February 25, 2010
Plenty of relievers have more career saves than Hall of Famer Richard "Goose" Gossage — he's 18th on the career list — but few who have ever put on a uniform exuded the presence and intimidation he brought to the end of games. The size, the glare, the Fu Manchu mustache, the violent delivery.
Nobody ever did it like the Goose.
Now 58 years old, Gossage divides his time among broadcasting, the outdoors and helping out as a spring training coach with the Yankees. That's where Answer Man caught up with him, specifically at an autograph line where swarm after swarm of autograph-seeking fans came to get a little piece of the Goose.
David Brown: Who do you think is the next closer to go into the Hall of Fame?
Goose Gossage: Oh, jeez. I think it ought to be Lee Smith.
DB: The voting on him hasn't been so great, but do you think there's a chance?
GG: Oh, sure. I definitely think he should be in. The guy was a great relief pitcher for a long time. I would think, him, really.
DB: You're probably aware that some of the stuff you were signing here is going to end up on eBay or at sports memorabilia conventions, it might sell for pretty big bucks and you won't see a dime. How do you feel about that?
GG: Aw, hey, you know ... I'm not into signing a lot of autographs for people that are selling them. Some of them are going to get sold. Some of them are going to be put on display in the house. Some of them will be thrown in the trash. Some of them the dog will get [laughs]. These are great fans. I just try to sign one per person and whatever they want to do with it, it's up to them.
DB: Have you wanted anybody's autograph?
GG: No, not really. I don't have any autographs except for Warren Spahn. It was way back when I was a kid. I had him sign a program for me at a luncheon and I think that's the only one I have. He was the first big-league guy I ever met. He was at the Colorado Air Force Academy doing a speaking luncheon and I had never met anybody famous. I do get autographs from guys to give to charities, though.
DB: You're probably the most distinctive closer, and one of the most distinctive players ever — your style, your look, your persona — but is there anybody today who reminds you of you a little bit?
GG: No, not really. Intimidation used to be part of the success of pitchers. I didn't really consciously think about it; it was just kind of the way I was on the mound. Today, intimidation has been kind of eliminated. You come close to a batter today, and the umpires are out there with their mask off and warning you. That used to be part of the game. You either eat or get eaten. And I wasn't going to get eaten.
DB: There are geese all over the place at this complex. You probably heard them honking while you were signing autographs. You ever feel the irony? Are you one with the goose?
GG: The "Goose" nickname, it's been a lot of fun having a nickname like that. It also helped if you didn't do so well, you thought they might have been yelling "Gooooose" instead of booing.
DB: Have you ever eaten a goose?
GG: Oh, yeah. I hunt geese.
DB: You do?
GG: Back in Colorado, sure.
DB: You don't hesitate for a second? "Sorry, guy."
GG: They're actually ruining their habitat up in the north country. There are so many of them. A lot of them aren't even migrating anymore, they're staying on golf courses and ponds. It's just like anything else; they're going to die of starvation if you're not going to cull them. It helps keeps control of the flock.
DB: So you're a real conservationist.
GG: Absolutely. I'm from Colorado. I'm a hunter/fisherman and have enjoyed it all my life. Ever since I can remember.
DB: Does that make you a closer for geese?
GG: [Laughs]. I don't know, I've never really thought about it like that but the nickname has been a lot of fun over the years. People have enjoyed it. Fans have.
DB: You and Mo Rivera in the same bullpen, you're both in your prime. Hypothetically speaking, how do you handle who gets the saves?
GG: You know, I don't think I'd ever have a problem. Toward the end of my career, I set up. I love being in a game when it's on the line. It was a little different back then. Now it takes three guys to do what we did.The one-inning closer wasn't even a coined phrase at that time. We were relief pitchers. So we came into the game when the starter got into trouble.
Starters now, five innings and they're kind of looking over their shoulder — "Come and get me, I did my job" — and now it's the turn it over. Tremendous pressure is being put on bullpens now, whereas the starters really prided themselves on finishing what they started. In that respect, the way pitchers are used now is completely changed.
DB: Is it better the way it is now?
GG: [Closers] stay strong throughout the year, maintain that edge. The times I was used with one inning, I stayed very sharp and strong throughout the year. My control got better. Everything, just pitching that one inning. I was a workhorse and I enjoyed that workload.
DB: How hard can you still throw?
GG: Oh, gosh ... Probably in the 80s.
GG: Probably in the 80s, yeah. Man, I played for a long time and stayed healthy. Mechanics were everything. I really enjoyed, like I said coming in with the game on the line. Maybe with two or three guys on, or with the bases were loaded in the seventh, when there really was no margin for error. And then pitch the eighth and the ninth.
GG: In San Diego, they played "Bad to the Bone." We didn't really do anything like that in the '70s.
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