Goose Gossage is a Hall of Fame pitcher who achieved his greatest fame during a six-year run with the New York Yankees from 1978-83. Now, he is retired and living in his home town of Colorado Springs, and a friend near and dear to Lucchese. But he still loves to talk baseball, and we were happy to take him up on the opportunity.
As a relief pitcher, Gossage was famed (and feared) as a closer. He owned basically one pitch, a sizzling fastball that typically blew by batters at up to 102 mph. A no-nonsense pitcher with a bristling mustache and a sniper’s unwavering glare, he cut an intimidating figure, especially for a guy nicknamed “Goose” (for his habit of extending his neck to read the catchers’ signs). Though he pitched for nine different teams during his career (1972-94), his glory days came with the Yankees and the San Diego Padres.
The Last Word caught up with Gossage during a break in a Colorado hunting trip (he was after a mountain lion, he said). As the conversation below reveals, he is unabashedly old school (see: steroids), but he revels in the game’s glory days and counts himself among God’s chosen for having gotten to write an enduring chapter in The Show.
What’s the best and worst aspect of being retired?
I never wanted to retire, and you don’t retire — baseball has a way of saying goodbye to you. It’s a young man’s game. And I promised myself when I first started playing that I was gonna play as long and hard as I could. All I wanted to do is put a big league uniform on one time, and “one time” turned into 22 years. And I still can’t believe I had the kind of career I had. I’m probably most proud of the consistency of the way I did my job, year in and year out.
Chuck Tanner, my first manager, was very instrumental in the success I had. He had this stinky cigar breath, and he grabbed me, and he said, ‘You make ‘em tear this uniform off!’ He’d get in my face and he had this stinky cigar breath. He said, 'You make ‘em tear this uniform off!' — and I did.
My career was like a 10-year-old kid going to Disneyland, and getting in line for two hours to get on your favorite ride that lasted two minutes. I got on my favorite ride and it lasted 22 years. To have this dream, to be elected to the Hall of Fame is something I can hardly comprehend.
You’re one of the few people on the planet who can answer the question of what’s better — winning a World Series, or being voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame?
I never thought about being a Hall of Famer. I used to meet a Hall of Famer in the clubhouse or at the ballpark and I’d wonder what must that be like. Now I am one, but I still cannot comprehend what that means. It’s over my head, like a 100-mph fastball.
The Yankees put a plaque up for me in Monument Park last year. That was something! There wasn’t a day that I didn’t go to that bullpen in the Bronx that I didn’t pass those monuments. I would look at those — Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and all the greats that are out there — and just marvel at what that must be like…just to see those names. I never even considered thinking that someday I might be in their presence out there, you know?
I was six years with the Yankees. My folks were huge Yankee fans. We didn’t have a lot of baseball in Colorado when I was, there were no [Colorado] Rockies. Meeting and knowing Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris…what a gentleman Maris was. To [see Maris] break those records in that time, in that era, that was part of the golden era of baseball.
What do you make of the state of the game today?
I don’t like the direction it’s going, I don’t like replay. I don’t think baseball is meant to have replay. I’ve said, no one has died over the last 100 years because of a bad call. It’s part of what we have to live with. Baseball is a game you can’t control, and you can’t figure it out. It’s just a game that is not to be controlled.
The umpires aren’t going to have a job in 15-20 years, it will all be done electronically. I like the way the game was. It was fun to watch a manager like Earl Weaver or Billy Martin go out on the field and argue for five minutes and tear bases out of the ground and sling ‘em around — that was fun. It was absolutely a performance!
It takes forever to play a game anymore. The hitters have to adjust everything they’ve got on two or three times. And the pitchers won’t get on the mound and throw. The pace of the game has slowed to a snail’s pace.
Money has dictated the way the game has gone, which I think is wrong. Putting all this money into these players. [The owners] expect less out of these players, and they pay them 10-times the money we made. You can’t pitch inside, you can’t come close to a hitter, they’re protected.
The first thing old times like [Hank] Aaron and those guys used to think is, I might get knocked on my ass right here. The last thing these guys today think about is, I might get knocked down. Because they are so protected.
They’ve manipulated the offense to the point where 500 home runs don’t mean what 500 home runs used to mean. It took 100 years to get 10-12 guys into the club, now double that in the last 15-20 years.
For young fans who never saw you pitch, what’s important for them to know about you?
That I was a professional, that I was taught to act like a professional. Taught to maintain and carry on that tradition of the integrity of the game that I was taught. I was taught how to act. If I had acted like some of these guys act today… Man, don’t come back into this dugout, go out that third field gate, because there will be 25 guys waiting for you to chew your ass out.
What shaped you as a young person to be such a ferocious competitor?
I think it was the fear of failure. I had a wonderful childhood growing up in the woods, in the Rocky Mountains. I couldn’t put a price tag on that. My parents were my biggest fans. But there was that fear of failure — I didn’t have an option to fail. My dad told me when I was 14-15 years old, that I was going to play in the big leagues. And I would say, 'Dad, please don’t say that…'
Did you have role models when you were growing up and came up to the majors?
Mickey Mantle and the guys that I looked up to were to me fictitious cartoon characters that didn’t exist. I did, and still do, put them on a pedestal, because of the way they acted, and the way they carried the game and the way they passed the torch.
And I think that’s one of the things that is missing; teaching these kids how to act. They act like fools out there — trotting around the bases, pitchers doing flips and somersaults and all sorts of bull. Act like you’ve been there and done that — act like a professional.
I’ve been a very staunch, outspoken person about the steroid department. When we start regarding these guys for cheating, let the game go…the integrity of the game is gone. They stripped Lance Armstrong of his Tour de France wins, and they should strip Barry Bonds of the home run record, and Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire of (breaking) Roger Maris’ record. I don’t even recognize what they did.
Did you have a great nemesis at bat?
I played against Aaron and Frank Robinson and Al Kaline, but at the time when they were all on their way out, and they couldn’t catch up to a 100-mph fastball.
But the guy who was in his prime and hit some shots heard round the world was George Brett. He was the greatest hitter I ever faced in my generation. He stood above and beyond. I hated George Brett! Now at least I’ll talk to him [laughs], talk about the home runs and stuff.
You two guys talk lots of smack?
Oh, yeah. He was a professional and the way he conducted himself out there, that was good old hardball baseball. You came into second base and cleaned somebody’s clock on the double play, you could knock the guy down, and they expected it. Sure, you had fights and confrontations. But we policed it ourselves, and that is gone.
I couldn’t have pitched (today). Bob Gibson couldn’t have pitched today. He said it best. He said, 'Half that plate’s mine. Now you’ve gotta figure out which half I’m coming after.'
What’s the best baseball movie?
There have been some good ones. Mr. Baseball reminded me of my time over in Japan when I played for a year. I loved it. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. But I think Bull Durham might be my favorite.
Bob Dylan wrote a song about Catfish Hunter. If he wrote a song about you, what would it have to say?
Oh my God! [Laughs] 'Get ready to duck,' maybe. I don’t know…'High and tight.' How about that?