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Goose Gossage, Hall of Famer? Yes!
2008-01-04 10:25
by Bruce Markusen
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.
 

 I sometimes refer to the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) as "masters of the obvious" when it comes to the Hall of Fame elections. Last year, the BBWAA voted in automatic, slam-dunk selections like Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn, even with misguided writers submitting blank ballots for self-righteous reasons. Yet, when it comes to subtler selections, players who weren’t iconic figures but were still dominant stars for extended periods of time, the Baseball Writers haven’t shown a similar aptitude.

The writers have a chance to rectify that situation this Tuesday, when the results of the 2008 election will be announced in New York City. (Alex Belth and Cliff Corcoran, will you be attending the press conference at the Waldorf-Astoria?) The litmus test will be provided by Rich "Goose" Gossage (as seen in this odd 1978 Topps card), who has been on the ballot for eight years and has never received more than the 71 per cent of the vote he picked up in 2007. The Goose was the most egregious omission on the 2007 ballot—an omission that serves as a black mark against the writers’ voting patterns in recent years. To me, it’s patently obvious that Gossage, who led the league in saves three times and finished second two other times, belongs in the Hall of Fame. Here are a few reasons why:

*For nine straight years, Gossage posted ERA’s of 2.90 or less. That’s right, from 1977 to 1985, Gossage didn’t have even one season with an ERA as high as 3.00. That’s a pretty long level of peak performances, without any bleak seasons to break up the string. Some of his ERAs were eye-popping during that stretch: 1.62, 2.01, and an unfathomable 0.77 in the strike year of 1981. And it’s not like he did that pitching as a situational reliever or in a one-inning, ninth inning, comfort role; he logged large numbers of innings during that time, far more than typical closers do in the current-day game.

*In recent years, Sabermetric research has shown the value of pitchers who can strike out large numbers of batters, thereby putting less pressure on the fielders behind them, reducing the element of bad luck base hits, and preventing baserunners from coming home on sacrifice flies. Well, Gossage was a Sabermetric dream in this respect, reaching 100-strikeout totals five different times as a reliever and matching Rollie Fingers’ career total. Bruce Sutter achieved that only three times. When it came to the pure power of the fastball, no relief ace of the 1970s could match The Goose.

*Gossage was an absolute workhorse. Unlike the fashionable pitching trends of today, which require one inning per night from a closer, Gossage often pitched the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings in recording saves. Four times in his career, he accumulated 100 or more innings while pitching out of the bullpen. Pitching for the 1978 World Champion Yankees, Gossage pitched more innings than either Jim "Catfish" Hunter or Jim Beattie, the team’s fourth and fifth starters. How many closers in today’s game log more innings than their teams’ No. 4 starters?

*Except for his legendary tangles with George Brett, Gossage was a superior reliever in the postseason. He generally excelled with the Yankees, but did struggle in his lone postseason showing with San Diego. Still, even with the problems he had facing Kirk Gibson, Goose put up terrific October numbers. Over a span of eight postseason series, he posted a 2.87 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 31 innings. He did his best postseason pitching in the World Series, with an ERA of 2.63 in 13 innings.

*One could make an argument that Gossage was the best reliever of the 1970s. Only Hall of Famers Fingers and Sutter can really take their rightful places in that argument. Is there not room in the Hall for a third reliever from the decade that introduced a spectacular level of relief pitching, a decade that included standouts like Bill Campbell, Gene Garber, John Hiller, Dave LaRoche, Sparky Lyle, Mike Marshall, Tug McGraw, and Kent Tekulve?

In my mind, Gossage was at least the second-best reliever of that era, just behind Fingers and perhaps the equal of Fingers. Gossage enjoyed a longer peak than Sutter, and also had the longer career. It’s still not clear to me why Sutter is in the Hall of Fame—and Gossage is not.

Hopefully the writers will rectify this inconsistency in 2008. History favors Gossage; any player who has received as much as 71 per cent of the vote from the writers has eventually breached the 75 per cent barrier. It will be very close, with Gossage likely to finish somewhere in the 73 to 77 per cent range, but I have a feeling that it will happen this time around. And the Hall will be a better place with The Goose nesting in Cooperstown during the final weekend in July.

 

Bruce Markusen is the author of "Cooperstown Confidential" at MLB.com and has written seven books on baseball.

Comments
2008-01-04 10:39:06
1.   Sliced Bread
Hear hear, Bruce.

