Year Inducted: 2008 (BBWAA, ballot #9, 466/543)
There are some positions that are incredibly underrepresented in the Hall of Fame. The BBWAA has been loathe to vote in many DH’s (Frank Thomas making it primarily due to his time at first base, and Paul Molitor due to his time at third base), but has also failed to elect many third basemen and relief pitchers. Until 2004, there were two relief pitchers inducted in Cooperstown: Rollie Fingers and Hoyt Wilhelm. Then, in 2004, there was a breakthrough. A truly great reliever was inducted easily on the first ballot, having been recognized as a game changing player and a dominant force at the back of the bullpen for years. That man was Dennis Eckersley. The selection of Eck itself didn’t cause any controversy-he belongs in the Hall of Fame. However, the fact that the BBWAA passed over other relievers that were multi-inning pitchers, like Sutter, did. And one of the loudest critics of the election was one of the best firemen ever, Goose Gossage.
Gossage quickly became the gold standard for relief pitchers in the 1970’s and 1980’s. In his 22-year career, Gossage racked up 310 saves, 124 wins (against 107 losses) and threw over 1800 innings. Gossage was a tall, hard throwing big guy and used his intimidation on the mound to his advantage, striking out over 7 guys every nine innings on average with a career total of 1502, and posting an ERA of only 3.01.
Like many pitchers, Gossage was brought up as a spot starter for the White Sox in 1972. After three years of demotions, sporadic use and middling results, the Chisox put Gossage in the pen full-time in 1975. That year, he threw over 140 innings, saved 26 games and showed immense promise to become the best closer in the game. In 1976, Chicago tried once again to make him a starter and he stalled out; throwing more than 200 innings with mediocre results. Gossage was shipped off to Pittsburgh after that, permanently stuck in the bullpen, and the rest is history.
Upon his retirement, Gossage ranked (among relievers with more than 1000 IP) first in shut downs (over 400) and fWAR, third in innings, third in wins, second in K-rate and fourth in saves. His saves ranking is misleading to a degree. By the time that Gossage retired, one inning closers had become the norm and pitchers were saving more games than pitchers normally would have during Gossage’s prime years.
Gossage’s ire at Eckersley’s induction prior to his has some merit to it. Gossage had to wait nine ballots before finally being inducted, and he rightly felt slighted by it. However, Eckersley managed to save eighty more games than Gossage did (despite pitching longer as a starter, and being better at it than Gossage was), and didn’t become a full-time closer until he was in his early 30’s (compared to Gossage who made the change at 25). Gossage was probably the better reliever, but Eckersley was the better pitcher.
Gossage’s cantankerous feelings about current closers compared to those who pitched in his day aside, Gossage was easily the best fireman of all-time. He combined power pitching and intimidation to become the best, and should have been recognized sooner as a Hall of Famer.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 10/22/16: This dominant lefty pitched for his home town Tigers in the WWII era of the game.