Interview by Woody Paige, Foreword by James Merilatt
He’s been called a number of things during his career – a White Sock, Pirate, Yankee, Padre, Cub, Giant, Ranger, Athletic and Mariner. Heck, he’s even been called a Hawk, if his time in Japan is included in the equation.
But to the people of his home state, he’s always been known by one moniker – Goose.
Born and raised in Colorado Springs, he’s a graduate of Wasson High School and the epitome of a local boy made good. Long before Roy Halladay, Luke Hochevar and Scott Elarton made it all the way from the Centennial State to the majors, he was pitching for 22 season in the bigs.
During that time, he developed into one of the game’s signature players. He practically invented the role of a “closer,” becoming the pitcher who would slam the door on the opposition late in games. And he did it on the grandest stages in baseball, including Yankee Stadium and the World Series.
He appeared in 1,002 games with nine different teams, made nine appearances in the All-Star Game, won a World Series in 1978 and compiled a treasure chest full of stories along the way. By the time he was done, he was widely regarded as one of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball history, a notion was reinforced in 2008, when he was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Now in retirement, he still dabbles in baseball, but spends most of his time golfing and fishing. All while not venturing too far from his roots – Colorado.
His the state’s favorite baseball son. He’s the one and only Goose Gossage.
Last month, I interview Scott Carpenter, and he talked about how he named his capsule “Aurora 7” because he lived on the corner of Aurora and Seventh in Boulder. How did you choose your number?
I got it issued. I was a non-rostered “turd.” That’s what we called it back in the day. If you were a turd, you had a high number. Anything in the 50s, you were a turd. I had a great year in A-ball, up in Appleton, so I got invited to camp the following year. I was 18-2 and won the MVP of the league, so the following spring the White Sox invited me to camp. They issued me one of the turd numbers – 54. When I made the club, they wanted to issue me another number. I wanted to keep 54, but the clubhouse guy wanted to give me a good number. So he called the general manager to see if I could keep the number. He was kind of pissed off, but they said it was fine. It was an easy number to get with every team I went to; I had it with all nine.
That first year in the big leagues was 1972. You had a great year. Didn’t you finish 7-1 or something like that?
I started off 7-0. (Manager) Chuck Tanner and (pitching coach) Johnny Sain would put me in situations that had a high success rate. They didn’t expose me too much. I pitched well. I had a good year. But they picked their spots for me. The last game of the season, Tanner comes to me and says, “Hey, you’re starting tomorrow.” Well, that was fine with me. I was excited. I didn’t want to be in the bullpen; that wasn’t a place you wanted to be back then. It was a junk pile for old starters who couldn’t start anymore. I had my sights set on starting. So I was excited to start the last game of the season. But it was our team party the night before; I got back from the party just in time to pack my suitcase. We had a 10:00 a.m. game in Minneapolis at the old Metropolitan Stadium. When I got there, I swear I was still drunk. I think I pitched two innings and gave up nine earned runs. They were rocking me all over the stadium. They almost knocked the fence down. There wasn’t a cheap hit all day long. It blew my ERA up that day.
In your fourth year, you were a full-time starter; you started 30-something games. You had 15 complete games, which is unheard of today.
In 1976, I had won the Fireman of the Year the season before. I had already come into my own as a relief pitcher. And the White Sox called me and said, “Hey, Goose, we would like you to start this year because we don’t have any arms. We have Clay Carroll from Cincinnati as our reliever.” The term “closer” wasn’t even a coined phrase at that time. I ended up 9-17, but I did have 14 or 15 complete games. That offseason, I answered the phone one night at around 11 o’clock when the winter meetings were going on down in Miami, and Tanner is on the other end. He says, “Goose, we traded for you; you’re back in the bullpen.” He was over in Pittsburgh by then.
You were fine with going back to the bullpen?
Rollie Fingers was just starting to be more specialized at that time, but the bullpen wasn’t a place to be. When I went down there, it was me Terry Forster and a bunch of old pitchers. But I came to love the bullpen. I didn’t like the four or five days off in between starts. I hated that; I loved to pitch. I really started to love the bullpen because I liked coming to the ballpark every day knowing there was a chance I might get into the game. And you could get into a game when it meant something. The excitement was there; the adrenalin was pounding.
