Sunday, July 27, 2008

How do you spell relief? G-O-O-S-E.

Tears are free falling this afternoon. Goose Gossage was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and it is about damn time.

Goose grew up in Colorado Springs, graduated from my alma mater Wasson High School, and went on to play 22 seasons in the major leagues. His story is sweet and inspiring, a tale of hard work and unbridled optimism. It's also an indictment of the powers that be, many of whom seem to understand little about baseball.

First eligible for induction in 2000, Gossage was passed over time and time again. I guess his stats didn't clearly illustrate his booming talent. Goose and the Yankees pioneered the concept of the set-up/relief pitcher. One pitcher started the game and threw the team to a lead. The relief pitcher, Goose, came in and "saved" the game. In other words, he didn't throw it away. Goose often had to maintain the lead through 3 long innings. Today's "closers" pitch only the ninth inning so, of course, their stats reflect more saves. "Now it takes three guys to do kind of what I used to do," Gossage pointed out with his usual modesty.

Always a hot-tempered and straight-talking guy, Goose didn't take the induction committee's slight laying down. After being passed over several times, he started making a little noise. Several inductees along the way, most notably superstar Cal Ripkin, Jr., publicly bemoaned the fact that Goose Gossage wasn't being inducted alongside him. When Goose was ribbed for flagrant self-promotion, he distanced himself by saying that he didn't want to see injustice prevail.

Goose finally got the call this past January. His wife told me that he cried like a baby, so I was worried about him today. In Cooperstown, surrounded by family, friends, fans, former coaches and teammates, I thought his words might get caught in his throat and he'd be unable to speak.

Turns out that that was just me.

As we've come to expect, Goose was nearly perfect.


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