Do you know how much, if any "campaigning" Goose has been doing to sway the writers?

Here's hoping Goose gets that feather in his cap. He's earned it.

2008-01-04 10:48:09
2.   The Mick 536
Why did he leave the Yankees?
2008-01-04 11:18:49
3.   Chyll Will
2 Because of George, of course. But unlike many, he chose to leave when his contract was up. Not an entirely bad decision since he and the Padres ended up in the World Series the following season.
2008-01-04 11:22:47
4.   Sliced Bread
2 Had enough of Steinbrenner, and wanted a change of scenery. Said he'd never work for him again.

Came back for a cup of coffee late in '89, might have stayed here longer if George had been suspended, but that didn't happen until the following summer.

2008-01-04 11:23:37
5.   Sliced Bread
3 owe you a root beer, Chyll. Happy New Year!
2008-01-04 11:46:43
6.   Chyll Will
5 I'll drink to those who are near and dear. Happy New Year, my friend >;)
2008-01-04 11:55:52
7.   williamnyy23
I've always been a supporter of Goose, and feel he is more deserving than Fingers and Sutter, but I don't think his omission is egregious. After all, he only has an ERA+ of 126 in 1,800 IP, which isn't mind boggling. Also, while he did have that string of under 3.00 ERAs, his ERA+ only topped 180 four times. Marian Rivera, by comparison, has a career ERA+ of 194. Also, you can't really argue that Gossage was more of a workhorse because he only had 4 seasons with more than 100 relief innings. Again, I think Gossage is HoF worthy, but I think it's by a narrow margin.
2008-01-04 12:17:47
8.   Raf
4 The Yanks could've used him in 1990... IIRC that was the year he pitched in Japan. Odd to me that he didn't sign stateside.
2008-01-04 12:28:39
9.   wsporter
6 Hey Chyll, How you doin', hope you're feeling better?
2008-01-04 12:31:19
10.   RIYank
Goose's career ERA+ wasn't all that spectacular, but from 1975 to 1985 he was incredible. A decade of domination should get a guy into the Hall. (Imagine going 11-9 with an ERA+ of 243, as Gossage did with Pittsburgh in 1977!)
2008-01-04 12:35:56
11.   Sliced Bread
8 Yeah, forgot about Japan. I'd be interested to hear why he made that move. Surely, it wasn't to get away from George. Although most of the 1990 Yanks probably wished they'd spent that summer abroad.
2008-01-04 12:55:13
12.   rbj
"Four times in his career, he accumulated 100 or more innings while pitching out of the bullpen."

Torre makes a note of that, and passes it on to Scott Proctor.

2008-01-04 12:55:41
13.   JL25and3
One big problem is that there's no good, clear, straightforward way to evaluate relievers. ERA can be kind of useful, but mostly when the differences are large; otherwise, it's iffy. W-L is useless for a reliever, peripherals are nice side dishes that still need a main course, and saves are a travesty. ARP and WXRL are interesting but involve a number of assumptions and are far from straightforward or intuitive.

On top of that, the way relievers are used has changed so often, and so radically, that comparison from one era to another are well nigh impossible. Gossage's stats reflect a pattern that only existed for 15 years or so; you really can't compare him with Hoyt Wilhelm before or Dennis Eckersley.

2008-01-04 13:12:40
14.   Chyll Will
9 I'm over the hump, thanks! Still cough and congestion, but I can move around and such. However, now my roommate is getting sick and various people I know and are familiar with are catching it too; though outside of my roommate I had no physical contact with humans for three weeks. I'd say it's an epidemic, otherwise I'm getting better (laughter does help)...

Serious Consideration... Catch The Fever! >;)

2008-01-04 13:46:15
15.   Repoz
Bruce...

I have Gossage at around 91% (including some partial ballots).

Keith Law has him at 88% after 100 full ballots.

The only downside here is a lot of the remaining voters are older voters who are no longer really active and might have a long standing anti-reliever bias.

I still think he makes it tho.

2008-01-04 14:17:43
16.   williamnyy23
10 Goose had some years sprinkled in that period that weren't dominant (1976, 1984 and 1979 to a degree). Also, while Gossage was excellent over that span, I don't think it was incredible (with the exception of Rivera, I don't think any relievers qualify as incredible over a long stretch).

