After all, the former superstar relief pitcher known to much of America as "Goose" spent years waiting for countless calls to the bullpen. Finally, on the third ring, Colorado Springs' most successful homegrown baseball player picked up this call.
"This is he," he said (thanks to at least one good English teacher along the way), when asked if he was Goose Gossage. Within seconds, his eyes began to glisten. Finally, he gasped, "Oh my God!" and put the phone down, looked at his wife of 35 years, Corna, and the group of visitors, and told them all they needed to hear:
"I've been elected."
Goose Gossage, Hall of Famer, the only player chosen for the Class of 2008. Gossage, still in ways just a kid from Colorado Springs, heading for Cooperstown.
It was such a perfect moment, there inside the Gossage family's unpretentious home, in the city he loved enough to return and make a better place by helping the Trails, Open Space and Parks campaign. Finally, after a trailblazing career during which he changed the game of baseball, Gossage could bask in the ultimate recognition that had eluded him for too long.
"God, I'm shaking," he said as the reality sank in and that uninhibited personality melted away. Tears came as the 56-year-old talked about his parents, Jake and Susanne, both gone. His father dreamed of Rick pitching for the New York Yankees even when the youngster was a frightening presence (just imagine) at Wasson High School, but didn't live long enough to see Goose in the majors, much less pinstripes. His mother, a strong influence, was a huge baseball fan who attended many Sky Sox games before passing away in late 2006.
"They're here," Gossage said, voice wavering, red-faced, biting his lip to stay composed. "They're here with us now."
Perhaps they truly were. Two deer calmly strolled through the snow nearby.
The phone rang again, and this time it was Commissioner Bud Selig, calling to say he was "as mystified as you why this took so long." Soon came a call from Dick Williams, the longtime manager who was in San Diego for part of Gossage's time there (1984-87). Williams will be the only living inductee this year from the veterans' committee, so he and Gossage will have the stage to themselves on July 27, something they both relish.
Gossage could have spent the whole time reminiscing, such as when somebody asked what hitters he disliked facing the most.
"George Brett was the greatest I faced in his prime," Gossage said. "He hit some shots off me that were heard 'round the world. I can't imagine Ted Williams being better than George Brett. But I also hated a guy named Steve Braun [a 15-year journeyman outfielder]. God damn, he hit me hard. And those little contact hitters, who would choke up and just put a bat on the ball, they drove me crazy. I hated those little bastards."
After the news, though, Gossage wasn't into old baseball stories as much as sharing this moment with family, friends and local media.
"I've always said, and it's still true, my memories of Little League growing up as a kid in Colorado Springs are just as important to me as anything that happened in the big leagues. You might think that's crazy, but it's the truth.
"The support I got from my parents as a kid made this possible. Sometimes I'd want to skip a practice, and Dad would say, "If you miss another practice, then you're just gonna quit.' He had that talk with me a couple times, and I didn't pull that crap again ...
"I'm glad to have you [media] here, because for all the fans and people in Colorado Springs, it's neat for them to see this and feel what I'm feeling. When they told me, it's like a shock wave went through my body. ... All I wanted was to put a big-league [uniform] on, one time. ... I've been to a lot of great cities, but I haven't found anyplace I'd rather live than Colorado Springs. I hope this gives other kids inspiration to know that if you work hard, anything can happen.
"This is just an unbelievable day."
For Gossage, and for everyone lucky enough to share it with him.
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