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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: October 30, 2020 4:22 am PDT
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Goose Gossage earned his way to the Hall of Fame, pitching 22 years in the majors, piling up 310 saves, a 3.01 ERA, 124 wins and 1,502 strikeouts. Over a 10-year stretch from 1975-85 the big right-hander collected 254 saves with a 2.41 ERA while striking out 1,058 batters and won a World Series with the Yankees in 1978.

In that World Series against the Dodgers, Gossage pitched six innings, allowed one hit and did not give up a run.

He was fearsome from 60 feet, six inches.

Gossage knew how to pitch, he knew what it took to win. No excuses. He knows what is right in the game and what’s wrong. And he’s not afraid to say it.

Just as he stared down batters, Goose Gossage stared down this current version of MLB under commissioner Rob Manfred. His criticisms of the game were well ahead of others. He saw all this coming years ago and now other former players are finally beginning to speak up about the sad state of baseball today.

Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly was in the news this week for his eight-game suspension in his performance against the electronic sign-stealing Astros. His 96-mph fastball buzzed behind and over the head of Alex Bregman and his curve ball was thrown in the general direction of Carlos Correa.

All this marked the perfect time to check in with Gossage, who lives in Colorado and takes in some incredible mountain peak views from his home.

Like many, Gossage would have liked to have seen Joe Kelly finish the job. Photo: Houston Chronicle

“Here’s the bottom line,” Gossage told BallNine. “Hey Kelly, you’re out eight games and you didn’t even hit the guy. You didn’t even get your money’s worth. At least make sure (the batter) has an ice pack on his rib cage.”

On-field justice.

So what would have happened if Gossage were part of the Yankees who were beaten in 2017 by the Astros, losing all four games at Minute Maid Park, home of the centerfield camera and banging trash cans?

Goose did not hold back.

“We probably would have drilled the first 10 hitters,” he emphatically told me. “You want to cheat? Here. I can’t believe the Astros did this. I said if I ever had to cheat, if I ever had to load up a ball, I’d quit.”

As for Kelly, Gossage unloaded another one of his 100-mph fastballs.

“I don’t get these guys throwing five feet behind somebody. Just drill ‘em,” he said. “Why are you throwing 10 feet behind him? What is this? They can’t hit a guy. I never missed a guy that I wanted to hit. I knew exactly where I wanted to hit him too.”

Where would Goose aim when such a situation came up?

“I’d aim four inches behind their back and they move back and Boom! In the rib cage, there it is,” Gossage explained of the art of hitting a batter.

That comment may upset some of today’s players and fans and baseball front office people but that is how it was done and not so long ago, either.

“ These kids don’t even know how to knock a hitter down. They haven’t even been taught how to take care of business. ” – Goose Gossage

“I was taught.”

Gossage got to the crux of the matter, the difference between today’s game and his game, the way baseball was played for ages.

“I didn’t invent this game,” said Gossage, who was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. “I was taught it. I didn’t learn this on my own. Other pitchers, the manager and coaches. They’d say, ‘Hey, don’t do anything now let’s get this game and we’ll take care of business later. Whatever. Winning was first. But there will be a time.”

Gossage, 69, then told BallNine such a story. Read and learn how it once was in baseball.

“We start out spring training one year against Baltimore, one of the first days of spring training,” Gossage said. “(Graig) Nettles is leading off one of the innings and the very first pitch to him they hit him. They were trying to intimidate him basically. Then later (Willie) Randolph is at second base and somebody took him into left field on a hard slide and almost killed him. And we are going ‘What the hell is going on here?”’

The Yankees bided their time.

Goose lets one fly. Photo: SI

“The last day of camp, Al Bumbry is up and we are playing the Orioles in Miami,” Gossage said. “It is getaway day, we’re breaking camp. We’re flying back to New York. So I drilled Bumbry in the hip. He was on his back spinning like a top. Well, nobody said anything and I come in after the inning and Willie and Nettles both say to me, ‘Hey man, thanks.’ That’s how we took care of business.”

No commissioner getting involved. No umpires tossing Gossage.

There was a way to do it and Gossage said if an opposing player or team did not do anything wrong to the Yankees he would not just blindly follow orders to hit a batter. He said the first year in spring training as a Yankee Billy Martin wanted him to hit Billy Sample. Gossage refused, saying, “I’m not fighting your fights. I don’t have a beef with Sample.”

Martin was not happy about that, Gossage recalled.

