As the sporting world awaits the Super Bowl, baseball news is squarely fixed on the back-burner. That will start to change in a few weeks, but for now, good baseball stories are hard to come by. (I know you are feelin' my pain.) So I thought I'd share a couple of excerpts with you from a slept-on little gem called "Pinstripe Pandemonium." Written by Geoffrey Stokes, a reporter from The Villiage Voice, the book follows the Bronx Bombers throughout the 1983 season. It is a slim, but shrewdly observed, and well-written book.
The Hall of Fame voters recently passed Goose Gossage over once again, but many Baseballists---a nifty phrase coined by Jay Jaffe---feel that if any reliever is qualified for induction, it is Gossage. Described by Stokes as "curiously shy," the Colorado native talked about the stress that accompanies being a closer:
"Sometimes, after a bad loss, I'm amazed that I can go out there the next day and do anything at all. But fortunately," he grinened, "there's this gorilla in me that just takes over.
"Of course," he added, returning to the subject of rhythm, "when it does, somebody's gotta keep it on a leash. I don't care how fast you throw; if you throw nothing but fastballs, there are hitters in this league that are gonna catch up to you. Somone's gotta slow me down.
"But that's hard for a cather to do. If I'm gonna get beat, I want to get beat on my best pitch, not on some off-speed thing that's just supposed to set the fastball up. But what happens is, I get out there, and I throw a ball at ninety-five miles an hour easy, so I just gather up my strength and try humming the sombitch at a hundred. I'm out there, and I feel that with just a little more effort, I could throw the sucker right through the catcher--and maybe halfway through the umpire, too.
"The thing is, it doesn't go as fast, 'cause my asshole's tight. It's pretty hard to throw a ball with one hand around your throat. And when that happens, even before everybody's turning around to watch the fuckin' home run, it affects the team. It's like your kids; when they see fear in your face, they get afraid too, even if they don't know why. In the clubhouse of at the hotel, everbody's got his own personality. But when I'm out there with runners on second and third, one out, and a one-run lead, I'm responsible for the whole team."
Gossage has become an arch-type for a certain kind of closer: snarling, physically imposing, flame-throwing. Dennis Eckersley, a control expert, who specialized in taunting and humiliating his opponent, is another. And now, so is Mariano Rivera, master of the single pitch, who is so cool that it barely looks like he's awake out there sometimes. But no matter the personality, all succesful closers thrive off the responsibility of having the game in their hands. Gossage concludes:
"The only thing about [closing] is you can't take it home with you. It's not like I'm a starter and I have to think about it for five days, have to spend my time saying 'Damn, that was a stupid pitch.' Except for the playoffs or the Series, there's always tomorrow. You know, it's like hunting. 'Some days you eat the bear, some days the bear eats you.'"
What's that some sort of Eastern Philosophy? Far from it.