You only spent a year there. Do you remember when you got the word that you were going to the Yankees?
Well, I really didn’t know what was going to happen. I became a free agent. I tried to sign with Pittsburgh, but they weren’t even close. It was a no-brainer. George Steinbrenner got involved and that was it. Teams wouldn’t get in a bidding war with him.
Jerry Kapstein was your agent at that time. He was the best agent around. How did you wind up with him?
He had a lot of guys. I met him at my first All-Star Game in ’75. Some of the guys introduced me to Kapstein. He was like Scott Boras is now.
How did you wind up going to the Padres in 1984?
After the World Series in 1981, it was the only time I felt George had crossed the line when he apologized to the fans because we let them down. That pissed me off. I decided that if I ever got the chance to leave, I was out of there. I was a free agent after the 1983 season. Teams didn’t want to bid against George, so I had to make a statement that I wasn’t going back to the Yankees no matter what. I cried. I was broken hearted because I loved the Yankees.
I was sitting above the press box in Dodger Stadium during the ’81 World Series when you hit Ron Cey in the head. That was the loudest sound I had ever heard in a stadium. It was like a shotgun blast. What was it like for you?
I thought I had killed him. It scared the hell out of me. It was very frightening. I got a box of hate mail. A big ass box. My whole living room was full of mail. It was because I didn’t show enough compassion. I just stayed on the mound because I didn’t want to take myself out of the game mentally. Rick Cerone came out and said, “Man, he’s fucked up. His eyes are rolled back in his head.” Under my breath, I’m rooting for him to get up. “Get up, Ronnie. Just get up.” They finally took him off the field. I went in after the game to see Cey. I walked into their clubhouse and into the training room, and he’s in there with a big turban of ice on his head. It was kind of comical. The next spring, we did the Good Morning America show down in Florida. Ronnie gave me that helmet and said, “This thing saved my life.” Two years ago, I sent that helmet back to him.
Did you just keep in on the mantle for all that time?
I just had it up in a closet, like a do with all of my shit.
There’s no other uniform in sports quite like the Yankees pinstripes. What was it like to put on that uniform?
I loved every team that I put a uniform on; there were nine different teams and I was proud to wear every uniform that I wore. But I grew up a Yankees fan. My mom and dad and whole family were huge Yankees fans. It was Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese, and Game of the Week. We didn’t get that much exposure to baseball, but it was usually the Yankees. That’s all I ever heard about.
What was it like to pitch in Yankee Stadium?
Back in ’72, when Tanner called me into his office and said, “You’re going north with us,” I almost fainted. I couldn’t believe it. I went to a payphone and called my mom. Then about a week later, it finally dawned on me, “Oh my god, we get to play in Yankee Stadium.” It was like an out-of-body experience. I remember the anticipation, going to the airport and flying to New York. I was the only rookie on the team and I couldn’t wait to see that field. I walked down a tunnel and into the dugout. I almost freaking lost it. It was one of the greatest moments of my whole life. I remember going to the top step and there wasn’t a blade of grass out of place; they had raked it and it was perfect. I didn’t want to step on it. It blew me away. Every time I walked into that stadium, I got fricking chills. I got to see all of the old stadiums. Comiskey Park was a grand old place. But any time I walked into Yankee Stadium, I got a thrill. That night I got into the game and my legs were shaking like nothing ever before. My dad died when I was a junior in high school, and he was a big Yankees fan. So that was a big moment for me. I stood there and looked around the stadium, took it all in and was in awe. I looked up and said, “Dad, this one is for you.”
There had to be some great memories.
My favorite day when I was a Yankee was Old Timers Day. Sharing a locker with one of those guys was special. Seeing (Joe) DiMaggio, (Roger) Maris, (Mickey) Mantle, Whitey (Ford) and Yogi (Berra), I was in total awe.
What was it like to have Bob Sheppard, the famous Yankee Stadium announcer, say your name when you entered a game?
He wouldn’t call me Goose. He was such an English professor. What a true gentlemen. To have him announce your name was special.
You were talking about the nine teams you played for. I’m going to throw something at you. I might be the only one who knows this, but I saw you play in a 10th uniform. Do you have any idea what I’m talking about?
Japan. I loved it over there. What a great experience. That’s one of the neatest experiences that I had in baseball. The Japanese people just rolled out the red carpet for me and my whole family. That’s when I really saw how many really good players there were over there. It really opened my eyes.