“I’m not going to start something,” Gossage said of his personal code. ”Billy Sample never did anything to me. I already had six years in the big leagues and I was taught by the right people how to handle business and not start stuff.”

All that is a fascinating inside look at baseball in that time.

“I just don’t understand the two feet behind them and three feet above their head,” Gossage said of today’s pitchers. “These kids can’t hit anybody. They don’t want to. They are scared. But that’s because the people in charge don’t have a clue. They read it out of a book. They won their rotisserie league at Harvard and the Ivy League schools and they don’t know anything about the game. Look at the way coaching has gone, it’s now out of a book and if you are not their best friend you are not going to be coaching for very long,” he said of the difficulties facing today’s coaches and the political games played to keep such a job.

“I had coaches who put some feet in my ass, there is some urgency here,” Gossage said. “There is no urgency today. My coaches said, ‘Either you are going to step up or you are going to be doing something else.’ “

That gets your attention. Gossage was a different breed of closer than over the last few generations because he went the distance, not just a one-out save or a one-inning save. As SI’s Tom Verducci noted, Gossage recorded 4-5 out saves 68 times, 6-8 out saves 101 times and nine or more outs 24 times.

As Gossage told me 15 years ago: “God couldn’t get out of some of the situations that I was brought into. Why was I brought in? Because I could get out of them.

“I loved those coaches,” Gossage explained. “The coaching I got was invaluable. I never would have had the career I had if I had not run into these people early in my career … Now they have a bunch of coaches, they don’t even believe in coaching, they don’t allow coaching, you have to be their best friend. It’s just hit the home run now. As for fundamentals – gone. Get them on, get them over, get them in; the beauty of the game – the strategy – not now.”

As for the new extra-inning rule with a runner being placed on second base, Gossage could not believe that is a reality. “Oh my God,” he said. “Baseball is going off the cliff… Manfred is the leader of the nerds and they have a nerd at the top and nerds throughout. All they know is what the computer spits out. Putting a guy on second base, oh my God. Why do they even have managers today? Just put a nerd in the dugout. They are puppets.

“They have no clue of the little things that go into playing the game,” Gossage said. “Numbers only tell you a little bit of the story. You play old school baseball like San Francisco did at one point and the Giants won three World Series out of five. They did it by getting them on, getting them over and getting them in and they did it with guys who were role players that could do the little things; bunt, hit to the right side, do the little things that would score one run. By the end of the game they would have four or five runs. Stuff that wouldn’t show up on paper. And they had a pitching staff, pitching is still the name of the game.”

Speaking like he pitched, Gossage doesn’t hold back. Photo: AP

Kelly throwing behind Bregman is part of the decline. “This is just one little thing of a thousand things that have gone by the wayside of the people running this game who don’t have a clue,” Gossage noted. “Baseball is so upside down.

“We never had these kind of issues. They were settled on the field. The umpires got involved. I’ve gotten kicked out of games after it got escalated and we end up having a fight or something like that. We never started anything. If it got started, we picked our spots to take care of business.

Gossage then looked at the game in its entirety and with passion in his voice said how disappointed he is to see what has happened to baseball.

“The game, where it came from, that torch was passed from generation to generation of players,” Gossage said. “It also was passed on from executives to executives, from managers to managers from coaches to coaches and players to players.

“And that has stopped being passed.”

That is sad.

“The knowledge that is disappearing in this game,” Gossage said. “I didn’t know everything but I had fantastic, tremendous coaching. It was something to behold about how many great people I ran into early in my career. I learned the game and now all that knowledge that was taught to me is going by the wayside. And the base-running is atrocious and nobody says anything.”

Gossage is speaking out for his love of the game and hopes others speak up and that is beginning to happen. Former players are beginning to talk about the shortcomings of today’s baseball.

But more former players need to speak up.

“They say don’t bite the hand that fed you,” Gossage told me. “This ain’t the hand that fed me. This is something different.”

Many people have reached out to him recently but Gossage returned my call because of our long relationship. He is not looking for baseball trouble but when asked a question he will speak his mind. And that is to be admired.

“I’m not going to stop,” Goose promised. “Why should I care what people think when the game is in this state? I’ve lost total interest in the game. I have no desire to watch a game now, especially with cardboard people in the stands.”

This generation of baseball leadership, Gossage said, “is going to be responsible for bringing the game down and ruining it. That’s what their legacy is going to be – in the future when people stop going to the games and they are going to have to put up those cardboard cutouts.

“It just breaks my heart to see this game going the way it’s going.”

44+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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