Wednesday, January 16, 2008


A Gander At the Goose, Part 2

Today we continue my mini look back at Goose Gossage's career. Funny, I was born halfway through the Goose's career, and by the time I got to the point in my life where I started watching baseball (or at least remember anything about it), Gossage was but a shadow of his former self, so I'm not sure why I feel qualified to conduct this strange memoir. But I digress...

1981: Unfazed by the previous October's disappointment, Gossage returned to post maybe his most dominant season ever. In a season torn apart by labor strife, Gossage posted an incredible 0.77 ERA (for a 465 ERA+!!!!). He also saved 20 games, yet only finished 5th in the Cy Young voting. Who did win the Cy? Another reliever, Rollie Fingers, who won not only the Cy Young but the league MVP as well.

Bill James somewhat famously pondered in his New Historical Abstract why Rollie Fingers won the MVP award that year over Gossage, who had the more dominant ERA. Fingers posted a 1.04 ERA (332 ERA+) while saving 28 games, and won MVP and CY honors for a Brewers team making the playoffs for the first time ever. Fingers had the higher ERA, and pitched in a friendlier pitcher's park, but he also pitched in 78 innings, compared to Gossage's (relatively meager) 46 2/3. Fingers had 70 Pitching Runs Above Replacement (uh...just read this) that year, while Gossage had 44.

So it seems the voters got it right, as Fingers's huge lead in innings made him more valuable. Still, it's hard to see why Fingers was given the MVP when guys like Eddie Murray and Bobby Grich were tearing the AL apart that year. I guess it wasn't the most absurd MVP vote, though.

For the record, Gossage made eight playoff appearances that year (there were three playoff rounds in the 1981 postseason) and didn't allow a single run. It'd be his last postseason with the Yankees.

1983: It would have been a good yet nondescript year for Gossage and the Yanks, except for that little incident with George Brett and the pine tar bat. It's one of the most notorious (and hilarious) games in major league history. Long story short: Yankee manager Billy Martin was sick of Brett killing his team. Martin knew that Brett was using too much pine tar on his bat (pretty much every player did), so he decided that the next time Brett hurt the Yankees, which inevitably he would, Martin was going to point out Brett's illegal bat to the umps. Yeah, Martin was one conniving son of a bitch.

Sure enough, in a game on July 24, with the Royals down a run, Brett hit a go-ahead, ninth-inning, two-run home run off of Gossage. Out came Martin, pointing at Brett's bat. The umpires inspected it, determined that there was indeed an illegal amount of pine tar on it, ejected Brett, and nullified the home run, giving the Yankees the victory.

Brett's reaction when he realized he had been ejected is one of the all-time great blowups in professional sports history. He stormed out of the dugout like a rabid wolverine, spitting, cussing, and having to be restrained by teammates. I don't think I've seen an angrier human being in my life, and who could blame him, really? I can't find video of this anywhere, so if somebody has a link, please clue me in.

Anyway, the game was played under protest by the Royals, and eventually MLB allowed the home run to stand, and the game was finished that August. Poor Goose was stuck with the loss, although he still enjoyed a fine season, winning 13 games and saving 22 with his usual super ERA.

1984: Gossage packed his bags and left for the warm climate of San Diego, helping a one-hit wonder Padres team win the NL West and the pennant by saving 25 games with 102 stellar relief innings. Gossage made the final postseason appearance of his career in Game 5 of the World Series, and it was pretty ugly.

As the Padres were in the midst of getting trounced by a powerhouse Tiger team, Gossage was brought in to start the seventh inning of the deciding Game 5, with the Pads trailing 4-3. He promptly gave up a home run to Lance Parrish, and it would only go straight downhill from there. "Dirty" Kurt Bevacqua, enjoying his fifteen minutes of fame (check out his line from the Series!), homered for the Padres in the top of the eighth to bring San Diego back to within a run.

Already down one run and facing elimination against Detroit's dominant closer, Willie Hernandez, Gossage came out for the eighth with one order: hold the Tigers without a run. He couldn't do it. The Tigers put runners on second and third with one out, and Kirk Gibson was coming up.

San Diego manager Dick Williams came out to the mound to ask if Gossage wanted to walk Gibson and face Parrish with the bases loaded (Parrish had homered earlier off of Goose, but he was a weaker hitter, and he was also right-handed; Gibson was a lefty swinger). Gossage, whether out of some sense of bravado or overconfidence (he had struck out Gibson an inning earlier), waved his manager back to the dugout and dug in to face Gibby. Gossage's second pitch sailed into Tiger Stadium's upper deck, cementing Detroit's World Championship and leaving Gossage stewing on the mound. Hey, at least he wasn't the one to give up the timeless World Series homer that Gibson would hit four years later.

1989: Does anybody remember Goose's time with the Giants? I sure don't, but then again, I was only six years old. On the surface, Gossage's tenure with the Giants seems pretty good, as he made 31 appearances and saved four games with a 2.68 ERA. Looking closer, though, you can see why the Giants eventually ended up waiving him. In 43 and 2/3 innings, he had a K:BB ratio of 24:27, so while his ERA looks nice, he must have had runners all over the bases. Picture an Armando Benitez kind of walking-on-broken-glass act. Then again, maybe we shouldn't be thinking of Armando Benitez at all.

Gossage finished that season back with the Yankees, and thus wasn't with the Giants for their World Series run. Gossage, incredibly, hung on until 1994, enjoying a few good years, including one with the A's in 1992, when they won their division. His career lasted an impressive 22 seasons and he racked up 310 saves, 17th all-time.

My take on relievers has been well-documented on this blog. I'm a little skeptical about their value, and I think the save is a complete junk stat that should really be ignored. A vast majority of the best relievers were essentially starters who crapped out, guys like Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, Lee Smith, and Eric Gagne, so I question how good they really are, as pitchers. Even Dennis Eckersley, the quintessential great starter-turned-reliever, only became a bullpen ace because he completely lost his way as a starting pitcher.

That doesn't take anything away from the Goose's Hall of Fame credentials, though. Relief pitchers were more valuable in his day, because they threw way more innings. The one-inning model of closer didn't come along until about 1988, with Tony LaRussa and Eck. In his prime, Gossage would usually come in around the seventh inning and stay in to close out the game, which essentially made it a six-inning ballgame for the opponent. Looking at those kinds of workloads, it's amazing that his arm held up for so long, and so well.

Lastly, if baseball writers are going to put relief pitchers, and their contributions to the game, on such a high pedestal, then it only makes sense to establish a place in the Hall of Fame for them. And if you're going to put relievers in the Hall of Fame, you've gotta have the Goose, who is probably the best relief pitcher of all time.

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