Back when you played, relief pitchers would go two or three innings. When did it evolve into a one-inning deal?
I know I could do what today’s guys do, but I’m not sure they could do what we used to do. I’m not taking anything away from these guys; I just think with pitch counts and the way baseball has gone, plus the way Major League Baseball has put more offense in the game by design, relief pitching has changed. When (Dennis) Eckersley went out to Oakland, that’s when the term “closer” came to be. They filled in around him to take some of the workload off of him; he was almost out of the game. He had one foot on a banana peel and the other one was out the door. Tony (La Russa) and Dave (Duncan) put him in the bullpen to keep him in the game. I was a setup man for Eckersley out in Oakland. I came full circle. When the (Hall of Fame) vote would come around, writers would call me and ask why I wasn’t getting enough support. I would remind them what we used to do. Guys have gotten so dominant in a one-inning role that it was unfair to compare me to today’s guys. It’s apples and oranges. Now, it takes three guys to do what we used to do.
That’s right. You were seventh, eighth and ninth inning guy.
The day after I got elected, a writer asked me, “Do you know how many saves of seven-plus out you have?” I said, “No.” He asked, “Do you know how many Mariano and Trevor Hoffman have?” I said, “No. I don’t have a clue.” He said, “You had 52. Mariano and Trevor have one and two.” I don’t know the statistics; I just know how the role of a relief pitcher has changed. The way they’re using these guys today is the way they’re supposed to be used. They’re fresh, and that’s a huge psychological advantage. It hard telling what kind of numbers some of us old-time guys would have had pitching this way.
They bring you in so young pitchers can hear your advice and understand what you brought to the game. What’s the message you have for them about making it in the game?
I learned from some great, great coaches. The best. And I learned from Dick Allen, the greatest player I ever saw, how to pitch from a hitter’s perspective. It was a great education. All the money in the world couldn’t pay for it. Johnny Sain, my pitching coach, and Chuck Tanner had huge influences on me. Today, no one is passing the torch. It’s become a numbers game. It’s all computerized; it’s whatever the computer spits out. I have so much knowledge to share with these kids. But they never ask me anything; it amazes me.
When I’m around young players, it seems like the feel like they already know it all. They don’t understand the history, or feel like they need to. You mentioned Dick Allen. I remember him talking about artificial turf; he said, “If a horse won’t eat it, I’m not going to play on it.” They don’t know what a great player he was, and they don’t care. There’s a sense of history that was lost.
I tell kids, “Look, no question is a stupid question. I’m here to help you guys.” I can help them with the mental side of things – pitch selection, the whole gamut from A to Z. I’ve had so many things happen to me, good and bad, I can teach them how to deal with it. I don’t get any questions asked. I’m amazed. I want them to pick my brain. I’ll help them with anything they need. I just don’t get the questions. Maybe they’re intimidated, but I try to go out of my way to make them feel comfortable around me. It’s a shame.
You also worked with the Rockies. Tell me about that experience.
I hated working for (Dan) O’Dowd. I hated working for that fucker. I said, “Hey, grow the grass out. Give something back to your pitchers.” That fucking outfield couldn’t be covered by three Vince Colemans. I said, “Grow the grass out; cut the alleys down. Have your guys be able to run over and pick it up, instead of getting it off the wall when it stops rolling.” And the infield is so goddamn fast; it’s like a pool table. I fought with O’Dowd over that forever. I took my resignation up to Keli McGregor, turned it in and told him, “You guys can spend your money more wisely and I’ll go have fun somewhere else.” I wrote out all the things that I brought to their intention that I thought they could do to improve, but they didn’t use them.
I used to say they should bring the outfield fences in. People think that’s crazy, but you have to make the field smaller. It’s not the home runs that kill them; it’s the balls in the gap.
That’s right. It’s the alleys.
They blame the altitude, but the altitude should be an advantage. You grew up pitching here. You know what it’s like. If they suddenly put you in control of the Rockies, what would you do?
The grass is the biggest thing. One day, I said it in front of everybody. This was the last straw. I did it in from of (Jerry) McMorris and the Monforts. We had an organization-wide meeting, everyone is putting their two cents in, and I said, “Why don’t we grow the grass out?” Fucking O’Dowd stood up, slammed his clipboard down and said, “That’s the last goddamn time I want to hear about the fucking grass.” I just wanted to be on record. I don’t know how he keeps his job.
