Grant Jackson for one of those dominant relief corp in baseball. But free agency loomed for Gossage and New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, despite having the reigning AL CY Young winner Spark Lyle on his team, was greatly intrigued.  And whatever George wanted, George generally got. He landed Gossage with a six year deal on November 22, 1977. It was a move that eventually led to third baseman Graig Nettles’ famous quote on Lyle, “He went from CY Young to sayonara.”

Gossage’s intro to New York was a rough one. He lost the first game of the season when he gave up a 9th inning home run to none other than Texas’ Richie Zisk. His next appearance was a blown save to Milwaukee and another loss. After mop up duty in his third appearance, Gossage lost another ninth inning game, this time to Toronto. His 0-3 record led to boos when the Yankees returned home. Gossage loves to retell the story today of when center fielder Mickey Rivers jumped on the hood of the bullpen car, yelling “NO”, to stop Gossage from entering a game.

Though he also had a blown save in the ’78 All-Star game, Gossage turned things around (a league leading 27 saves) and helped the Yankees come back from a 14.5 game deficit to Boston in the AL East. He then protected a one run lead in a one game playoff between the two teams, getting Carl Yastrzemski to pop up to Graig Nettles to end the game. Gossage went on to make four All-Star appearances while with New York, led the league in saves twice and finished third in the AL CY Young voting in 1980. But Gossage began to clash with owner George Steinbrenner as the 1980′s marched on and he decided to depart as a free agent after the 1983 season. He signed with San Diego and helped them to their first World Series with 25 saves.

After four years on the left coast, Gossage spent time with the Chicago Cubs, had a second tour with the Yankees before rounding out his career with the Texas Rangers, Oakland A’s, and Seattle Mariners. He also pitched in Japan during the 1990 campaign. In 22 big league seasons, Gossage finished with 310 saves and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. Today, the Goose is active in youth sports and serves as a Spring Training instructor for the Yankees.