COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. Rich Gossage isn't so tough anymore.
The grit the Goose personified on the mound as a fearsome relief pitcher in a 21-year major league career was long gone Monday as he toured baseball's Hall of Fame and pondered his impending induction on July 27.
"It's more mind-boggling than I ever imagined," Gossage said. "You just can't comprehend it. I can't even really comprehend my career. I just can't believe that a kid from Colorado, just a big fan of the game, is here. It's totally overwhelming."
After being passed over eight times by the voters, the 56-year-old Gossage was elected in January, becoming only the fifth reliever to receive baseball's highest honor. He follows Hoyt Wilhelm (1985), Rollie Fingers (1992), Dennis Eckersley (2004) and Bruce Sutter (2006).
Gossage had 310 saves and in 125 of those, he recorded at least six outs. He worked more than two innings 52 times.
"Nobody could tell me how the role of the relief pitcher changed because I did all the jobs," Gossage said. "The closers today are so dominant in that role that people kind of forgot what we used to do, the number of innings that we pitched, the jams we used to come into. Now, it takes three guys to do what we used to do. We were kind of abused."
The first abuser was former Chicago White Sox manager Chuck Tanner, who made a special trip to Appleton of the Class A Midwest League in 1971 to help teach Gossage the changeup. Gossage went 18-2, was selected league player of the year and made the jump to the White Sox the next season.
"I never would have made it without the changeup," said Gossage, who also paid tribute to two other mentors, manager Dick Williams and pitching coach Johnny Sain. "I was the long man in 1972 when Chuck put me down there. I didn't want to be in the bullpen. That was an old junk pile down there where old starters went that couldn't start anymore. But hell, I was in the big leagues, I would have cleaned the toilets, whatever was necessary, to stay in the big leagues."
Gossage pitched for nine major league teams from 1972-94, spending parts of seven seasons with the New York Yankees. He will be wearing a Yankees cap on his plaque for good reason.
"I grew up a Yankee fan. My parents were Yankee fans. The Yankees were the team," Gossage said. "Every team I played for was special, but putting on the pinstripes was totally awesome, another out-of-body experience. When I put those pinstripes on, those were some big shoes to fill."
Gossage earned his nickname because he stuck his neck way out like a goose while peering in to his catcher for the sign. And at 6-foot-3, his cap pulled tight over his forehead, those glaring eyes framed by a mangy Fu Manchu mustache, and a fastball that approached 100 mph, in his prime he was as intimidating as any pitcher.
"Chuck Tanner told me when I first came to the big leagues, 'Son, if you don't make that hitter as uncomfortable as you can, you might as well go do something else,"' Gossage said. "Dick Williams taught me the same thing."
Gossage, that famous mustache now gray, claims to have hit only three batters intentionally in his major league career: Ron Gant, Al Bumbry and Andres Galarraga.
"They had it coming," he said.
Well, maybe not Galarraga. He was on a hot streak for the Montreal Expos in 1988 and Gossage, who was with the Cubs that season, said manager Don Zimmer warned the staff not to let Galarraga beat them.
"I'm in the eighth inning, Galarraga's up, first base is open, the game's on the line with two guys on, and I'm thinking back to the meeting before the game," Gossage said with an impish grin. "I was in my delivery when I thought, 'I'm not taking any chances.'
"Boom! I wasn't going to put him on, so I saved four pitches and drilled him as good as I can drill them. Right in the ribcage. You could hear the air go out. It was beautiful."
Fearsome then, fearful now as he contemplates induction day.
"I haven't been as emotional as I was today. I can't even comprehend standing up on that platform and giving a speech and being in the Hall of Fame," Gossage said. "I've got to get busy on my speech. I'm just going to speak from the heart. I'll probably write it the night before. Maybe I just shouldn't even talk. Maybe I'll just give it to somebody to read."