From pitch framing to statistical analysis, front offices are trying to gain every edge that they can. Some people are less appreciative of the effort than others. After Loose Gossage’s recent outburst, Lisa Carney feels the need to set a few things straight with a little history lesson and a reality check.
Imagine the scene in the Yankees’ front office early in the afternoon of Friday March 11, when Brian Cashman and his geek squad got wind of Rich “Goose” Gossage’s inflammatory rant (originally on ESPN.com, and later repeated for Michael Kay on ESPN Radio). Pencil holders, scouting reports and spreadsheets, half-drunk cups of coffee, and pocket protectors must have been flying through the air as everyone scrambled to find a metaphorical mute button for the Goose.
Now, we’re not even going to get into the part where Gossage criticized his own employer’s front office by trash-talking the sabermetric “nerds” who have ruined baseball for him and everyone else out there trying to make America great again. We all know how SoSH views the predictive, team-building power of number-crunching, and it’s a matter of record that Cashman stands right along with us. That debate was tired five years ago.
The better question is, why did he feel the need to pick a fight with the division-rival Toronto Blue Jays and their All-Star slugger, Jose Bautista? After hours of searching for the stories that would shame Joey Bats and detail the trail of his disgusting behaviors, the only thing uncovered was Bautista’s love of the game, his talent to entertain, and his humble acknowledgement of his fans’ adoration. Notably missing were allegations of steroid use, news of him suing Major League Baseball, the commissioner, team doctors or the Players’ Union, or blatantly cheating on the field. Now those are disgusting trends, so if the Goose really wants to shape up the game, he should look no farther than his own house to start the repair work. But again, don’t tell Cashman to fire the stat brats. He really seems to find value in their finding value. But, this still leaves us wondering: What is it, exactly, that got the Goose’s feathers all in a ruffle?
Last season, the Blue Jays lineup lit the baseball world on fire, assaulting pitchers with one scorching line drive after another. Baseball fans marveled (at least when their pitchers weren’t the ones being tortured) as the Blue Jays’ offense was must-watch viewing for anyone who craves power swings. Front and center in the carnage was Jose Bautista, demolishing one baseball after another, sending 40 of them on one-way, long-distance trips out of the ballpark. It was also a season of redemption for the Jays who, after years of unfulfilled potential, won the AL East division title and made their first playoff appearance since 1993. Maybe Goose didn’t like the Yankees finishing second to the Jays, a significant six games back in another playoff-free season for the Bombers. While the Yankees cleaned out their lockers and made early vacation plans, the Blue Jays rumbled through the Texas Rangers, ultimately knocking them out of the Division Series in an epic Game 5 clincher.
Which brings us to the bat flip:
You don’t have to be a Blue Jays or Rangers fan to appreciate the emotion behind the famous Joey Bats Flip – just a baseball fan. In context, it was all part of a much larger moment. It served as a punctuation to the highlight. Most of us got giddy when it happened. It was baseball being baseball at its best.
But in the laid-back setting of a spring training interview, Gossage found it necessary to rail against it. Like all Bautista did was hit an ordinary home run that in the end didn’t really mean much to his team or fanbase. Ho-hum, yawn, no reason to celebrate. No reason to be jacked because you really, really wanted to win that must-win game. Just a whole lot of “go sit your ass in the dugout and appreciate how the game was played ‘before you got here.’” Yeah – that phrase. It appears around the 1:57 mark in the ESPN Radio interview, followed immediately by a complaint from the George Steinbrenner-era Yankee about money ruining baseball. Dear Lord. Someone please get the Goose out of the hot sun before he strokes out.
If you take Gossage strictly at his spoken words, he speaks of a time in baseball when decent men played a game of honor with gentlemanly respect. Now, it’s a bunch of overpaid hooligans showboating for a completely disgusted audience. Players would do best to simply emulate the moderately-paid Derek Jeter. The Captain would never celebrate or show up an opponent.
