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Gossage makes his Hall mark

January 09, 2008|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

A frustrating and sometimes agonizing nine-year wait finally came to an end for Rich "Goose" Gossage, the intimidating right-hander who Tuesday became only the fifth relief pitcher elected to baseball's Hall of Fame.

"It was like being hit with a brick -- my head went numb," Gossage said of his emotions after receiving Tuesday's news. "If somebody said when my career started that I'd go into the Hall of Fame, I would have said you're crazy, because this is something. . . .

"I don't think any player says he wants to be a Hall of Famer. You say you want to be a big leaguer. I have to pinch myself, to think I had that kind of career. I can't describe it. It's off the charts."

Gossage, who went 124-107 with a 3.01 earned-run average and 310 saves in his 22-year career, was named on 466 of the 543 ballots (85.8%) cast by 10-year members of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America and was the only player to receive the 75% required for induction.

Jim Rice, in his 14th and second-to-last year of eligibility on the writers' ballot, received 392 votes (72.2%), falling 16 votes short of election, but the former Boston Red Sox slugger's candidacy gained considerable momentum from his 63.5% finish in 2007.

Rice can look to Gossage for hope in 2009 -- Gossage received 71.2% of the vote last year before this year's surge pushed him well over the threshold for induction.

"From what I know facing these guys, I think Jim belongs in the Hall," said Gossage, who will be inducted during a July 27 ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y., along with five men elected last month by the Veterans Committee: former commissioner Bowie Kuhn, former Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley, managers Dick Williams and Billy Southworth and ex-Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss.

"No hitter scared me, but Jim Rice came the closest. Hopefully, next year it will be his turn."

Gossage also thought outfielder Andre Dawson and pitcher Bert Blyleven belonged in the Hall, but Dawson (65.9%) and Blyleven (61.9%) fell well short.

One player who appears destined to never reach Cooperstown is Mark McGwire, who, in his second year on the ballot, received only 128 votes -- the exact total he had last year, though his percentage increased slightly, from 23.5% to 23.6%.

The former slugger is eighth on baseball's all-time list with 583 home runs, but it appears most voters held firm in their belief that McGwire's career was too tainted by steroids allegations to be considered Hall of Fame worthy.

"Absolutely," Gossage said, when asked if he had empathy for voters struggling with candidates connected to performance-enhancing drugs. "It's a very tough decision, and most of you guys don't know how to approach it.

"Mark was a great guy, a great teammate in Oakland for two years, but this steroid thing is hanging over baseball now. Hopefully we can put it behind us, clear the gray area and give you guys a more defining path for how to vote. I'm glad I'm not voting."

Gossage has been an outspoken critic of the voting process, wondering why it takes some players 10, 12 or 14 years to reach Cooperstown and why his vote total fluctuated from year to year.

"I can't lie, there's been some frustration, some disappointment," he said. "To me, you either are or aren't a Hall of Famer."

Adding urgency in recent years was the aging of Gossage's mother, Sue, who died at 92 in September 2006.

"She always said, 'Gosh, I hope I'm around when you do go into the Hall,' " Gossage said. "That urgency is no longer there. . . . I guess waiting has made this sweeter than it would have been had I gone in on the first ballot."

Gossage, a nine-time All-Star who led the American League in saves in 1975, '78 and '80, played for nine teams and pitched in three World Series, 1978 and 1981 with the New York Yankees and 1984 with the San Diego Padres.

The biggest game he pitched in, he said, was the one-game playoff to determine the 1978 AL East title, when he got the final eight outs of the Yankees' dramatic, Bucky Dent-led 5-4 win over the Red Sox and, with two on, retired Carl Yastrzemski on a game-ending popup. The Yankees went on to win the World Series.

"To be a part of that game, to pitch the last 2 2/3 innings, was unbelievable," said Gossage, a workhorse who recorded 125 two-inning saves, 114 more than current Yankees closer Mariano Rivera has. "It seemed like the playoffs and World Series were anticlimactic because of the pressure of that one game."

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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