On his first day at Yankee Stadium as a Yankee, Goose Gossage received a reaction he never will forget. "I brought the house down with boos," he recalled Sunday. "Kenny Holtzman said, 'They ain't yelling, 'Goooooose.' "
That was 1978 and Gossage had been signed as a closer, even though the Yankees had won the 1977 World Series on the strength of Cy Young Award closer Sparky Lyle. By the time the Yankees had their home opener in '78, Gossage already had blown three games. So during home opener introductions, fans showered him with catcalls louder than the ones they gave to Holtzman. "And they hated Kenny Holtzman," Gossage said.
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"I didn't chuckle at what Kenny said. I was too involved in this noise," he said. "I stood there on the first-base line and said, 'I'm going to change these boos to cheers.' "
And so he did, many times over. His 1978 season, which included retiring Carl Yastrzemski to end the one-game American League East playoff, helped him get into the Hall of Fame and made him a popular figure in the Yankees pantheon. He heard nothing but massive cheers Sunday as he was given a plaque that will become a fixture in Monument Park.
It could not have been different from his first day. "This," he said during the ceremony, "is the greatest day I've ever had."
The honor resounded with Gossage on several levels. During his six years with the team, on his way to the bullpen, he always looked reverently at Monument Park in the old Yankee Stadium. Every time he went in there after he retired, he said, he got goose bumps. "No pun intended," he said, adding that his late parents were ardent Yankees fans in Colorado and that during his first 1972 game at Yankee Stadium, his legs were shaking so badly from nerves that he thought he might keel over.
To be enshrined on Old-Timers' Day was "indescribable."
"I spent six years here and my favorite day every season was Old-Timers' Day, getting to meet [Roger] Maris and [Mickey] Mantle," he said, recalling that he used to share his locker with Ralph Terry, a few stalls down from Joe DiMaggio.
He joked that his poor start put the 1978 Yankees in position for a historic comeback and acknowledged that the players did not always see eye-to-eye. He said: "When we went between the lines, man, I'd put that team up against any team, ever. That's just the kind of team Mr. Steinbrenner put together."
Of Steinbrenner, he added, "I've said, you hated seeing him coming and now you miss seeing him coming."
Now, their legacies are both there to be seen forever in the Yankees shrine.