I’ve tried to get him fired for years and years. He does what the Monforts tell him to do. Last year, they came up with the piggyback system and everyone hated it. He’s tried everything to keep his job, but the Monforts love him. Do you regret how that turned out?
The only thing that I regret is my whole career is that I never got a chance to finish with the Rockies. That would have been so awesome. I was so happy that Colorado finally got a team. I begged Bob Gebhard to invite me to camp. I didn’t expect any favors. I wanted to try to make the ball club. I could be helpful to the young kids and I could hold my own, but it never happened. That would have been so awesome, just to play there one year.
Plus, you could have shown them how to pitch at altitude.
Your mechanics just have to be on spot. You aren’t going to get away with bad mechanics throwing a breaking ball. That’s good for you.
You were right at the end when people were starting to experiment with steroids.
I think they were doing more than experimenting.
Did you see any of it going around when you were playing?
The first guy I ever saw was Brian Downing; his body changed. He went from a normal kid to a monster. I don’t know if he did or didn’t, but that was the first time I ever wondered. The first time that I really saw it was when I played in Oakland. I lockered next to (Jose) Canseco. I hated that guy. Eckersley and I would sit in the outfield and just shake our heads as ball after ball after ball went over our heads in BP (batting practice). We would roll our eyes and say, “What is going on here?” That was really the first time I knew something was going on. There were a lot of eyebrows being raised, but I had no idea that McGwire or Canseco were shooting each other up in the bathroom when I was there.
But obviously, something was going on.
I studied hitters for a living for 25 years. I never saw bat speeds like (Barry) Bonds, Canseco, (Mark) McGwire, (Sammy) Sosa; little guys like Brady Anderson were hitting 50 bombs. When Canseco finally came out with it, you knew he wasn’t lying because there weren’t any lawsuits filed against him.
But you managed to get out of the game before became it so prominent?
I played with (Rafael) Palmeiro down in Texas. Another guy was Juan Gonzalez. Juan used to have this lean, natural body. Then all of sudden, he shows up one spring like a freaking monster.
I’ve been voting for the Hall of Fame for 25 years and I made the decision to use the eyeball test. I saw Sosa the year he hit all of those home runs and then I saw him after they started doing the test. That guy went from being a skinny little guy to being a monster and then back. There’s only one way he could do that. So I decided I wasn’t going to vote for a guy who was connected to PEDs in any way.
Are we going to reward these guys for cheating? Ken Griffey, Jr. was the kid who was supposed to break Hank Aaron’s record, but he never finished the marathon because his body broke down. You don’t get better the older you get. It doesn’t work that way. People say, “Clemens was found innocent.” I say, “Well, O.J. was too.”
You could have prolonged your career another seven or eight years.
I try not to live in a glass house. I thought I would never have cheated. Never. I was that adamant about it. But when Andy Petitte said he did it because he thought it would help him get over an injury quicker, I realized that anyone might do it under the right circumstances. He’s as good of a person as you’ll ever meet. He’s an awesome guy.
You said at the time that you could understand the temptation. But you also have to take the consequences.
Absolutely. And stop fucking lying. Just coming fucking clean. That’s what (Jason) Giambi did and nothing else was ever said. The Hall of Fame is the only paddle left for their asses. If these guys get into the Hall of Fame, they might as well let everyone in – Pete (Rose) and everyone else.
How is Goose Gossage these days? How is life?
Good. I’d like to be involved in baseball a little bit more, but I’m enjoying the beautiful summers in Colorado that I never got to enjoy while I played. I love to golf and fly-fish, so the mountains in the summertime is the greatest. So I’m enjoying myself. I stay busy enough that I stay out of ruts. I get to do a lot of really neat appearances for corporate outings. I get to play in the celebrity golf tournament in Tahoe. It’s a blast. So everything is good. I wish baseball could have lasted forever, but it’s a young man’s game. It has a way of leaving you behind.
Don’t you think you could go out and pitch one more inning?
Oh, yeah. But then I wouldn’t be able to wipe my ass for a month.
To see the digital version of the March issue, CLICK HERE