During his playing career, Colorado Springs native and Hall of Famer Rich “Goose” Gossage became one of the greatest relief pitchers in the history of the game.
Gossage pitched for 22 big league seasons from 1972-1994 where he compiled 310 saves and had a career ERA of 3.01. Gossage played for nine different teams and won his only World Series in 1978 with his favorite childhood team, the New York Yankees.
The Hall of Famer was born and raised in Colorado Springs and has lived here since he retired from playing.
Sky Sox baseball recently sat down with Hall of Fame relief pitcher “Goose” Gossage to reflect on his career and talk about some topics in today’s game.
Sky Sox: You were born and raised in Colorado Springs, why is it important to you to stay active in the community and give back to Colorado Springs?
Goose Gossage: I was just very very fortunate to do what I did. I had a dream of playing in the major leagues and Mickey Mantle was my favorite player at the time and I couldn’t imagine I could get Mickey Mantle out or face guys like him. That’s the journey I started out on. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into and I just said to myself, ‘Man, I don’t know what I’m getting myself into, but there aren’t going to be any ‘shoulda, coulda, wouldas, ifs, ands, or buts. I’m going to give it my best shot and see what happens.’
All I wanted to do was to put on a big league uniform one time and that one time turned into 22 years, so I still have to pinch myself that I had that kind of career. Colorado and Colorado Springs has always been my home and I love kids. Fans are what the game is all about and I’ve never turned anyone away for an autograph and I still won’t because if it weren’t for the fans we wouldn’t have a game
SS: When you were drafted you were only 18, 19 like many kids, how was that transition from high school to pro baseball?
GG: It’s a huge transition. It’s so different, the hard work, the perseverance. all of the great things baseball teaches you are life lessons. The perseverance is amazing because I’ll tell you what baseball does, it teaches you how to deal with failure. That’s going to be the mark of where you go in the game. I mean what else can you fail seven of the 10 times and still be a star — nothing.
Usually, if we fail seven out of 10 times, we’re looking for something else to do.
I wasn’t a hitter, but getting those guys out and the failures of all the home runs I gave up, I said even the home runs I gave up were great.
How you deal with adversity is going to directly correlate with how far you go in life, in baseball, in everything. Those are some of the lessons I talk to kids about.
SS: You played for a long time, are there any differences you notice in today’s game from when you played?
GG: The game has changed a lot, as everything has. I haven’t really gotten back into the game. I go to Spring Training with the Yankees, but I really don’t have any responsibilities down there. I go down there and work with the pitchers, but I stay out of the way of the pitching coach, too many spoiled broths, ya know, and I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes but it keeps me around the game.
I don’t like the 100 pitch counts, I don’t like the attitudes of some of the players and ya know, we had a great saying in baseball, ‘baseball is made up of players who have been humbled and those who soon will be,’ because the game will at some point in your career (humble you). It’s happened to the greatest players who ever played the game and it will bring you to your knees.
SS: As one of the best relief pitchers, you were actually a starter in the minor leagues, why do you think you were more successful out of the bullpen?
GG: Well, I didn’t know. I saw that whole transformation of the bullpen when I was put into the bullpen. You didn’t want to be in the bullpen and it was just starting to become a more specialized position and baseball was becoming more specialized. When I broke in, the bullpen was an old junkpile where old starters went that couldn’t start any more. So I didn’t have my sights set on the bullpen. Johnny Sain, a great pitching coach, my first pitching coach, I was so fortunate to have him and my manager Chuck Tanner wanted to put me and a guy named Terry Forster in the bullpen. Like I said, I didn’t really want to be in the bullpen, but I would’ve cleaned the toilets, I would’ve done anything just to be in the big leagues and I came to love the bullpen. I saw that total evolution of the bullpen from what it used to be to what it became today and now it’s really specialized. I didn’t really have a set up guy, now the set up guys you’re seeing the importance of them transform the game. You don’t win a world championship without those set up guys and great closers.
SS: Was there a player that you did not want to face?
GG: I faced a lot of great hitters on their way out like Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Al Kaline, guys like that, but they couldn’t catch up to the 100 mph fastball. But the one guy in my prime and his prime was George Brett. He was the greatest hitter I ever faced in his prime and my prime. Jim Rice was another one, it took him until his last year of eligibility to get into the Hall of Fame and somebody said, ‘Has anyone ever scared you?’ and I said, ‘No,’ but Jim Rice came the closest, because he was such a great hitter and he hit with such great power. So I was glad to see him get into the Hall of Fame. But Brett’s hit some shots heard round the world off of me, that pine tar home run was a home run he hit off of me.
SS: There was a lot of scrutiny around the Hall of Fame process this year, as a Hall of Famer, what is your opinion on the process?
GG: Well sometimes there are guys that I don’t understand why they’re not in. I don’t know why it took Jim Rice to get in on his 15th ballot. In my opinion, you’re a Hall of Famer or not. We don’t run up any more statistics once we’re out of the game, so I don’t understand the voting. I can criticize it but I really don’t know or have any solutions for it. I’d just ask the writers not to play games with the vote.
The PEDs, the performance-enhancing drugs, we can not reward these guys by voting them into the Hall of Fame and for cheating so that’s where I stand on that. And I think most of the Hall of Famers feel the same way.
SS: In 1990, you actually spent a season in Japan, what was that experience like?
GG: Playing in a different culture in a country that baseball is No. 1… it was a great experience. I took my boys over there, I had three younger boys at the time, and that was great for them to see a different culture. We lived in Fukuoka, which was really Japanese. It’s not Americanized or Westernized like Tokyo is, so we really got to live the culture, we loved it.
SS: When you were first coming up, was there a player that you idolized or wanted to emulate.
GG: There were a lot of major leaguers that I looked up to, but Mickey Mantle was my favorite player. I was a pitcher, but he was the man when I was growing up. My family came to Colorado in the late-1800s and they were huge Yankees fans, so I grew up a Yankees fan. And I went on to play for (nine) teams, but getting to play for the Yankees and winning a world championship, playing six years and then going into the Hall of Fame wearing a Yankees hat, (it’s) something I still can’t comprehend. I enjoyed playing for the other teams, but I was in the big leagues and loved every moment of it.