Goose Gossage recalls an 'amazing' 1978 season

World Series repeat the beginning of a pinstriped journey that led to Monument Park
06/25/2014 10:27 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Goose Gossage had 10 wins, a 2.01 ERA and an AL-high 27 saves in 1978.(AP)
On Sunday, in talking about his inclusion in Monument Park, Rich "Goose" Gossage quipped that "in a career, you run the gauntlet of ups and down and highs and lows, and I certainly ran the gamut with the Yankees."

And as he told stories of his time in pinstripes, Gossage added that nothing better encapsulates the above statement than the 1978 season, saying it was "in a nutshell, the highs and lows of a career."

That year was Gossage's first in pinstripes, and arguably most successful; sure, he had more wins in 1983, more saves in 1980 and a better ERA in the strike-shortened 1981 season, but those 1978 Yankees won the World Series with "Goose" throwing 134 1/3 innings out of the bullpen and saving a league-high 27 games.

Had you asked him in April of that year, though, he probably would have said it was the worst ever.

"When I showed up in 1978, I came over with the thought of being the best lefty-righty combo ever with Sparky Lyle. I didn't come to take his job - he was the Cy Young Award winner, they were world champs and I had just joined the team and hadn't won anything - but I stunk the place up," Gossage recalled. "We opened on the road and I lost two ballgames on that first trip before we came back here."

That poor start led to a result that many Yankees have incurred as they started their careers in pinstripes: derision.

"Our home opener, they introduced us numerically; I was No. 54, and Kenny Holtzman was No. 53, right ahead of me," Gossage remembered. "Kenny gets introduced, and they hated him more than anyone I had seen…until I was introduced. I brought the house down with boos, and when I got to the line, Kenny was laughing and said 'they ain't yellin' Goose!' I was just standing there and I was too involved in this noise to laugh; instead, I looked around and said 'I'm gonna change these boos to cheers.'"

It would get worse before it got better for Gossage, as he took another tough loss in Toronto a few days later to drop his record to 0-3 - but that's where his teammates stepped in.

"I was at the lowest point of my baseball career when I lost a game in Toronto, and I kind of collapsed in my locker for about an hour, until I see this hand come through my clothes," he said. "There were five or six guys outside my locker, and they pushed the clothes away and said 'come on, let's go.' It was Catfish (Hunter) and Thurman (Munson) and Lou (Piniella), and I think Graig (Nettles) was there, and they said 'we're going to dinner and you're going with us.' And that meant the world to me for those guys to pick me up like they did."

More than five months later, the Yankees - who themselves had run the gamut of play, from cellar-dwellers to first-place juggernaut - beat the Red Sox in a one-game playoff to win the AL East, and Gossage got the save that night.

He almost blew it, allowing two runs in the eighth to let Boston pull within 5-4 and loading the bases with two outs in the ninth - but just as he had all season, Gossage battled back, and he got Carl Yastrzemski to pop out to Nettles at third to send the Yankees to the playoffs.

It's a moment many Yankees fans remember fondly - as does Gossage, who laughed Sunday that "if I don't get Yaz out, who knows where Mr. Steinbrenner sends me!" - and it led to his only World Series ring, one that fittingly bears a motto that still means a lot to Gossage but is also one he can look back on and laugh.

"On the inside of our rings, Mr. Steinbrenner inscribed 'the greatest comeback in history,'" he said, "and it never would've been that if I hadn't dug us such a deep hole!"

That ring, and what it represented, was indeed a full circle: from high to low, despair to delight, worst to first, it was the proof that tough times don't last, but tough people do.

"My first time putting on the pinstripes, I had put so much pressure on myself that it took me a few months to kind of settle down," Gossage said. "I worked out of those tough times eventually, and it took a couple months for me to turn those boos to cheers, but I did, and it was an amazing season."

And for all the people he thanked on Sunday, when his place in Yankees history became even more cemented, Gossage said he owed everything - 1978 included - to "The Boss" himself.

"I've always said this about Mr. Steinbrenner: You hated to see him coming, and now you miss seeing him coming, and that's the kind of impact he had," Gossage recalled at the end of his Sunday press conference. "I'm not so sure that had anyone else bought the Yankees, they would've kept the Yankees the Yankees the way George did. He recognized that value and understood exactly what the Yankees stood for, and over the years he kept the Yankees the Yankees."

Steinbrenner passed away in 2010, although he too has a plaque that lives in Monument Park and will shine next to "Goose's" in perpetuity - and to Gossage, it's that memorial that highlights the true greatest Yankee of all-time.

"We miss him a lot, and nobody's going to fill those shoes; it's unfair to really expect anybody to try, because there isn't a man on the planet who could fill George's shoes. I always said that if you weren't as demanding of yourself as he was going to be, it wasn't going to work out. It was an amazing experience playing for him for six years."

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