Monday, May 20, 2013

#542 - Rich Gossage

Topps brings us back to the regular cards with an action shot of a young guy who would become a Hall of Famer. Very prescient of them as there was not terribly much about Goose Gossage’s ’73 that indicated he’d be a star. After a pretty good rookie year in ’72 too may homers and too many walks in too few innings made his ERA shoot up and got him a summer furlough to Triple A where things went much better. And when he returned in September he finished the season with nine shutout innings so it wasn’t all bad. Here he appears to be throwing against Oakland and while I do love the shot thematically, it is difficult for me to imagine what the photographer was trying to capture by sliding Goose way to the left. He sure does look like he’s about to bring some heat though.

Rick Gossage – he was named Rich by the scout who signed him and that one stuck – grew up fairly economically challenged in Colorado where by high school he was a basketball forward and was throwing hard and well enough to generate MLB interest. His dad passed away from lung cancer when Rick was a junior and the next year he was drafted and signed in the ninth round by the White Sox. That summer he was off to three quick starts in Rookie ball where things went well and then to A ball where they didn’t. But in ’71 he fixed that latter hitch with a new pitch he’d learned from Johnny Sain and Chuck Tanner, a slurve. He put up super numbers in A ball that season and in ’72 made the Sox roster out of spring training. That year between Wilbur Wood, Tom Bradley, and Stan Bahnsen finishing nearly all their starts, Rick didn’t get a ton of work in the pen and his intervals between appearances were pretty erratic. But through the end of September he had gone 7-0 with a 3.39 ERA and a couple saves in about 85 innings all in relief. On the last day of the season he was given a start and he got bombed, taking the loss and watching his ERA climb by nearly a run. It was that year that he roomed with Bradley who noticed that when Gossage looked to the catcher for a sign that he tended to crane his neck like a goose. Hence his new and permanent nickname.

After the mixed results of ’73 Gossage returned in Chicago the next year and posted better numbers of 4-6 with a save and a 4.13 ERA around some time back in the minors. In ’75 he ramped things up in a big way, going 9-8 with an AL-leading 26 saves and a 1.98 ERA in his first All-Star year. He was also AL Fireman of the Year for the first time. ’76 got weird when the Sox ran out of starters early in the year with Wilbur Woods’ injury and both Goose and bullpen-mate Terry Forster put in starting time. Goose actually did a pretty good job, completing 15 of 29 starts and posting an ERA of 3.94. But the Sox were understandably pretty shaky then and he went only 9-17. After the season he and Forster went to the Pirates in the trade that brought Richie Zisk to Chicago. While Zisk had a big year, Goose may have had a better one, going 11-9 with a 1.62 ERA, 26 saves, and 151 K’s in 133 innings. It may have been his best season and he and Kent Tekulve formed a compelling bullpen duo. Goose wanted to stay in Pittsburgh but when the Pirates produced a lame offer he became a free agent and signed with the Yankees.

The signing of Gossage by the Yankees was pretty unexpected by lots of people. NY already had a bullpen ace in ’77 Cy Young winner Sparky Lyle and running through both pitchers’ recent seasons it was apparent they both performed tons better with lots of work. So nobody was sure how The Boss and his managers were going to be able to utilize the two of them effectively. This dynamic is a huge part of “The Bronx Zoo,” Lyle’s diary of the ’78 season. An early indication of where things were heading was made in the season’s first game – I remember listening to it on the radio while doing yard work – when Goose came in to relieve Ron Guidry in the eight inning of a 1-1 game against Texas. He promptly gave up a game-winning solo shot to none other than Richie Zisk. It would go like that a little bit for Goose with Lyle not-so-quietly stewing in the background. But he got right pretty quickly and pitched pretty super ball during the August surge that pulled NY into first from 15 back. Ironically one of his worst outings during that span was the playoff game against Boston when he got his 27th save. He also went 10-11 in his fourth straight All-Star season with a 2.01 ERA before putting up decent playoff numbers and then throwing six shutout innings against LA in the Series. The balance of Goose’s time in NY was pretty eventful, though not always in good ways. In ’79 he was having a decent season when he got hurt in a clubhouse incident with Cliff Johnson that got Heathcliff exiled to Cleveland and put Goose on the DL for almost three months. He still went 5-3 with 18 saves but his outage and the death of Thurman Munson put a halt to the NY playoff streak. In ’80 Goose went 6-2 with a MLB-leading 33 saves and a 2.27 ERA as he returned to the All-Star game and Fireman of the Year status and the Yankees to the post-season. But this time Goose got bombed his only post-season appearance. In ’81 he came back during the strike year with a pretty amazing year, going 3-2 with 20 saves in just 32 games, his second successive year of over a strikeout an inning, and a miniscule 0.77 ERA. This time he followed suit in the post-season as he threw a combined 14 shutout innings with 15 K’s and six saves. In ’82 he went 4-5 with a 2.23 ERA and 30 saves and in ’83 he went Bill Campbell with a 13-5 record, 22 saves, and a 2.27 ERA. Both seasons he struck out a batter-plus an inning and during that time in NY he proved himself to be one of the best free agent signings ever. He departed the same way, signing with San Diego prior to the ’84 season.

At 32, the days of Gossage striking out over a runner an inning were pretty much behind him. But he was still huge and fierce on the mound and his seasons in San Diego would generally be only a modest discount to his ones in NY. In ’84 he came along just in time to help lead a Padre surge to the NL championship, going 10-6 with a 2.90 ERA and 25 saves. In ’85 his mound time started to decline a bit but he still had an excellent year, going 5-3 with 26 saves and a 1.82 ERA in 79 innings (after averaging over 100 all his full seasons since ’74). In ’86 his ERA popped a bunch – to 4.45 on an uncharacteristic eight homers in 65 innings – but his other stats were good with a 5-7 record and 21 saves. In ’87 his ERA dropped but so did his other numbers as he went 5-4 with a 3.12 ERA and eleven saves in 52 innings. That ended his San Diego time and he then travelled a bit, going to the Cubs in ’88 in a trade and then to the Giants and back to NY as a free agent where in both stops he did spot relief work and accrued 18 saves. In ’90 he spent part of the season in Japan, going 2-3 with eight saves. He then returned to the US, over the next four years putting in time with Texas, Oakland, and Seattle and going 11-9 with three saves during that span. He retired after the ’94 season at 42, finishing with lifetime marks of 124-107, a 3.01 ERA, 310 saves and 1,502 strikeouts in 1,809 innings. In the post-season he went 2-1 with a 2.87 ERA, eight saves, and 29 strikeouts in 31 innings in 19 games. He made nine All-Star teams and is currently 15th all time in games pitched, eighth in games finished, and 19th in saves.

Gossage made enough money while playing that when he was done he was able to return to Colorado and spend pretty much all his time contributing to and promoting youth sports in the area. In 2000 he co-wrote his autobiography, “The Goose is Loose.” He has both a SABR page and his own website. In 2008 he was – finally, according to him – admitted to the Hall of Fame. He brought Chuck Tanner and Dick Allen to his induction, both of whom he claimed were instrumental in his development as a professional. Classy move.

Despite that not great ’73 season Goose gets some pretty good star bullets. Topps didn’t include Instructional League stats on its backs back then so that second star bullet is not represented elsewhere.

This one will be pretty quick:

1. Gossage and Walt Williams ’72 White Sox;
2. Williams was on the ’73 Indians.

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