Baseball Hall of Fame electee Goose Gossage answers a question...

Baseball Hall of Fame electee Goose Gossage answers a question about baseball's steroids scandal at a news conference in New York. (Jan. 10, 2008) Credit: AP

TAMPA, Fla. -- Goose Gossage took pains to say it, repeating the same phrase several times Saturday.

He did not, and was not, taking any credit away from Mariano Rivera.

But calling Rivera the "greatest" closer of all time is anything but automatic for the former reliever.

Gossage pointed out that the one-inning specialist is a relatively recent development, starting primarily with Dennis Eckersley in the late 1980s with the A's. He added that it is a development that has overshadowed what relief pitchers such as Gossage himself, Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter did, which is pitch multiple innings at the end of games.

"I think that these guys are so dominant in that one-inning role that they've forgotten what we used to do," the former Yankees closer said. "It takes three guys to do what we used to do."

Gossage, a Yankees spring training instructor, added: "Believe me, I do not want to take anything away from this guy, this guy is right up there. But had we been used like that, hard telling what [our] statistics would be. They'd be right there. We were dominant in that role for three innings."

Gossage, who accrued 310 career saves with a 3.01 ERA over 22 seasons, had 193 saves of at least four outs to Rivera's 116. There's an even bigger gap in six-out saves -- 125 for Gossage and 11 for Rivera, none since 2006 (Rivera had two six-out saves in the 2009 postseason).

"I believe had Mo been used like us, he might have 350 saves," Gossage said. "You just wouldn't have had the numbers. The workload was amazing."

Gossage's point, again made repeatedly, wasn't to disparage Rivera, whom he continually praised. It was to put the roles of relievers over the years in context.

"I would throw out the challenge of, do what we did and we'll compare apples to apples, and I believe today is the way they should be used," Gossage said. "I'm not taking anything away from Mo . . . We know we could have finished the ninth, Sutter, Rollie Fingers, myself. Could they have withstood that workload? I guarantee the numbers wouldn't be what the numbers are. It's impossible statistically to do it."

And to Gossage, Rivera's 608 career saves are merely a number. To him, the consistent excellence in the New York fishbowl stands out the most.

"What a career he's had, and on the biggest stage in baseball," Gossage said. "That's another thing you have to consider, what he did where he did it. And what a guy. Not only is he a great pitcher, he's as great a person as you would ever want.

"Those kids down there, [David] Robertson and Joba [Chamberlain], have the greatest role model that you could ever have."

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