“Save” isn’t good enough. There should be a more muscular baseball statistic to describe the path Goose Gossage took to Hall of Fame induction.
Two or three innings of relief work, not one inning or one out. That’s how Gossage and his 1970s and 1980s contemporaries closed games.
“It takes three guys to do what I used to do,” said Gossage, who will appear Friday night as the featured speaker at the Charleston RiverDogs’ 11th annual Hot Stove Banquet and Auction at the Charleston Marriott. “Not taking anything away from these guys but they should be comparing them to us, not us to them.”
The Yankees-Red Sox playoff game in 1978 is Exhibit A in the Gossage throwback argument. The American League East rivals, knotted atop the division standings, met for an afternoon showdown at Fenway Park with a trip to the AL Championship Series on the line.
Gossage, on the night before in a Boston hotel room, was consumed with thoughts of Red Sox clean-up hitter Carl Yastrzemski.
“I was thinking I could be facing Yaz for the final out,” Gossage said from his Colorado Springs home.
He hadn’t been pitching well. Coming on in relief of Ron Guidry with one out in the seventh inning, he bobbed and weaved his way through the Boston order. Gossage gave up two runs in the eighth.
The ninth inning started with the Yankees clinging to a 5-4 lead, thanks to shortstop Bucky Dent’s unlikely three-run homer in the seventh, and Reggie Jackson’s solo shot in the eighth.
“So here we go, I got a couple guys on in the ninth and the game is on the line and there are two outs,” said Gossage, 63. “And who comes to the plate? Yaz.”
Yastrzemski had already homered off of Guidry.
The Goose surveyed the Fenway madness.
“I had a little conversation with myself,” Gossage said. “I said, ‘Why are you so nervous? The worst thing that can happen is you’ll be back in Colorado tomorrow elk hunting.’”
Yastrzemski popped out to third baseman Graig Nettles. The Yankees went on to defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series for the second straight October.
Gossage recorded 310 career saves, 125 of which involved at least six outs of work. Mariano Rivera is the saves leader with 652, but the Yankees icon had only 11 saves lasting more than two innings.
Gossage played in the majors from 1972-1994 and for nine teams. He is best remembered for his days with the “Bronx Zoo” Yankees.
On late owner George Steinbrenner: “You hated to see him coming but now you miss seeing him coming. That was the kind of impact he had; he was very demanding. He was a tremendous owner. I think he belongs in the Hall of Fame.”
Former manager Billy Martin: “I didn’t get along with Billy. We just never saw eye-to-eye from the day we met. I’ll just leave it at that.”
Reggie Jackson, the Hall of Fame slugger: “Reggie was a great player and it was a pleasure playing with Reggie. He set the table for everybody else in that lineup. He played hard. I can’t say anything bad about Reggie.”
Catcher Thurman Munson, the Yankees captain who died in a 1979 plane crash: “If I had to pick just one guy of all the teammates I had — and believe me, that’s very hard to do — Thurman is No. 1. There hardly is a day that goes by that I don’t think of Thurman Munson.”
Gossage has strong Hall of Fame opinions.
Dick Allen should be in. Not just because of his 351 career home runs, but for numbers that look more impressive in light of computerized research and his influence on young members of the early 1970s Chicago White Sox.
“Dick Allen single-handedly carried our team and we almost beat those great Oakland teams,” Gossage said. “He was the greatest player I ever saw play, and the smartest baseball man I have ever met. Dick would set the pitchers up unlike anybody I ever saw. He would strike out two or three times and then come up late in the game with the game on the line and get that pitcher to throw the same pitch he struck out on earlier. And he would hit a bomb somewhere.”
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens don’t belong in the Hall of Fame, Gossage insists.
“I don’t know how you separate guys you are 99 percent sure used steroids to enhance their performances,” Gossage said. “When we start rewarding these guys for cheating, you can forget the integrity of the game. If they were Hall of Famers before, then why did they use? It has to be a level playing field and we have to get rid of steroids because of our kids, and therein lies the crux of why Congress got involved.”
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff