I’ll say this for the members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. When it comes to the annual Hall of Fame election, they have become masters of the obvious. Automatic selections like Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn did manage to earn their rightful elections to Cooperstown, even with misguided writers submitting blank ballots for self-righteous reasons. Yet, when it comes to subtler selections, players who weren’t iconic figures but were still dominant stars for extended periods of time, the Baseball Writers haven’t shown a similar aptitude.
If I had a ballot, I would have voted for five others in addition to Ripken and Gwynn: Alan Trammell, Dale Murphy, Jim Rice, Bert Blyleven, and Rich "Goose" Gossage. Murphy and Rice are certainly debatable picks; they both flamed out suddenly at relatively young ages. But the other three are pretty obvious. Trammell was one of the three best shortstops in baseball in the early eighties, and one of the two best after Robin Yount moved to the outfield. Blyleven was a phenomenal pitcher who had the misfortune of losing a lot of low-scoring games; otherwise, he would have easily achieved 300 wins.
And then there’s Gossage, who has been on the ballot for eight years and has never received more than the 71 per cent of the vote he picked up this time around. (If only the rest of the baseball writers had followed the lead of the MLB.com writers, each of whom voted for Gossage.) The Goose is the most egregious omission on this year’s ballot—an omission that serves as a black mark against the writers’ voting patterns in recent years. To me, it’s patently obvious that Gossage, who led the league in saves three times and finished second two other times, belongs in the Hall of Fame. Here are a few reasons why:
*For nine straight years, Gossage posted ERA’s of 2.90 or less. That’s right, from 1977 to 1985, Gossage didn’t have even one season with an ERA as high as 3.00. That’s a pretty long level of peak performances. Some of his ERAs were eye-popping: 1.62, 2.01, and an unfathomable 0.77 in the strike year of 1981. And it’s not like he did that pitching as a situational reliever; he logged large numbers of innings during that time, far more than typical closers do in the current-day game.
*In recent years, Sabermetric research has shown the value of pitchers who can strike out large numbers of batters, thereby putting less pressure on the fielders behind them. Well, Gossage was a Sabermetric dream in this respect, reaching 100-strikeout totals five different times as a reliever and matching Rollie Fingers’ career total. Bruce Sutter achieved that only three times. And to show how the nature of relief pitching has changed since then, Mariano Rivera has done it once, and that was in 1996, as a set-up reliever to John Wetteland.
*Gossage was an absolute workhorse. Unlike the pitching fashions of today, which require one inning per night from a closer, Gossage often pitched the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings in recording saves. Four times in his career, he accumulated 100 or more innings while pitching out of the bullpen. Pitching for the 1978 World Champion Yankees, Gossage pitched more innings than either Jim "Catfish" Hunter or Jim Beattie, the team’s fourth and fifth starters.
*Except for his legendary tangles with George Brett, Gossage was an excellent reliever in the postseason. Over a span of eight postseason series, he posted a 2.87 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 31 innings. He did his best postseason pitching in the World Series, with an ERA of 2.63 in 13 innings.
*One could make an argument that Gossage was the best reliever of the 1970s. Only Hall of Famers Fingers and Sutter can really take their rightful places in that argument. Is there not room in the Hall for a third reliever from the decade that introduced a spectacular level of relief pitching?
In my mind, Gossage was at least the second-best reliever of that era, just behind Fingers. Gossage enjoyed a longer peak than Sutter, and also had the longer career. It’s still not clear to me why Sutter is in the Hall of Fame—and Gossage is not.
Hopefully the writers will rectify this inconsistency next year. It would only come about eight years after it should have.