It was a curious marriage, Goose Gossage and the Mariners back in 1994. The Mariners were a young team brimming with talent, on the brink...
It was a curious marriage, Goose Gossage and the Mariners back in 1994.
The Mariners were a young team brimming with talent, on the brink of a breakthrough that would come so dynamically the next season.
Gossage, meanwhile, was 43 years old and well into the journeyman portion of his career, having played for six teams in six years, including the Daiei Hawks in Japan.
Gossage knew he was at the end of the line. But when the Oakland Athletics released him near the end of spring training, and his old Yankees running mate, Lou Piniella, called to tell Gossage he wanted him to help teach the young Mariners staff how to pitch, Goose jumped at the chance.
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The results of Gossage’s 36-game Seattle tenure, abruptly terminated by the August strike that would ultimately end his career, played little part in his long-overdue selection to the Hall of Fame on Tuesday.
The only player elected this year, with 85.8 percent of the vote — Jim Rice fell 16 votes short of the necessary 75 percent — Gossage will no doubt wear a Yankees hat at July’s induction ceremony in Cooperstown. It was in the Bronx that he cemented his reputation one of the most feared relievers in baseball history.
But in the course of 4 ½ months in Mariners blue, Gossage would make his considerable presence felt one final time. Just ask Roger Salkeld, a highly touted Mariners pitcher whose career was ultimately derailed by injury.
As recalled by current Seattle manager John McLaren, then a coach under Piniella, the rookie Salkeld one night strolled into the Seattle bullpen in the second inning. Gossage asked McLaren if it was all right for him to talk to Salkeld about his tardiness, and was quickly given the go-ahead.
“Rog, let me ask you a question,” Gossage began. “I’ve been in the big leagues 25 years. I can’t remember which year you won the Cy Young Award.”
Said McLaren with a laugh on Tuesday: “He got his message across. Goose was a delight to be with that year. He was on his last legs, but he helped the young kids. They asked him questions all the time.”
One of those young kids was reliever Jeff Nelson, still on the yo-yo between Class AAA and Seattle, but soon to blossom into a setup man who would win four World Series rings with the Yankees.
“He always told us, ‘You have to control the mound,’ ” recalled Nelson on Tuesday. “He’d say, ‘Don’t let the hitters dig in. They want to intimidate you, but you’ve got to intimidate them.’ You’d have been crazy not to listen.”
Gossage, of course, feared no one, though in a plea for voters to elect Rice next year, he said on a conference call Tuesday that facing Rice was as close to being afraid as he ever came.
Goose certainly didn’t fear Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, whom he once called “the fat man upstairs.” He didn’t fear Padres owner Joan Kroc (wife of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc), whom during his San Diego days he accused of “poisoning the world with her cheeseburgers.”
Yet Gossage had come to wonder if he would ever get the Cooperstown call. When it finally came to his Colorado Springs home on Tuesday afternoon, from Jack O’Connell of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, he was jubilant.
“It was very emotional — off the charts,” Gossage said on his conference call. “I just went numb. It was like being hit with an anvil on the head.”
Gossage, who fell 21 votes short last year, received 466 of the 543 votes cast by 10-year members of the BBWAA.
Tim Raines was the leading vote-getter among first-time nominees, with 132 (24.3 percent), while Mark McGwire, still clearly paying the price for steroids allegations against him, received just 128 votes (23.6 percent) in his second year on the ballot. McGwire’s total was identical to 2007.
Gossage will be inducted on July 27, along with five men elected last month by the Veterans Committee, including his old Padres manager, Dick Williams. Williams managed the Mariners from 1986 through 1988.
Gossage called Williams one of three great influences on his career, along with legendary pitching coach Johnny Sain, who taught him the changeup and slurve that augmented his ferocious fastball; and his first manager, Chuck Tanner, who made the fortuitous decision to convert Gossage from a starter to a reliever.
Gossage resisted at first, characterizing the bullpen in those days as “the junk pile world for starters who couldn’t start anymore.”
Instead, it was Gossage’s gateway to immortality. Typically, he didn’t let his coronation pass without a few pointed words on the controversy of the day.
“If you did performance-enhancing drugs, you need to come clean and put an end to this because of the history of the game and because of how great baseball has been over such a long period of time,” Gossage said. “What we have at stake is the greatest part of the game, the history of it, and they can’t allow steroids or anything to get in the way of the history of the game.
“I think the best thing to do is come clean. Just ‘fess up, and life will go on.”
Roger Clemens, of course, has aggressively taken the opposite tack, as has Barry Bonds. Gossage aimed a high-and-tight fastball in their direction.
“It’s kind of weird these guys had some of their most productive years when [other] guys in the history of the game, their talents were diminishing as they got older, and these guys it didn’t happen that way.
“So we’ll just have to wait and see if these guys come clean and finally put an end to this.”
For Gossage, his Hall of Fame election put an end to nine years in limbo — 14 years after his Seattle swan song.
“I think he made an impact [with the Mariners] that carried over,” said McLaren. “A guy that had been around the big leagues that long, he could have tried to cut corners and take advantage, but he didn’t make himself any better than anyone else.”
And now Goose Gossage has joined the best that ever were.