Rich “Goose” Gossage called playing for the Yankees and at Yankee Stadium an out-of-body experience, including the time he was booed before the 1978 home opener for an inauspicious first week with the team.
When he was introduced for his first New York home opener after spending the previous six years with the White Sox, he stood next to Ken Holtzman, whom the fans already did not like. When he heard some of the same boos, Holtzman reminded him those fans were not saying “Goose.”
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Thirty-six years later the fans were yelling “Goose,” especially on Sunday when the Hall-of-Famer was introduced at Old-Timers’ Day and honored with a plaque in Monument Park for his role on the team that came back from 14 1/2 games out, beat the Red Sox in a one-game playoff and claimed their second straight World Series title against the Dodgers.
“It’s overwhelming,” Gossage said. “To have it on a day, my favorite day, Old-Timers’ Day, and to receive it today, in front of all those guys, in front of all of those fans [is great]. I had the privilege of playing with eight other teams. I loved every moment of every other team that I had the privilege of playing with and all I wanted to do when I started out was a put a big league uniform on one time.
“I still can’t describe it, amazing, all the adjectives you can throw at. I spent six years here and my favorite day during the season was Old-Timers’ Day. Getting to meet [Mickey] Mantle, [Roger] Maris. Those were the guys [I looked up to]. Mantle was my favorite player growing up as a kid and I couldn’t imagine trying to get a guy out like Mantle or all the greats I looked up to.
The road to Monument Park didn’t start out positively for Gossage, who gave up a walk-off home run to Richie Zisk in Texas and a two-run seventh inning double to Milwaukee’s Don Money in his first two outings.
“You run the gauntlet of highs and lows, ups and downs and monuments and valleys. I certainly ran the gamut with the Yankees,” Gossage said. “When I showed up with the Yankees as a free-agent signing I came over with the thought of being the left-handed, right-handed combination with Sparky Lyle.”
For Gossage, the moment that became a turning point was a week after the home opener when he misplayed a bunt by Toronto’s Dave McKay for an error that allowed the winning run to score. After dropping to 0-3, he buried himself under clothes in his locker for about an hour before Catfish Hunter, Thurman Munson, Lou Piniella and Graig Nettles offered encouragement and invited him to dinner.
That year also involved Billy Martin even though he wasn’t managing. At Old-Timers’ Day that year, the Yankees concealed him under the stands before introducing him and saying he would return for the 1980 season.
“Playing with the Yankees was never a dull moment with all the character,” Gossage said.
Goosage grew up rooting for the Yankees in Colorado. He made his first appearance at the Stadium on Sept. 1, 1972 for the White Sox and the first two hitters he faced were future teammates Bobby Murcer and Roy White.
“I was like a little kid,” Gossage said of his first visit to Yankee Stadium. “When I got the mound, I looked around and the umpire said, ‘Let’s go, what are you doing out here?’ I was in my own little world shaking and I didn’t even think my legs could even hold me up. I was shaking and trembling so badly and I looked around and said, ‘Dad, this is for you.’”
Torre talks Hall of Fame
Joe Torre spent his weekend at Yankee Stadium attending the ceremony honoring Tino Martinez on Saturday and Old-Timers’ Day on Sunday.
Besides working in his role as MLB’s vice-president for operations, Torre has been accepting congratulations for getting inducted into the Hall of Fame, primarily for his role managing the Yankees to four championships.
“It’s just been congratulating me and well-deserved,” Torre said of what he has heard from fans. “It still hasn’t really settled in for me yet. I get stopped all over; there are Yankee fans all over the world. All over the country people still acknowledge my time with the Yankees and thanking me and all that stuff. Not that I’m uncomfortable with it because I certainly appreciate it but it’s just something that never gets old, let’s put it that way.”
Damon enjoying life, not officially retired
Johnny Damon was among the newest old-timers, along with Hideki Matsui. Both played key roles in the 2009 World Series with Matsui getting MVP honors and Damon creating a big run in Game 4.
While Matsui has officially retired after ending his career with Tampa Bay in 2012, Damon has not officially submitted his retirement papers.
Damon played for Detroit, Tampa Bay and Cleveland after not re-signing with the Yankees. He still holds out hope a team will call him but if that doesn’t happen after spring training next March, he will likely officially announce his retirement.
“It feels really good,” Damon said. “It’s great to be back here in front of these fans. Obviously, I wish I could’ve played for the Yankees for much longer. Things happen for a reason. I’m at home enjoying my six lovely children, watching my son get ready to do what I’ve done.”
In the meantime, he was at the event to soak in the appreciation from the fans, just like he did in Boston for the 10-year anniversary celebration of the Red Sox winning their first World Series in 86 years.
“It means a lot to me,” Damon said. “I was very fortunate and blessed we were able to win a championship here. Because of that, I can show my face here as much as I like.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.