By Jason Keidel
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As the tornadic talk continues over the baseball Hall of Fame vote, Goose Gossage is making the rounds about his past, present, and potential colleagues in Cooperstown.
And, as always, he’s trotting out the regurgitated mantras regarding relief pitching. When someone’s preamble is, “Nothing against Mariano,” you know they are about to trivialize Mariano.
Well, nothing against you, Goose, but it’s time to be quiet. And unlike Rivera, who will garner at least 95 percent of the vote in his first ballot, it took you nine years to find your way to Cooperstown.
When asked by ESPN if Rivera would be the first player ever voted unanimously into the Hall of Fame, Goose bristled, asserting that anyone charged with pitching “just” one inning to bag a save should not be so universally regarded. The logic is that Gossage faced more pressure during his years in the majors.
As always, Gossage referred to himself, Rollie Fingers, and Bruce Sutter as the progenitors of the real save, meaning more than three batters.
“We inherited runners,” is Goose’s template retort to Mariano, whom Gossage refers to as a wonderful human being and a fine pitcher. Just not as fine as Gossage, it seems.
For his career, Gossage finished with 310 saves and a 3.01 ERA. Rivera finished with 652 saves and a 2.21 ERA. Even if we assume Gossage worked harder than Rivera for his saves, the disparity in save and ERA totals more than makes up for that.
Between 1997 and 2011, Rivera inherited 323 runners. Sounds like pressure to me. But even if you discount inherited runners because Gossage had so many more, the pressure argument just doesn’t fly.
How about the playoffs, Goose? How about your high deeds under brown leaves? Did you have a fraction of Rivera’s traction?
In the 1984 World Series, Goose had a 13.50 ERA. In the 1980 — hello, George Brett! — ALCS, Gossage had a 54.00 ERA. Overall in the ALCS, Gossage finished with a 5.14 ERA in five appearances. In eight World Series appearances, he finished with a 2.63 ERA.
Gossage pitched in eight postseason series, made 19 appearances, and finished with a 2.87 ERA. Fine numbers. Just not as fine as Rivera, it seems.
In the postseason, Rivera appeared in 96 games and had 42 saves and a 0.70 ERA, galaxies ahead of anyone in history. In the World Series, he appeared in 24 games and had a 0.99 ERA. In the ALCS, he appeared in 33 games had a 0.92 ERA. In the ALDS, he appeared in 39 games and had a 0.32 ERA.
There’s a sublime, fact-drenched piece from Baseball Prospectus that dissects the fantasy of Gossage’s three-inning save. In 21 years of relief pitching, Gossage had just 52 saves that required at least seven outs. And before anyone calls Rivera a three-out mercenary, remember that he entered countless games before the ninth inning, including 56 out of his 96 playoff appearances.
Like most kids born in NYC and raised on the Bronx Zoo Bombers, I adored Gossage. He frightened more than the hitter he was facing while he scowled at the catcher, his long frame bent forward, twirling the ball in his sprawling right hand, two fingers of fuzzy brown hair under his nose.
Gossage epitomized the hairy, fireballing closer of the ’70s, whose tough-guy ethos perfectly reflected the blue-collar ethic of the people who poured into Yankee Stadium back then, before it became a limestone martini bar, with well-lubed fans waving their iPhones before the nearest red-lit camera.
But as the mustache faded to white, his views feel equally old. As someone who waited so long for induction, you’d like to think Gossage would be more grateful and circumspect. Instead, it feels like envy, if not full-blown player hating.
Maybe he doesn’t like that Mo has usurped him as the greatest closer in Yankees history. Maybe he doesn’t like the money Mo made. Maybe Gossage should just be quiet and enjoy the millions that making the Hall of Fame will put in his pocket.
There’s no shame in falling short of Mariano Rivera. Everyone does.
Especially Goose Gossage.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel
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