- Bob Klapisch, MLB
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NEW YORK -- Goose Gossage is in his seventh year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame, and admits he's running out of bullets (and rhetoric) trying to sway voters, who have thus far ignored him. Barely half considered Gossage Cooperstown-worthy last year, despite the reliever's logic, statistics and appeal for baseball to return to its roots, when the game wasn't about phony muscles and equally-artificial records.
"Maybe people have just forgotten what baseball used to be like," Gossage said the other day. "I heard some writer on TV say, 'all Goose ever faced was a bunch 150-pound hitters.' That was so ridiculous, so disrespectful of the great players who played this game. Maybe [voters] don't remember."
Gossage shouldn't have to sound like a man begging for spare change, but he's seen Dennis Eckersley, a closer with an arguably thinner résumé zoom by him into the Hall. So the Goose keeps pounding away at the wall of ignorance, unembarrassed to say, "I hate to see injustice."
He has a point. In fact, it's a travesty that Gossage has been excluded from the Hall. During his 10-year prime, he allowed fewer hits per nine innings (6.1) than Eckersley (7.5), Rollie Fingers (7.8) and even Mariano Rivera (7). Gossage's ERA in that golden era was a mere 2.03, which is better than Bruce Sutter's 2.62.
An endless series of comparisons favors Gossage over his peers, and even allows him to go chest-to-chest with the great Rivera. But what has held the Goose back, sadly, is his modest save total -- just 310, less than Eckersley (390), Trevor Hoffman (436) and Rivera (379). Goose's only crime is that he pitched in an era before closers racked up saves the way a younger Madonna used to go through boyfriends.
So what does Gossage do? He keeps answering questions from curious writers, refusing to soften, edit or silence his opinions. It's not in Gossage to suffer quietly like Sutter, who in Goose's words, "was always the kind of guy who didn't care about this stuff. A great guy, but Bruce definitely wanted his privacy. He's pretty much fallen off the face [of the earth]."
So Gossage serves as his own campaign manager, pumping up the volume as election day approaches. He recently told the New York Post, "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."
His work (and words) might soon pay off, however, considering this year's ballot is relatively light. Without any slam-dunk, first-ballot candidates, Gossage and Sutter could get the recognition they deserve -- or at the very least, a closer look at the numbers that should've taken down that wall years ago.
For instance, a measurement called Similarity Score, invented by Bill James, finds that Gossage is a closer match for Hoyt Wilhelm and Fingers than any non-Hall of Fame reliever.
And as the Post further cites, Gossage averaged 2.1 innings per relief appearance in 1978. In 2005, Rivera averaged just one inning. Only once has Rivera struck out more than 83 batters in a season. Gossage did it eight times, and fanned 100 batters six times.
More? The New York Daily News marshaled a telling stat from Retrosheet -- that Sutter and Gossage average 4.73 and 4.72 outs per save, respectively, while Eckersley averaged 3.33.
The point should be fairly obvious: Gossage and Sutter worked harder than Eckersley and certainly Rivera, and deserve to be recognized for what was a very different job than it is today. Not that Gossage has any animosity toward Rivera. Quite the contrary, he says: "If you have a guy like Mariano in your bullpen, you should find a way to use him every night.
"That's what he's there for. That's why set-up men are becoming more and more important. I wouldn't be surprised if one day a set-up guy gets in the Hall of Fame just for what he does in the seventh and eighth innings."
But first things first: Gossage will need an enormous wave of converts to gain election -- 102 additional votes from last year's total, to be exact. Goose will make history if he can close the gap, since the current record is the 97 votes Yogi Berra gained for his induction in 1972. But preelection polls suggest Gossage might finally be on the way. For once, a vote for Sutter doesn't necessarily mean a vote against Gossage, which has been the case in previous years.
Even if the numbers get tossed aside and Gossage is subjected to the low-tech litmus test some writers insist on -- did his career have a Hall of Fame aura? -- Goose still comes out ahead. The right-hander, now 54, was the most dominant and feared reliever of his era, regardless of how his role was defined. That should seal Gossage's verdict, even if his legacy was diluted by the last seven or eight years, when he was no longer an elite-caliber reliever.
Still, Gossage doesn't regret hanging around until 1994, not when he was being clocked at 92-93 mph. As he said, "if you've got a kid coming out of high school throwing that hard, I guarantee you he'd be drafted pretty high. The only thing that hurt me was I set the bar so high earlier in my career, so when I came back to the pack, it didn't look as impressive. But I still got guys out. And I still loved to play. That shouldn't be a reason to vote against me."
Not this time. Not when logic and statistics converge in a perfect storm, boosted by a gene that won't allow Gossage to no-comment his way to Cooperstown. With or without the volume, the Goose is one step (and one vote) closer today.
Bob Klapisch is a sports columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.