What we're experiencing in sport these days is an epidemic of bad manners.
Lovable Refrigerator Perry turns into Gorilla Monsoon, savagely spiking an opposing quarterback, when a mere forearm to the Adam's apple would have sufficed. John McEnroe comes back to tennis and brings his discourtesy with him.
A Yankee Stadium fan throws a knife at Angel first baseman Wally Joyner. Maybe the guy just wanted the knife autographed, but at least he should have yelled, "Yo, Wally, heads up!" Simple courtesy goes a long way.
And now the Goose is loose in San Diego.
Rich (Silly Goose) Gossage, the noted relief pitcher for the San Diego Padres, is in trouble with the front office. Padre president Ballard Smith has suspended Silly Goose for the remainder of the season. He'll probably be reinstated soon, but it has been an ugly incident.
Silly Goose got mad at Smith because Smith indicated that the team would not sign free agents with a drug history or those who refused testing. Gossage got even madder when Smith banned beer in the Padre clubhouse in early July.
So Gossage called Smith "spineless and gutless." Goose said of team owner Joan Kroc, widow of McDonald's hamburger founder Ray Kroc: "She's poisoning the world with her hamburgers."
This is freedom of speech. This is also colossal bad manners.
I realize fast-food hamburgers aren't what they used to be, but neither are Goose Gossage fastballs. The guy's ERA is the size of a quarter pounder. Besides, this business of poisoning the world didn't bother Gossage two years ago when he signed a contract that will eventually bring him an $11-million McPiece of the burger action. Where was Silly Goose's moral conscience then? And what does Gossage grab for lunch when he's in a hurry? Tofu and bean sprouts on tree bark, no doubt.
The Padres will continue to pay Gossage until he is 65, although they won't require him to pitch that long.
I look at these contract figures and my question is: Where's the beef?
With $11 million, Goose can afford to have someone meet him in the stadium parking lot after games with a six-pack in a cooler.
Quite simply, Gossage was guilty of a flagrant cheap shot. He was biting the hand that feeds not only him but much of the free world.
I think he owes an apology to Mrs. Kroc, and also to Ronald McDonald, whose reputation has been damaged. The poor fellow will probably have to wear dark glasses in public until this blows over.
Freedom-of-speech advocates and freedom-of-Goose advocates will spring to Gossage's defense. They'll point out that creative insults are a part of baseball's rich tradition. They'll recall how pitcher Bill Lee once called Boston Red Sox Manager Don Zimmer a gerbil. And how Billy Martin once said of his star slugger (Reggie Jackson) and his employer (George Steinbrenner), "One's a born liar and the other's convicted."
They'll point out that Ballard Smith is no Will Rogers when it comes to liking people he meets. He has soundly criticized Padre players, individually and collectively, in the press.
Goose backers will also point out that the Padres should have known they were signing Goose Gossage, not Merv Griffin. The Gooser speaks his mind. When he pitched for the Yankees, he blasted Manager Martin. Gossage also spoke publicly of "the jerk upstairs" and "the fat man upstairs"--referring, one hopes, to Steinbrenner.
But Gossage supporters be damned. What about etiquette, one of the building blocks of our nation? Did that go out with powdered wigs? Was it right for Gossage to make fun of Smith's relationship to team ownership--he's married to Ray Kroc's daughter--by saying that Smith "just listens to what mom says"?
Doesn't a handsomely paid employee owe his owner a certain amount of loyalty, at least in public? Couldn't some of this have been handled behind closed doors? How would Silly Goose like it if every time he left his dirty socks laying around, his wife went to the newspapers? "Ms. Goose Calls Hurler Hubby Gutless, Spineless Slob."
Ah, what's the use? I know this whole situation will be resolved unsatisfactorily for all concerned. Smith will back off a little, and Goose will apologize a little. Then, like little kids, they'll be at it again as soon as our backs are turned.
For all the good it will do, I'd like to suggest to Goose that he invest a little of his $11 million in a mail-order etiquette course. And that when his Padre contract expires in 2016, Goose look for a team that is financed with untainted money and whose ownership is clearly engaged in noble service to mankind. The Yankees, maybe.