I personally think Goose has the right mix of dominant seasons and longevity to pass the test, but can definitely see an argument that excludes him (as well all relievers not named Mariano Rivera).

2008-01-04 14:24:05
17.   williamnyy23
13 I agree with that. Just as a reference, here are the top 10 relievers from 1975 to 1985 (at least 750IP in the span and 90% of games pitched from the bullpen) in terms of ERA+ and IP.

1 Dan Quisenberry 163 764.2
2 Rich Gossage 156 1198.2
3 Bruce Sutter 142 978.1
4 Kent Tekulve 139 1080.1
5 Tom Burgmeier 134 818.1
6 Gary Lavelle 128 1036.1
7 Rollie Fingers 125 946.2 1
8 Jim Kern 122 750.2
9 Gene Garber 122 1053.1
10 Willie Hernandez 121 808

I have no idea how Sutter makes it, but not Quisenberry.

2008-01-04 14:32:16
18.   Josh Wilker
Goose's Strat-O-Matic cards from his prime were things of beauty: no hits, all strikeouts. I wonder what his most memorable out it is, and if it's the same as mine, for different reasons (Yaz popping to Nettles).
2008-01-04 17:43:40
19.   buddaley
A problem in referring to Gossage's career ERA and ERA+ is that it includes 1976, the year he was a starter for Chicago and pitched 224 innings with a 3.94 ERA and 91 ERA+. That skews his career numbers. Purely as a reliever, his numbers are far better, the career ERA going down from 3.01 to 2.88. (He actually had 8 other starts in his first 3 years when his ERAs were poor, but I have not separated his starts from relief appearances in those years.)
2008-01-04 19:36:27
20.   Alex Belth
Josh, I would have to say that the most memorable or significant out of Goose's career was the exact one to which you are referring. Remember, the Yankees were criticized for piling on when they signed Gossage as a free agent after the 77 Championship, especially in light of the fact that Sparky Lye had won the freaking CY Young award that year.

Lyle was vexed throughout the 1978 season, and it's easy to see why. However, the Goose earned his stripes so to speak in that moment that he got Yaz to pop out to Nettles to end the playoff game. As usual, he pitched more than two innings. He wasn't lights out, but when it came down to it, 9th inning, tying and winning runs on base, and Yaz, the ultimate clutch hitter, at the plate, on a day when the great Guidry was gassed, Goose came with the gas and beat the old man.

I know he was burned by Brett several years later in the same situation, but hey, sometimes you eat the bear...

Still, I think that out in Fenway Park has to be the defining moment of his career. After the game, Thurman asked Goose, "Where did that extra foot come from?" And as Glenn Stout aptly wrote in Yankee Century, it was that extra foot that beat Yaz and the Sox.

2008-01-04 20:10:34
21.   williamnyy23
20 My favorite story about that confrontation was that Goose claimed to have envisioned that very ending the night before...the frightening specter of having to get Yaz to win the game. It's funny, but if Rice really was the most feared hitter of his time, as so many who tout his HoF candidacy claim, why didn't Gossage have a pre-game nightmare about facing him instead of Yaz?
2008-01-04 20:31:12
22.   Mattpat11
I'll never understand how Gossage can be kept out of the Hall, but Hoffman, a man that is virtually a lock to blow any important game he's in, has a seat at the table waiting for him.
2008-01-04 20:40:07
23.   Mattpat11
21 Goose owned Rice. :)

Plenty of people have nightmares about facing Ortiz. That doesn't necessarily mean you want to face Manny. Hell, I'm more scared of Manny, but I'm in the minority.

2008-01-05 05:29:43
24.   Josh Wilker
21 : As I understand the Yaz-Goose moment, it was one of those strength-against-strength things, great fastball pitcher versus great fastball hitter, i.e., perhaps Goose was worrying that even his best wouldn't be good enough. (It was, obviously.)

Rice vs. Goose: .235/.235/.412
Yaz vs. Goose: .375/.488/.469

2008-01-05 12:16:09
25.   williamnyy23
23 True...but then doesn't that mean that Rice, while a feared hitter, wasn't the most feared in the game?

I didn't mean to make a serious issue of this, but I think it points out how silly it is to annoint Jim Rice the most feared hitter of his era when there were probably 10 other equally scary hitters in the league and at least one other on his own team.

24 Damn...knowing that split makes nervous 30 years after the fact. I probably would have been screaming...WALK HIM.

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