Goose alone on stage ... so appropriate 

Gossage joins baseball immortals on Sunday

During the summer of 1994, Rick "Goose" Gossage was turning back the clock, one more time.

At 43, he still was earning his keep in Major League Baseball as a relief pitcher for the Seattle Mariners. His fastball still could reach 90 mph. He didn't give up a single earned run in his final 10 innings. In what turned out to be his last time on the mound, he pitched three perfect innings for the 310th save of his career.

Then, that August, the baseball players decided to strike a shutdown that robbed the sport of the 1994 World Series, which never was played. And it robbed Gossage, because he never pitched again.

As he prepares to add a new adjective immortal this weekend at Cooperstown, N.Y., with his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, all kinds of memories return.

My role in covering Colorado Springs' ultimate hometown hero became like a friendly vulture in Gossage's final years. He'd wonder if the end might be near, but then he'd sign with some new team, and he'd flash that same old confidence, as full of piss and vinegar in his 40s as he had been in his 20s.

Perhaps we might bump into each other at spring training in Arizona, depending on his team at any given time. Or it might be returning phone messages, which Goose always did, no matter what.

We talked a lot after that 1994 season, and then in the spring of 1995. Seattle and its manager, Lou Piniella, had promised him another shot after the strike. But when the work stoppage continued, and the usual spring training of mid-February through March didn't happen, Gossage knew all bets might be off.

The strike ended in early April 1995, and Gossage waited for the call that never came. He was ready, probably more than a lot of players, because he'd been pitching to his son's Palmer High School squad. He still believed he could help a team, and nobody would argue. He regularly used the familiar quote that he has resurrected this year in so many interviews, refusing to quit until "they tear the uniform off my back."

He thought Seattle would want him. And his agent talked to the Colorado Rockies, which would have been the perfect script one last year in his home state. But that Rockies team was solid (eventually making the playoffs), and the invitation didn't come.

No self-pity

Then, on Tuesday, April 18, 1995, Gossage gave me the honor of breaking the story of his retirement, writing at that time for the Gazette. I'll never forget his words in that interview: "I'm not voluntarily retiring. I'm just retired. It's a bittersweet feeling, but I'm not disappointed ... If there's no job out there for me, I can't play. Everybody in baseball faces it sooner or later. Here I am."

It was so poignant, yet without a morsel of self-pity.

That day, I asked which of his many memories meant the most. He didn't hesitate. It was the one-game American League East playoff in 1978, the New York Yankees at Boston, when Gossage pitched the final 2 2/3 innings to save that epic 5-4 victory, getting the legendary Carl Yastrzemski to pop up with runners on first and third for the last out.

"The electricity in that stadium, that day, is something I never have experienced since," Gossage said. And that included Goose later being the winning pitcher against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 4 of that '78 World Series, then closing out the clinching Game 6. Even now, he feels the same.

Given his stature, Gossage could have called in the national media to make a grand exit in April 1995. But that wasn't his way. Especially when he believed he still was good enough to keep going.

Instead, even the New York Times had to run its story later, quoting the Colorado Springs newspaper.

Soon, the only question was whether, or when, Gossage would make it into the Hall of Fame. He became eligible in 2000, and his vote totals climbed but not high enough. Despite his massive credentials, and how he was among the few (Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, Dennis Eckersley, etc.) who revolutionized the closer role, many old-time baseball writers wouldn't let go of their prejudice against relief pitchers.

I remember two years ago in Florida, listening to Gossage being interviewed on ESPN. Stories were breaking about Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and many others having used performance-enhancing drugs. "If they did it, they shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame," Gossage said angrily. "I don't care who they are."

All by himself

Gossage's wait finally ended last January, when the call came to his Colorado Springs home. Sunday afternoon in Cooperstown. perhaps the best part is that Gossage is the only player elected this year. Others are being enshrined from the veterans category, including one of his favorite managers, Dick Williams.

But the others will be secondary. At the end, Gossage will be in the spotlight alone, just like in his career that spanned 1,002 major-league games. That doesn't happen often (Ozzie Smith in 2002, Mike Schmidt in 1995 and Reggie Jackson in 1993 are among the most recent lucky ones), and it's something Gossage will cherish.

It's been so enjoyable to watch the national coverage and attention showering Gossage these past six months. And if you have the right cable or satellite package, you can watch his induction starting at 11:30 a.m., Sunday, July 27 on ESPN Classic.

But what'll be even more pleasurable, sometime after this is all over, will be sitting down with Goose and listening to him tell what it was like for a 57-year-old kid from Colorado Springs, standing on that stage at Cooperstown.

He didn't deserve the ending he got to his career. But he deserves this ending, as much as anyone ever has.


Sports shot

Go anyway If you're not competing, watch the State Games of the West this weekend across the area, especially track and field at Lewis-Palmer High School including former Air Force quarterback Beau Morgan, along with some elite high school athletes.
Watch and see Two huge draws for the U.S. Senior Open here next week, Tom Watson and Greg Norman, will play this week in the Senior British Open at Royal Troon before coming to Colorado.
It's here Broncos have their first workout Friday morning; Air Force starts preseason practice late next week.
Don't miss it Senior British Open, with many golfers playing here next week, will be on TV, July 24-27: Thursday-Friday, 10 a.m. to noon, TNT; Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., ABC; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., ABC.


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