Gossage forever part of the Yankees family
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is a busy man these days. Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte are new to the fold. Jarrod Washburn may or may not be on the verge of joining them. And just in case you were too immersed in the Tour de France or the Devin Hester contract machinations to notice, New York is in the middle of a rather pivotal series this weekend at Fenway Park.But Cashman still found time to get in his car at 7 a.m. Sunday and make the solitary four-hour drive from Boston to Cooperstown to watch Goose Gossage enter the Baseball Hall of Fame. That's quite a statement -- pausing to embrace the past while the present is filled with potential roster upgrades and wall-to-wall text messages in advance of the trade deadline. "Goose is a major part of the family, and this is where I needed to be," Cashman said. "It was a no-brainer. I don't get out of the office too easily. But when a Yankee is getting in there, it's an honor to watch those men get their due." The 2008 Hall of Fame ceremony, by the classic definitions of lodging availability and parking prices, was one of the sleepiest in recent memory. A year after 75,000 fans covered every blade of grass at the Clark Sports Center to watch Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn give their induction speeches, an estimated crowd of 14,000 showed up to honor Gossage, Dick Williams and four posthumous inductees: Walter O'Malley, Bowie Kuhn, Billy Southworth and Barney Dreyfuss. In comparison to the summer of 2007, this seemed as much like a respite as a celebration. But what the event lacked in marquee value, it made up for in emotion and homages to tradition. If you thought that the Yankees and sentimentality didn't mix, think again. Gossage played for nine teams in his 22-year career, pitched in a World Series with San Diego and has been quick to credit former White Sox manager Chuck Tanner and Chicago teammate Dick Allen as two of the most profound influences in his life. But his most indelible and enduring moments came as the Yankees' closer from 1978 through 1983, and you were reminded of the link at every turn on induction day. When Gossage glanced behind him on the podium, he saw fellow Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson and Whitey Ford. When he looked out into the crowd, he saw former teammates Graig Nettles, Ron Guidry, Mickey Rivers, Jim Beattie, Sparky Lyle and Roy White lending their support. Heck, even the new Hall of Fame president, Jeff Idelson, is among an army of harried and tormented media relations directors who once worked for New York owner George Steinbrenner. Gossage began his speech by thanking Cashman, Yankees chief operating officer Lonn Trost and Steinbrenner's daughter, Jenny, for being on hand for the occasion. And when he combed the recesses of his mind, the most vivid images were Yankees-related. Growing up in Colorado Springs, Colo., Gossage received his earliest exposure to the majors watching Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese calling the "Game of the Week" on television. He was a Yankees fan from the outset, and all sorts of ambitions swirled through his head when his dad ferried his Little League team to games in the family's International Harvester truck. "Mickey Mantle was my favorite player, as he was for millions of other kids around the country," Gossage said. "I thought Mickey and all the other great players of that era were fictitious, kind of like cartoon characters who really didn't even exist." Hall of Famers, as a rule, get giddy and boyish upon joining the club, but Gossage is taking the concept to a new level. It took him nine years to make it, and he's acting like a man who truly never expected this day to arrive. Even casual references lead to knee-buckling displays of emotion. Gossage cried when reflecting upon the absence of former Yankees catcher Thurman Munson, who died in a plane crash in 1979, and paid tribute to other late Yankees teammates Jim "Catfish" Hunter, Jim Spencer, Aurelio Rodriguez and Bobby Murcer. "It's sad that so many people I've talked about are deceased or gone," he said. But so much of his current whirlwind is about looking to the future and enjoying the ride. Two weeks ago, Gossage experienced a huge rush during pregame ceremonies at the All-Star Game. Now, he's taking advantage of his national forum to lobby for Steinbrenner to join him in Cooperstown one day. "All I ever wanted to do was put on a big league uniform for one day," Gossage said. "That one time turned into 22 years. I just can't comprehend that. I still have to pinch myself that I had that kind of career." If there's ever any doubt, Gossage has witnesses -- including a guy who took a break from the American League East pennant race to attend his first Hall of Fame induction ceremony. "This is the ultimate recognition for Goose, to be included in the class of all classes," Cashman said. "It was a great speech. He could run for president now, I think." Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.
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