They celebrated Oldtimers Day at Yankee Stadium with all the usual Pomp and Circumstance that annually accompanies this exercise in nostalgia. Nobody does ceremony better than the occupants of the museum in the Bronx.
It was the 40th anniversary of the 1978 championship team and the usual suspects were on hand – Bucky Dent, whose three-run homer won the playoff game against Boston, Ron Guidry, who won 25 games and the Cy Young Award that year, Reggie Jackson, who hit 27 home runs.
Goose Gossage, however, was not in the building.
How significant was Gossage in Yankee lore? He is the only Yankee relief pitcher in the Hall of Fame. He won 10 games and led the league with 27 saves and 55 games finished that season. He had a 2.01 earned run average and got Carl Yastrzemski to pop up for the final out of the memorable playoff game against Boston that clinched the pennant.
But he is persona non grata in Steinbrenner-land these days because he exercised that basic American right called freedom of speech.
Gossage had the nerve to speak out against analytics—a tactic they love in the Bronx. He criticized New Age baseball with its affection for changing the game he once dominated. He sees the Tampa Bay Rays starting relievers to begin a parade of pitchers in every game. He watches teams use defensive shifts that bunch three infielders on one side of the diamond, leaving the other side exposed and hitters refusing to take advantage of the gaps, swinging for the seats instead. He watches closers throw one inning maximum out of the bullpen where he routinely earned saves with two or three innings at a time. And he shudders at what they’ve done to his game.
Gossage’s opinions and his tendency to broadcast them to anybody who would listen aggravated the buttoned-down Yankees, especially when he railed against general manager Brian Cashman, who declined to invite him as a spring training instructor. His criticism of current closers reflected on Yankee icon Mariano Rivera, who was a one-inning wonder out of the bullpen.
Gossage violated a basic rule in the museum: Thou shalt not speak out against the Yankees. So he was invited to stay home when the Yankee oldtimers gathered. Take that, Mr. Big Mouth.
They can blacklist him but they won’t silence him. Gossage is a strong-minded, strong-willed individual. Those qualities made him the dominant reliever of his time. He sees the game he played and loved being tinkered with by a generation that has beaten strategy into submission and acts as if it never heard of a stolen base or a sacrifice, who know only from home runs, strikeouts and walks.
Instead of hits runs and errors, they live for the alphabet soup of Sabermetrics – WAR and OPS, spin rates and exit velocity. Gossage and his generation didn’t need fancy new generation numbers. They had good, old fashioned baseball ability. Many of them gathered at Yankee Stadium to remember the old days when baseball was a lot simpler. Gossage remembered them from a distance.