Getting Goosed From The Hall

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - January 17, 2007
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It’s really bizarre. For the sixth year in a row, the guardians of baseball’s sacred memorial have seen fit to deny one of the era’s greatest relievers induction into the hall of fame.

While Goose Gossage says he is no longer in any hurry to gain acceptance since the passing of his mother, someone needs to explain how he has continued to get snubbed by voters - especially in a year with only two shoo-ins and another who was served up as an example to future bad boys.

Yes, we realize that voters are still coming to terms with the mostly modern position of the closer. But while only four finishers have made the hall, the inclusion of Hoyt Wilhelm - who began to ply his trade in 1952 - should offer enough historical evidence to get these individuals some serious consideration. Gossage deserves it.

Back in the days when relievers had to do more than just pull into the parking lot to qualify for a save, Gossage was simply the most intimidating pitcher in baseball - starter, reliever or whatever. OK, Ryan was pretty fearsome as well, but you get the idea.

Gossage unleashed pitches with near unrestrained fury from his 6-foot-2-inch, 226 pound frame. Glaring at the hitter from behind his large walrus mustache and with a seemingly constant sneer, his pitches came in fast and with unpredictable movement.

Unlike modern throwers who are for obvious reasons known as closers, Gossage and the like were tabbed firemen because they came into the game with a great chance of getting burned. The bases were juiced and the game dangerously on the line. They rarely had the luxury of entering a game in the bottom of the ninth with a comfortable lead and no one on base.

By today’s over-inflated standards, Gossage’s 310 saves may only leave him at No. 15 on the list, but to anyone who had ever seen him pitch, there is no question that there have been few better. Seeing Gossage enter the game in the seventh or eighth inning was painful for rival fans because, right then, you knew the game was over.

There was good reason for that belief.

From 1975-1985, minus his one year as a starter, Gossage went 76-54, with 253 saves and 923 strikeouts in 974.2 innings. Add to that a 2.06 ERA and nine all star selections, and that’s hall of fame, jack. While Gossage’s votes have gone up steadily over the years - from 32 percent in year one to 71.2 percent this time - nothing is guaranteed. In fact, there may be something to worry about because votes don’t always continue in an upward-ly direction. A player needs 75 percent of the vote for induction.

Jim Rice’s totals have risen and fallen three times in a journey that has now reached 13 years. It began with 29.8 percent in 1995 and had risen to 42.9 percent three years later, only to drop by 13.5 points the next. At the turn of the century Rice’s percentage ballooned to 51.5 then went on a roller coaster of 57.9, 55.1, 52.2, 54.5, 59.5, 64.8 and finally 63.5 this year. Another Hall of Fame hopeful, Bert Blyleven, saw his support drop from 53.3 percent to 47.7 percent in the last two years.

Gossage needed only 12 more supporters this year to gain entry, and just as others have wondered how eight voters didn’t think enough of Cal Ripken or 13 couldn’t see Tony Gwynn’s qualifications, one has to wonder what goes on inside the heads of voters. But these three are not alone.

In 1936 no member of the opening cast was elected on all ballots. Rodgers Hornsby (.358 average and 301 home runs) had to wait through five cycles, including getting only 17.5 percent of the vote in 1938. In 1945 and ‘46 writers found no one worthy of entry, even with Lefty Grove (a .680 winning percentage), and Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown (career 2.06 era) waiting on the list. This was repeated three years later for another two-year run with Harry Heilman and Mell Ott staying home. Joe DiMaggio waited three years, 20 didn’t vote for Ted Williams, 23 for Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron came 11 votes short of the obvious.

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