COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Turn your head, America.
From the cottony, stick-on Goose mustaches to the spontaneous calls for "Goooose," from the Ron Guidry, Roy White and Brian Cashman sightings to the unprovoked lobbying for George Steinbrenner's inclusion in this Hall of Fame, a New York Yankees day sprung from an otherwise eclectic weekend.
Through the inductions of Dick Williams, whose 1967 "Impossible Dream" Red Sox is sometimes credited for spawning Red Sox Nation, and Billy Southworth, who managed in Boston before there was a nation, and the inclusion of Larry Whiteside, the estimable ball writer who worked in Boston, what simmered was Yankees, from the moment Reggie Jackson appeared five minutes before any other Hall of Famer did and sat presumptuously in his chair, the stage to himself.
As the Yankees worked off an eight-game winning streak a couple hundred miles away in Boston, and as the trading deadline brought them a new left fielder and setup man and promised perhaps a starter, the past – Rich Gossage and his NY cap on a Hall plaque, which he hoisted triumphantly late Sunday afternoon – blended with the present, two eras on a pretty good roll.
"The Yankees were always the Yankees," Williams said. "There's always going to be a reflection of the New York Yankees, no matter where they are."
Even the presence of the O'Malley family, whose patriarch, Walter, was inducted as well, carried less a Los Angeles celebration than a New York grudge. In some parts of the country – OK, this part of the country – Walter was not the man who guided baseball's manifest destiny and so fortified the game, but the scoundrel who stole the Dodgers from Brooklyn. Several generations later, wandering this pasture in upstate New York, you got the feeling the blue caps with the classic white B on them were worn in defiance of the O'Malley clan.
Walter and commissioner Bud Selig were the only ones even lightly booed over 3½ hours of speeches and videos and remembrances. Everyone else was pretty much "Gooooosed."
From his chair, Gossage would look to his left, into the faces of 14,000 people who made Sunday an intimate gathering (75,000 turned out last year for Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn), and see Cashman and Guidry and Steinbrenner's daughter, Jenny. To his right, Graig Nettles and White. Around him, the likes of Jackson and Dave Winfield and Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra.
He played for nine teams. He was an All-Star for four. He went to the World Series for two.
Yet, when we close our eyes and see that wild delivery, that stiff leg swinging toward the plate, that baseball appearing from somewhere behind his cap, that cap is navy blue, and that uniform is pinstriped. And so in many ways was this ceremony, which forced its first tear when a list of recently deceased players and personnel scrolled the video screen to the right of the stage. Bobby Murcer's name brought a sigh, followed by applause.
Afterward, Williams told a story of once playing in a Jackie Gleason-hosted golf tournament in Florida. When the round was over, he sat at a table with two other men and put on his watch, then his Oakland A's World Series ring. One of his companions admired the ring for a moment, then held out his own hand.
"I know you're proud of that," the man said. "But this is the ring you should hope you get."
The ring was from the Hall of Fame. The finger belonged to Joe DiMaggio.
"Now I'm getting that ring," Williams said. "And you are too, Goose."
Beside him, Gossage shook his head.
"I can't comprehend it," he said.
Now there is a clear movement to have Steinbrenner become a Hall of Famer, too. Perhaps, after 35 years of The Boss, there has grown a broader appreciation for his tactics, his savvy, his bluster, his winning. Perhaps it was the sight of him in failing health at the All-Star Game, barely upright in his golf cart, that elicits compassion and urgency.
"We'd like to see him in better condition," Gossage said. "It was tough to see him the way he was. I like the old George. The tough guy. … Playing for Mr. Steinbrenner was one of the greatest experiences of my life."
The old George reinvented the Yankees and made them relevant again, often – well, sometimes – in a good way.
"Behind the scenes during all the Yankee championships – and he wasn't really behind the scenes – was George Steinbrenner, I believe the greatest owner of all time," Gossage said. "He was committed to putting the best players on the field and has kept the Yankees the Yankees. He has made everybody in baseball better because to compete with George Steinbrenner everybody had to up the ante and their level of play."
With that, Gossage neared the end of his speech, the end of his day. He looked out toward the trees, hundreds of yards away, over the heads of all those people.
And he went through a short list of teammates, the ones gone now. Thurman Munson. Catfish Hunter. Jim Spencer. Aurelio Rodriguez. Murcer.
He gasped softly at the memory of those men, those Yankees.
"Thanks," he said, "for sharing this with me."
When he paused to compose himself, the crowd continued for him.
- George Steinbrenner
- New York Yankees
- Dick Williams
- Rich Gossage
- Red Sox