The day the Goose knocked down the Penguin, my sister cried. The Penguin was her favorite player, but poor Ron Cey, standing in the batter's box in the fifth game of the 1981 World Series, never had a chance against the 96-mph fastball that socked him in the head. As Cey lay motionless and my sister wailed in front of the television set, I thought, "Stay down, stupid Penguin, stay down."
Born a San Francisco Giants fan, my nine-year-old heart cringed at the sight of Dodger Blue. Therefore, Goose Gossage became an instant -- if scary -- hero. Nineteen years later, the Colorado Springs native recounts that infamous pitch in his new memoir, The Goose Is Loose, co-written by Russ Pate.
"I knew that if I went to home plate to check on Cey's condition -- our catcher, Rick Cerone, later told me Ron's eyes rolled back in his head -- I might lose my competitive edge," he writes. "I couldn't afford that with the World Series on the line. I still had a job to do."
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It was a pleasure to read that Richard Gossage really was the coldhearted competitor he portrayed on the mound. Sure, the machine-gun arm and hulking six-foot-three-inch frame were innate. But it was the Goose who grew the Fu Manchu mustache, developed an awkward delivery that hinted at madness and insisted on throwing at batters' belt buckles. Had it all been an act, there would have been two crybabies in the family.
Unfortunately, the Goose and his biographer succumb to laugh-a-graph, superficial sportswriting. Considering the Goose's career spanned 22 years -- he appeared in 1,002 games, earned 312 saves, made six All-Star appearances and was present for some of baseball's most remarkable moments -- baseball geeks searching for new insight into the game, a deeper explanation of the craft and meatier clubhouse action are left with crumbs.
In one scene, the Goose's doctor tells him he needs to stop guzzling beer because he's allergic to barley and hops. After spending three-fourths of the book spilling big-league drinking tales, the aging Goose offers that he hasn't sipped alcohol in seven years. An allergic reaction? C'mon, Goose. There's more of a story to that -- but not here.
At the end of his career, the Goose kept playing as long as someone would hire him, bouncing from club to club. In the spring of 1994, no one called him -- but he wasn't upset. However, "I did feel a keen disappointment that the expansion Colorado franchise wouldn't give me a tryout," he writes in a chapter titled "Don't Cry for Me, Colorado." "Ending my career playing at Coors Field in Denver would have meant a great deal to this native Coloradoan."
I recently asked the Goose, politely, if he would throw me a few pitches when he returned from helping out with the Yankees' spring training in Florida. The Goose declined, noting he only throws for his son's batting practice. I told him about the day he terrorized my sister and made me a fan.
"I get that all the time, especially in New York," he told me. "Kids who are 21, 22, 23, 24 come up to me and tell me that I scared the hell out of them."
The Goose chuckled. "I must have made a hell of an impression on these kids, because they look at me and they say, 'Daaangg.'"