Why the New York Yankees won’t retire Goose Gossage’s number

Jul 20, 2019; Cooperstown, NY, USA; Hall of Famer Rich Gossage arrives at the National Baseball Hall of Fame during the Parade of Legends. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 20, 2019; Cooperstown, NY, USA; Hall of Famer Rich Gossage arrives at the National Baseball Hall of Fame during the Parade of Legends. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports /

Right-handed relief pitcher Rich “Goose” Gossage played for the New York Yankees for seven years (1978-1983, 1989) and for various other clubs during his 23-year career in MLB. He was especially a sensational hurler during his time with the Yanks.

In 533 innings pitched for the Bronx Bombers, Gossage had a 2.14 ERA, 179 ERA+, 151 saves, 512 strikeouts (8.6 per nine innings), a 2.60 FIP, and a 1.079 WHIP. Amazingly, he only gave up 31 home runs during that time. He was selected to the All-Star team four times. He had three top-five finishes in the American League Cy Young Award voting. In 1980, he was third in the American League MVP voting.

Gossage threw a high-velocity fastball with considerable movement. He possessed an exceptional command of his pitches and instilled fear in opposing hitters throughout his career. The righty was a monster on the mound and a throwback to a different era. Unlike many relief pitchers today, he frequently threw for multiple innings.

In 2008, he was elected to the Hall of Fame with 85.8% of the BBWAA vote — remarkable support for a relief pitcher.

Gossage is part of Yankees lore. In 1978, he helped the Yanks hang on for a 5-4 victory in a one-game playoff involving the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. He left the tying run at third base by getting Carl Yastrzemski (an old nemesis) to pop up for the final out. Also, Gossage was able to rescue Ron Guidry and get the last out (a pop-fly by Ron Cey) of the 1978 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger stadium. And it was Goose who threw the home run pitch to George Brett that triggered the great pine tar controversy in 1983.

On June 22, 2014, the Yanks awarded him a plaque in Monument Park for his outstanding play with the Boys in Pinstripes.

While this is a terrific honor, why haven’t the Yanks retired Gossage’s jersey number (54)? After all, he was one of the most dominant relief pitchers in MLB history.

Goose Gossage burned too many bridges with the Yankees

If today’s ballplayers are generally scared of saying something provocative or critical, the Bronx Zoo teams of the late 1970s look like absolutely wild men. Manager Billy Martin, who was repeatedly hired and fired, was never shy about speaking his mind, whether sober or drunk. Reggie Jackson, Mr. October, openly clashed with captain Thurman Munson as well as Martin.

Gossage suffered a severe thumb injury in 1979 when he fought in the showers with brawny designated hitter Cliff Johnson. And overseeing it all was the mercurial and autocratic George Steinbrenner, the self-designated overseer of the Bronx Zoo in all its glory.

After Gossage retired, he was a regular participant in Old-Timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium for 20 years. He enjoyed seeing old friends and never missed a game. The Yanks also invited him to Spring Training as a volunteer roving instructor to advise the young pitchers trying to make the team. Undoubtedly, his presence inspired many players to work hard and learn as much as possible about pitching in the big leagues.

But Goose was old school through and through. In March 2016, he called out Jose Bautista (then with the Toronto Blue Jays) and Yoenis Cespedes of the New York Mets for their exaggerated bat flips. He also argued how “analytics nerds” were destroying the game. General manager Brian Cashman met with Gossage and asked him to dial back the rhetoric and be more considerate. After all, the Yanks have one of MLB’s largest quantitative staffs.

Before the 2017 season, Cashman spoke to Gossage’s agent and told him that his client could return for Spring Training but only if he promised not to be outspoken and insulting. His agent talked to Gossage, who vowed to behave and control his criticism.

However, that did not happen. After Spring Training began, Gossage, in an interview with NJ.com, complained about being compared to Mariano Rivera and Aroldis Chapman, both of whom were rarely asked to pitch more than one inning in relief, unlike Goose.

An attempt at rapprochement with Gossage by the Yankees

This led to another meeting with Cashman, which included manager Joe Girardi and the club’s director of media, Jason Zillo. But nothing really changed.

Later, Zillo wrote that while it was OK for Gossage to believe the Yankee organization should be run differently, it was better to have a constructive dialogue about the topic. However, being “disruptive, disrespectful, and detrimental” to the team is another matter.

Zillo went on to say that the organization respects Goose as a great Yankee and a member of the Hall of Fame. However, he said that the team disagrees with Gossage’s positions and how he continuously presents them. Zillo then offered an olive branch by seeking a sign of contrition from Goose.

That did not happen. Instead, using expletives, Gossage said that he had an urge last year to stuff Cashman in a garbage can. That didn’t go over well, as you can imagine.

The righty was not invited back to Spring Training again, and he was left off the invitation list for the following Old-Timers’ Day event. In media interviews that followed, Gossage said that he did not regret anything he had said. He was at peace with all the comments he had made.

Based on the overall quality of Goose’s performance as a player for the Yankees, he deserves to have his jersey number retired. However, given his caustic comments and his rude behavior, one can see how Yankee executives have been unwilling to bestow this honor. The Yankees are all about image and character, which has made this decision a relatively easy one for the organization.