Goose Gossage cements Yankees legacy on his favorite day of the year

06/23/2014 12:27 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Goose Gossage waves to the Yankee Stadium crowd during Sunday's ceremonies.(AP)
Rich Gossage played 22 years in Major League Baseball, going to nine All-Star Games and recording 310 career saves - making him one of just 26 pitchers ever to notch 300-plus. He won a World Series with the Yankees in 1978 and played in two other Fall Classics, and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.

And yet, "Goose" considered Sunday, when he was honored by the Yankees with a plaque in Monument Park, as perhaps the greatest honor of his professional life.

"I still can't describe this…it's amazing, and any other adjective you could throw at it," Gossage said Sunday. "My kids being born stands alone as the greatest moment of my life, but as a career…this is maybe the greatest moment. So many great things have happened to me in my career, up to going into Cooperstown and getting word I had been elected to the Hall of Fame - and even the home runs I gave up were great! - but this is right there."

To have it happen on Old-Timers' Day was doubly special for Gossage, who recalled that the event was always his favorite day of the year when he played for the Yankees from 1978-83.

"It's overwhelming. To have it on my favorite day, and to receive this in front of all those guys and all the fans is amazing. I spent six years here, and my favorite day of every season was Old-Timers' Day," he said. "Getting to meet Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, who was my favorite player as a kid…I met Mantle at my first All-Star Game in 1975, and I couldn't even talk."

Gossage returned for a pinstripe cameo in 1989 and has been a staple at Old-Timers' Day since his retirement, but no matter how many he shows up for, his first as a player in 1978 will always be a fond memory.

"My first Old-Timers' Day? Oh my god, sitting in that clubhouse and watching these guys was amazing," he said. "I thought these guys were fictitious cartoon characters who didn't exist, so meeting them was amazing. To see Maris, and Joe DiMaggio and Moose Skowron and Hank Bauer and Tony Kubek and everyone…I couldn't imagine trying to get guys like them out. It was an amazing experience."

That love carried on throughout the years, a connection that even one who knew nothing about the history of the Yankees could sense as "Goose" recalled sharing a locker with Ralph Terry and called Old-Timers' Day "a great connection from generation to generation."

And, as he tells the story, it was fitting that it all began in 1978; Gossage played for nine teams total and spent only six-plus of his 22 seasons with the Yankees, but Gossage doesn't think any of it compares to the "Bronx Zoo."

"Playing with the Yankees was never a dull moment, with all the characters we had on that 1978 team and all the personalities," he recalled. "It started at the top with George (Steinbrenner), and there was Reggie (Jackson) and Billy (Martin)…so many strong personalities on that team. It was a veteran team, and it was an amazing team - the greatest I ever had the privilege of playing for - and what was most amazing about that team was that they could forget about all the distractions when they went between the lines; they could separate what happened in the clubhouse from what happened on the field. That's just the kind of team Mr. Steinbrenner had put together."

And, as strange as it may seem for a boy from Colorado, the aura around that team was just a small part of what made the Bronx his favorite stop during his career. 

"I had the privilege for playing for eight other teams as well as the Yankees, and loved every moment of it - all I wanted to do when I started out was put on a big-league uniform one time, and that turned into 22 years - but there was nothing like putting on the pinstripes for me," he said. "As great as it was to play for any team, it was an out of body experience when I first put that uniform on. Every time I walked into the Stadium, I got chills and goose bumps - no pun intended. And every time I came back, whether it had been a day since I had been there or a year, when I walked into that stadium I got chills again."

Those chills were extra cold for Rich "Goose" Gossage on Sunday, as he not only cemented a place in history, but also in the Yankees' new address at 1 E. 161st Street.

"I never really had a connection to the new Stadium…but I definitely do now."

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