Sitting in the hot sun also must have cost poor Gossage his memories of fellow teammate (and current Yankee guest instructor) Mickey Rivers. It’s hard to believe that Mick the Quick and his bat twirls would have a problem with anybody’s bat flips or jazzy handshakes. Even the ultimate Yankee himself, Mickey Mantle, managed some pizazz with that lethal swing – so it’s not just about “us old guys don’t like it.”
Mickey Mantle with the original Bat Flip pic.twitter.com/4GblBnSOQ8
— Baseball Swag™ (@Baseballswag_) February 20, 2016
From the chillaxed atmosphere in spring training, it’s easier for players to open up. Most days they’re literally feet away from the fans, and many will even engage in light banter as they make their way from field to field to clubhouse. The strict rules limiting the amount of coaches during the regular season are off, and team legends once again don their uniforms to stroll amongst the lucky. Often labeled “instructors,” their exact roles can be a mystery to fans, but no matter how the team uses them, they add flavor to the spring backdrop of baseball. Still, that doesn’t mean spring training is a family picnic, where Drunk Uncle can unsnap his shorts and tee off on anything that pricks his fancy. People will take heed to Gossage’s message. He’s a Hall of Famer who pitched championship-winning innings for one the largest fan bases in baseball. His legacy is firmly entrenched in the Yankee dynasty. He’s going to be quoted in barroom arguments, and somebody looking for a reason to be angry will hold on to his words.
So back to that scene in the Yankees front office, where the pencil holders and pocket protectors are just starting to settle down. The Yankees’ quick action to call out Gossage and tell him to stick a pin in it was the right thing to do. Here’s hoping they also threw a history lesson into the talking-to and reminded him of the honest past of the good ol’ days for good ol’ boys.
Baseball is beautiful, a sport replete with poetry. But we can’t forget its beginnings in the late 19th-century industrial setting. This humble game, that we rightly love so much, was originally played by angry, poor immigrants, who – judging by Hall of Fame exhibits – were unkempt, pugnacious racists, and the only bat-flipping was directed at umpires, opposing teams, or even your own teammates, if they deserved a good drubbing.
When Goose Gossage arrived in 1974, the game was still wrestling with race issues, including resistance to the unwanted “flair” of Hispanic players like Orlando Cepeda and the late Roberto “We’re Gonna Call You Bob” Clemente. There was also rampant amphetamine and cocaine use, and baseball labor issues had recently succeeded in ending the award-winning career of the one perennial All-Star, Curt Flood, who dared to stand up to the owners.
Also in this game of honor, it was completely permissible to take a rock-hard object and whip it at a batter’s head if he somehow managed to rub you the wrong way. Or, you could wipe out an infielder by coming in spike-high at his knees. Hard-nosed baseball included running like a tank into the catcher because that’s how you knock him and the ball out. Yes indeed, a real gentleman’s endeavor. But, please, no happy bat flips, that’s just disrespecting the game.
Nevertheless, we’re all here because, despite its myriad flaws, we love baseball. Also, we’ve learned to make peace with the past by leaving it behind and working hard to do better.
You don’t need to be in a ‘Stat Pack’ or a Ken Burns fan to know Gossage should stop talking now, and minimize his odds of disgracing the Yankee brand any further. Despite some folk’s wish-casting perceptions, it is not a good idea for an employee to just fire off half-cocked and tell it like he thinks it is for all the universe to hear.
So take a deep breath, Goose. The game has changed. And 99% of it has been for the better. Players show emotion, the Jumbotron and TV cameras capture that emotion close-up, and fans are invited to share in that emotion with them. We know it’ll be hard for you, especially since you don’t much cotton to the notion of evolution. Science is for nerds. Quick… that guy’s wearing glasses… throw the ball at him.
Now this here, is how a classy guy respects the game.
Lisa Carney has written about the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, Pedro Martinez, and a Dustin Pedroia trade.
Like Lisa on Facebook here.