Goose Gossage's annual day of anguish turns into emotion-filled jubilation Print
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Tuesday, 08 January 2008 12:32
MLB Headline News

 COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) -Goose Gossage takes a long, hot shower after snow-blowing the driveway on this Tuesday morning. He brings in his old husky's big water bowl because it's still freezing outside, where five inches of fresh-fallen flakes blanket his beautiful view of the Rocky Mountains.
Goose has already been told the long-awaited phone call - that is, if he is to get one informing him of his election to the Hall of Fame - will be delayed up to 45 minutes.
He's waited all these years, what's a little more?
``It's nerve-racking,'' Gossage tells The Associated Press as he settles into a recliner in his living room looking out toward majestic Pike's Peak. ``There's no rhyme or reason to the voting.''
This is the ninth year Gossage has been on the ballot. The other eight times he sat by the phone for a call that never came.
He hopes today will be different.
Maybe it won't become his annual day of anguish.
His wife, Corna, brings out a plate of holiday coconut cookies and chunks of fudge.
Goose is too nervous to eat.
His cordless phone and his cell phone take turns ringing with friends wanting to know if he's heard anything yet.
The minutes move so slowly.
TV cameramen show up alongside neighbors and friends who come calling, sure that this year will be different.
His hazel eyes as steely as ever and his bushy Fu Manchu mustache still making him look every bit the intimidating right-hander he was in his prime, Gossage passes the agonizing wait by regaling his guests with stories about his 22-year major league career and the one season he spent in Japan.
He praises Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter, who, like him, were workhorses who transformed the bullpen from ``a junk pile where pitchers went when they couldn't start anymore'' to a place where some of baseball's brightest stars ply their trade.
Just don't compare him to today's highly compensated, ninth-inning specialists, he implores.
In his day, he was the middle man, setup man and closer all in one.
``They say Mariano Rivera is the greatest pitcher of all time, and I say, 'Do what we did and we'll compare apples to apples instead of apples to oranges,''' Gossage says. ``It's not the same position.''
He never had a personal trainer - ``I couldn't afford one'' - and he never had arm trouble, either, despite being a power pitcher who got outs through sheer force more than trickery.
He wasn't babied with pitch counts, and he proudly piled up innings.
He still throws a little at fantasy camps, too.
``I'm still throwing as hard,'' he insists. ``It's just not going as fast.''
Gossage looked just like Hollywood would have imagined a closer would look: that cap pulled tight over his forehead, that mangy mustache, those burning eyes, that herky-jerky motion from which overpowering fastballs would emerge, some of them chin music for batters who dared dig in against him.
``It's just the way I was. I scared myself. I really did,'' Gossage says. ``I think it was the fear of failure was so great that I wasn't going to let this happen and you're not going to get in my way. I was going to tear your head off.''
He never was a headhunter, but acknowledges he threw at three batters in his career. ``And they had it coming.''
Unlike today's closers, Gossage never had any songs blaring to announce his arrival on the mound, the scoreboards didn't explode with graphics.
``No, just jogged in and took care of business,'' he says.
The only one who ever gave him grief about his mustache was New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, although the Boss allowed him to break the club's facial hair rules and grow it past the crease of his mouth when Gossage was having such a great season in 1978, and it stays that way to this day.
``Everybody thinks I grew it to be more intimidating,'' Gossage says. ``I actually grew it to tick Steinbrenner off.''
He says he was fueled by self-doubt, always unsure from day to day if he had what it took to play major league baseball. It's the same sense of uncertainty that's creeping into his head today.
Will he be disappointed again?
He fumbles with his phone, which rings with a few more calls from friends.
``False alarm,'' he whispers again.
He admits, though, that today feels different. Sure, he's gotten his hopes up before only to see them crushed in the silence like last year, when Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn made it on their first try and he fell 21 votes short.
``Why not me? I had as good a career as those guys,'' Gossage says. ``I don't understand. You're either a Hall of Famer or not a Hall of Famer.''
He says he'd love to see Jim Rice and Andre Dawson get in, too.
``No one intimidated me, but Jim Rice came the closest,'' Gossage says.
Finally, it's 15 minutes 'til noon and Goose's cell phone rings.
It's Jack O'Connell, secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
Gossage shuts his eyes, holds his breath.
``Oh my god,'' he says. ``I've been elected.''
Then, it's a blur. Others get on the phone, they congratulate him, they give him a phone number for a conference call, instructions for this and that.
In the middle of it all, Gossage pecks his wife, Corna, on the cheek, and she brings him a flute of champagne.
Gossage talks about how a boy from Colorado could make it all the way to Cooperstown and how maybe that will inspire some other kid from a cold-weather state where it's harder to learn to hit the catcher's mitt, the curve and the cutoff man in seasons that are shortened by snow.
His mother, Susanne, died in 2006, Gossage says with tears welling up in his eyes, and he had hoped she would live long enough to see him inducted.
His father, Jake, died when he was a junior in high school, having predicted his son would one day pitch for his beloved Yankees.
Corna says her husband was as emotional on that day as he is on this.
The commissioner calls and offers his congratulations.
``I was as mystified as you why it took so long,'' Bud Selig tells him.
Former teammates start calling, too. So does Dick Williams, who managed Gossage in San Diego and was elected to the Hall of Fame last month by the Veterans Committee.
Looking back at the phone call that finally came, Gossage still can't believe the long, agonizing wait is over.
``A shock wave went through my body like an anvil just fell on my head,'' Gossage says. ``I think having to wait makes it that much more special.''
 

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