Old Man Needs to Shut His Yap

happy and grumpy old men

Goose Gossage. The name alone could intimidate hitters in the 70’s and 80’s.

He made nine All-Star teams. He piled up an 8.2 WAR as a relief pitcher in 1975. He was a key cog on the 1978 Yankees, making mincemeat of the Dodgers in the Series. He made bank with the Padres and helped them along to their only sustained period of respectability. He’s a Hall of Famer.

He’s respected enough that the Yankees invite him to help out in Spring Training as a ‘consultant’. In that role, he helps Yankee pitchers. He’s also great copy for sportswriters weary of writing endless spring training stories about the battle for the second LOOGY in the pen, or the fifth outfielder, or how fat CC Sabathia is or isn’t.

On the latter point, maybe sportswriters need to find someone else.

Gossage’s rants about the modern game are tiresome, trite, and idiotic.

The last straw, for me at least, was that he was ‘insulted’ to be compared to Mariano Rivera, since Rivera was a ‘one-inning’ guy.

Now, mind you, I complain and rant about one-inning wonders all the time. I think modern bullpen usage actually hurts teams in close games, especially ties, and I’m glad that the Cubs and Indians cast that to the wind last post-season.

I grew up when the game was on the line, no matter what the inning, a reliever like Rollie Fingers, John Hiller, or Dan Quisenberry would come in, snuff out the rally, and finish the game, be it one, two, or three innings.

Yes, I think Mariano Rivera would have been better suited in that kind of role, but it wasn’t the role he was given. He took the ball when given, got the batters out, and shook hands with his teammates. No one was better at it during his time. Only Dennis Eckersley is in the same team photo as a modern-era closer.

Gossage started his career during the ‘fireman’ era and the early DH era. That was an odd time in baseball, where staff sizes of 9 weren’t unusual, and Earl Weaver sometimes broke camp with just eight pitchers. With no DH, starters went long into the game, and one guy usually dominated the pen, leaving the others to hang around and ogle chicks in the bullpen, and then come in when the team was losing 9-2.

His 1975 season came out of the blue, as his previous major league records were mediocre, and it may have been his best season ever, even though he was playing for a declining White Sox team. After a detour with the 1977 Pirates, he moved on to the Yankees where he became a star, a legend if you will, and earned his Hall of Fame bones. He was a stalwart for the Padres, and had enough juice to last until the mid-90’s.

Yet, it’s rich that he complains about the state of the current game, and the usage of relief pitchers.

First, he was a failed starter. When he came into the game, the bullpen was still considered the place of last refuge. Yes, he helped end that perception. But look at 1976. Paul Richards, who came from a different era, thought Gossage was one of his best pitchers (he was) and wanted as many innings as he could get from him. So he put him in the rotation. He wasn’t horrible (his 9-17 record was mostly due to the abysmal White Sox offense), but what was telling was that he struck out fewer batters as a rotation starter in 1976 than he did as a relief pitcher in 1977. He wasn’t suited for it.

Second, while he started his career as a fireman, coming in whenever his team needed him the most, after 1978, he threw over 100 innings exactly once. Heck, in 1988, he had more games than innings pitched.

Third, he was more effective when used as a closer and not a fireman. His 1978 season, where he made his mark, was actually mixed. He lost 11 games in relief, blew 10 of his 37 save opportunities, and allowed 30% of his inherited runners to score. He was somewhat better when he pitched fewer innings an appearance. But to be insulted to be compared to Rivera is laughable. Rivera blew only 80 saves in his career. Gossage blew 112 in many fewer chances.

Fourth, in his career, he pitched one inning or less 43.5% of the time. Mind you, it’s not modern usage, but it’s not like he went out there pitching 2+ innings every outing. Even with his year as a starter and multi-inning reliever, he averaged 1.8 innings per appearance.

Players like Gossage reinforce the thought that the game was better ‘back in the day’, when that’s pretty much hogwash. Old-fogeyisms have been around ever since baseball moved off of the Elysian Fields in Hoboken. Retired players complain about the modern players lack of toughness, heart, team spirit, attitude, you name it. They did it in 1870, 1970, and will in 2070. I’d like to have seen Gossage play in the 1890’s, when you wore flannel, rode trains everywhere, were outcasts of society, had to have a job during the winter which usually involved some sort of hard labor, brawled constantly on and off the field, and if you were hurt you just were done, and may not get train fare home. I mean, he probably could have survived, but he’d realize his time in the 1970’s and 1980’s were comparatively easy street.

The game evolves; it always has. You either move with the times, or you’ll miss out. There’s great baseball being played now. It’s a shame Gossage can’t see it since it’s just a little different than when he played. If he’d open his eyes instead of his mouth, he may notice.




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