For the greatest players in virtually any sport, their finest moments are often so numerous that the memories of their career are distilled into iconic images of the most elemental quality. Thus do we think of Goose Gossage, with a sinister mustache as intimidating as his glare, defiantly staring into home plate before suddenly rearing back and firing a fastball of Herculean dimensions. The man who came to define the evolving role of the relief pitcher for two decades rode that 100-mileper-hour heater all the way to Cooperstown. In a profession so uniquely obsessed with statistics, the numbers for Goose Gossage hardly tell the whole story. A nine-time All-Star, he led the league in saves three times and recorded more than 20 saves in a season on 10 occasions. That’s a lofty resume by the standards of any era, but Gossage played at a time when the strategy surrounding relief pitching was changing dramatically. Many of his saves required two or more innings, a feature that would eventually become a rarity as the age of specialization further narrowed the closer’s role. In 22 seasons he toiled for nine different teams, but most fans think of him as a New York Yankee, an assessment validated by the Hall of Fame, which cast him in bronze as a Bronx Bomber for his induction in 2008. On seven occasions he recorded the final out to clinch a division, league or World Series title, many of those in historic postseason contests against the Yankees’ archival Red Sox, or against the club’s frequent ALCS nemesis Kansas City. Gossage’s 310 lifetime saves and 3.01 ERA compare favorably to the two great relievers who paved the way to Cooperstown – Hoyt Wilhelm and Rollie Fingers – but the story of his dominance in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s almost had to be seen to be believed and understood. From 1977 through 1983, the ERA never climbed above 2.62, and in the strike-shortened season of 1981 the final mark was an eye-popping 0.77. For most of his career, his annual strikeout totals would exceed his innings pitched numbers; right-handed batters – the majority party in Major League Baseball – managed to bat a humble .211 against Gossage over his career.




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