Tuesday, January 15, 2008
A Gander At the Goose, Part 1
Gossage was originally drafted by and came up with the White Sox. For his first three seasons, he dabbled around in mediocrity for some uninspiring ChiSock teams, until...
1975: Gossage's first brilliant relief season. He posted a 1.84 ERA in a whopping 141 innings in relief, which would be unheard of these days. His 26 saves led the league, which would probably also be unheard of in today's game.
1976: Perhaps the Red Sox looked at Gossage's 1976 season when they were deciding whether or not to make Jon Papelbon a starter before the start of last year. Few people remember this, but Chicago manager Paul Richards inexplicably decided to make Gossage a starter, something that didn't go particularly well. Gossage wasn't terrible, but he was obviously more suited to a role in the bullpen, as he made 29 starts (completing 15 of them) and threw 224 innings while putting up a 9-17 record with a 3.94 ERA (91 ERA+) for a horrible team.
In this day and age, it would take some serious cojones to take a guy who had just put up a monstrous season as a closer and put him in the rotation, just due to the media backlash alone. Back then, though, I think teams' utilization of the bullpen ace sort of role was still in its infancy, and I doubt many people cared. Maybe Richards saw a great pitcher and wanted to maximize his innings. In that light, it doesn't seem too crazy, I suppose, but why fix it if it ain't broke? Needless to say, Goose never started another game in his career.
1977: Ah, back to the bully and back to brilliance, as the Goose put up a ridiculous 243 ERA+ and saved 26 games in 133 innings. Unfortunately, it wasn't for the White Sox. Gossage was traded to the Pirates before the season for Richie Zisk, as beloved White Sox owner Bill Veeck was in the midst of acquiring every pending free agent slugger he could find in a last-ditch effort to contend. The Pirates, meanwhile, won 96 games, yet still fell five games short of a great Phillies team.
I'd argue that everything up to this point in Gossage's career is moot, though, because by this time he still hadn't grown that awesome mustache.
1978: Gossage converted to the dark side by signing a free agent deal with the Yankees, and it was in New York where he would cement his legend status. In his first season under Big Stein, Gossage was again practically unhittable, putting up a 2.01 ERA in 134 innings (he also factored into 21 decisions!), while again leading the league in saves. He also pitched six innings in the World Series without giving up a run.
And because it's mandatory for all fearsome closers to have goofy facial hair...yes, there it is.
1980: Another great year, one in which he posted the highest save total of his career (33), but one marred by playoff disaster. Goose had been pretty much the scariest dude on the mound for the past few seasons, but that all changed when he met up with George Brett that October.
You see, from 1976-1978, the Yankees and Royals squared off in three straight ALCS, and the Yankees won all of them, often in heartbreaking fashion. They were taut, hard-fought battles in which players left all their blood and sweat on the field (literally; one year Reggie Jackson hideously spiked Royals shortstop Freddie Patek, but Patek was amazingly able to make it out for the rest of the series, despite nearly having his leg taken off). Always, however, it was the Yankees who came away victorious.
In 1980, though, the Royals found themselves up two games to none on their long-time nemesis (back then the LCS was a 3 of 5 contest), and the Yanks were clawing against the wall. In Game Three, the Yankees clung to a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning. Gossage came on to close out the game, and it started to look bleak for Kansas City. Gossage was essentially unhittable, and many of the Royal players later voiced that had the Yankees won that game, they'd have likely won the series (the last two games were in New York, and these teams were basically the same from those '76-'78 contests, so there was some domage going on here).
Yankee starter Tommy John retired the first two hitter easily, but then he allowed a double to Willie Wilson. That brought in Gossage, who came riding in on one of those goofy little carts they had in the bullpens in those days. Gossage looked as fearsome as ever, stomping off the mound, breathing fire, looking like a crazed biker...doing what he usually did. The first batter he faced, U.L. Washington, singled, putting two runners on base for George Brett.
Brett was himself a Hall of Famer and was coming off arguably the best year of his career, one in which he batted a blistering .390/.454/.664 (and speaking of blisters, it was in this series that Brett would begin suffering from a crippling case of hemorrhoids that nearly took him out of a few World Series games...ouch!) . He had been unstoppable in the teams' previous playoff meetings, and this year it was no different. The only change: he was freaking sick of losing.
Gossage's first pitch was a 100 mph fastball which Brett sent about 120 mph into Yankee Stadium's upper deck, silencing the Bronx crowd and effectively killing the Yankees' season. By this point Gossage had been so dominant and so blown up by the New York media that his mound exploits were approaching deity status. This was the first hint that he might have been human, after all. Just picture him as Xerxes, and Brett as Leonidas.
All right, I didn't start this until the wee hours (damn you, Sarah Connor Chronicles!), and I'm dangerously close to passing out on my keyboard, so we're going to make this a two-parter. Join me tomorrow as I look at the Goose's final Yankee years and his descent into journeyman status, which included a stint with the Giants.