"It's amazing," Gossage said last week. "I can't imagine standing up there on that stage at Cooperstown. The anxiety's killing me. Just the anticipation is overwhelming. I don't really know what I'm in store for. This is a first experience for me. And first experiences, we have to go through to experience it. I'm looking forward to it so much."
Williams was one of five managers and executives elected late last year by separate, newly formed Veterans Committees. He received 13 of the 16 votes from the committee assigned to vote only for managers and umpires.
World Series-winning managers Williams and Billy Southworth of the Cardinals were elected along with Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and two owners, Walter O'Malley (Dodgers) and Barney Dreyfuss (Pirates). The latter threesome was selected by a 12-person panel charged with examining pioneers and executives only.
Although all will be inducted, Williams is the only living member of the quintet. This past January, Gossage was the sole player elected by the Baseball Writers' Association of America in his ninth year on the ballot.
On Friday, a statue of Buck O'Neil, the late great Negro Leaguer, will be unveiled in the red-bricked museum on Main Street. O'Neil will also be honored with an award in his name and he will be the first recipient. Joe Morgan, the Hall of Fame second baseman and an ESPN analyst, is expected to accept the award for O'Neil on Sunday.
O'Neil passed away in 2006 only months after he missed election to the Hall by a single vote as 17 of his Negro League brethren were selected by a special committee. They were all inducted two years ago when Bruce Sutter, another closer from the Gossage era, was the only player voted in by the writers.
O'Neil opened the festivities that year, and eying a sun-baked crowd of about 11,000, sitting under a clear blue sky, he said these three words without missing a beat: "This is outstanding."
Williams, now 79, mused last year that he might never make it either, saying that upon his death he planned to have his ashes spread around tiny Doubleday Field, because "I thought that might be the closest I got."
And then the votes came tumbling in.
2008 Induction Ceremony
"I'm getting excited and maybe a little nervous," Williams said. "Goose said he feels the same way. Goose and I have been at a lot of events and signings [this year]. We've talked a lot. It's been so darned wonderful. It's like a new life. I figured it was going to be different, but I didn't think it was going to be this different. I get chills even thinking about it."
Both men haven't received this much attention in decades. Williams' career ended in 1988 and Gossage hasn't picked up a baseball in competition since 1994, although his days as a dominant closer were over well before the end of the 1980s.
Williams won the World Series twice (1972-73) as manager of the A's and will go in wearing an Oakland cap. He managed the Padres in 1984 and teamed with Gossage and Gwynn as they won the first National League pennant in franchise history before losing a five-game World Series to Detroit. Williams also won the American League pennant in 1967 as a rookie manager with the Red Sox.
Joe Torre, now the Dodgers manager, went toe-to-toe with Williams in the mid-1980s when Torre managed the Braves and Williams managed San Diego.
"Dick was a great manager," said Torre, who seems assured of his own spot eventually in Cooperstown after managing the Yankees to four World Series titles, six AL pennants and 12 consecutive postseason appearances. "He did it in both leagues. He was a very smart manager, as far as I'm concerned. You couldn't top him technically and strategy-wise. I thought he'd be in the Hall of Fame long before now."
Williams' big league managerial career began in 1967 with the Red Sox and ended in 1988 with the Mariners.
But his success in Oakland under the cantankerous owner Charlie Finley will be his lasting legacy. He'll go into the Hall wearing a green and gold cap because of three first-place finishes in the AL West and 280-198 record in his three Oakland seasons. Overall, he had a 1,571-1,451 record (.520 winning percentage) in his 22 seasons as a big league manager.
Williams is only the fourth manager from his era to be enshrined in the Hall, joining Sparky Anderson of the Reds and Tigers, Tommy Lasorda of the Dodgers and Earl Weaver of the Orioles.
Williams had several epic World Series battles with Anderson. Williams' A's defeated Anderson's Reds in the 1972 Fall Classic, while Anderson's Tigers whipped Williams' Padres in 1984.
Williams said he expected a lot from his players.
"I was fair, but I was demanding," he said. "I wasn't the nicest guy in the world, although I certainly wasn't a tyrant. [These days] I'd get fired within in a week. My style of play doesn't fit in with all these millionaires now. Listen, more power to the player. He's getting that money. They're bigger, they're stronger, but I don't think they know baseball as well as we knew it or still know it."
Gossage, who just turned 57 years old and fell short by 21 votes in 2007, was named on 466 of 543 (85.8 percent) ballots cast this past December.
Gossage had one of his best years under Williams in 1984, his first of four seasons with the Padres, finishing 10-6 with 25 saves and 84 strikeouts in 62 games (102 1/3 innings). He was on the mound in the ninth inning of Game 5 against the Cubs in San Diego to close out the NL Championship Series, his final postseason save.
"I'm really happy he got in because I really thought he should have been in a long time ago," Gwynn said about Gossage. "Goose was one of those guys who was very outspoken. He wanted to win. You got a chance to see first-hand a guy take control of the game."
Gossage's 23-year career is a road map of baseball stops around the world: Chicago (White Sox and Cubs); Pittsburgh; New York (Yankees, twice); San Diego; San Francisco; Fukuoka, Japan; Arlington; Oakland and Seattle.
His 1978 Yankees team, after Gossage pitched the final 2 2/3 innings to vanquish the Red Sox in a one-game playoff, went on to defeat the Dodgers in a thrilling six-game World Series. Gossage, a nine-time All-Star, was the winner of Game 4 of that World Series, pitching the final two scoreless, hitless innings of a 10-inning, 4-3, come-from-behind win. He also saved the first two games against the Dodgers in the 1981 World Series, although Los Angeles came back to win the last four games for the championship.
As opposed to today, Gossage pitched in an era when relievers routinely were given the ball in the seventh inning and asked to close out the game.
"When we went out to play we honestly thought it was a six-inning game," Gwynn said. "If you didn't do much damage against us in the first six innings, Goose was going to come in and shut the door. I saw him do it a lot."
He finished 18th on the all-time list with 310 saves, but remarkably, 52 of them came in games in which he was required to record seven or more outs. By comparison, of his 390 saves, Dennis Eckersley pitched five such games. Trevor Hoffman, the all-time leader, has two of 541, and Mariano Rivera, third all-time, one of 467.
"I've always said what they do today is easy compared to what we used to do," Gossage said. "Certainly the numbers that these guys are putting up is the reason why it took awhile [for the writers] to figure out where they were going to put relievers [in the Hall]. They're so dominant in that one-inning role, they kind of forgot what we used to do."
For Gossage, it was the second time in the past three years that a premium reliever was the only player elected by the writers to the Hall. Two years ago Sutter was elected in his 13th year on the ballot.
Sutter, who had 300 saves in a 12-year career shortened by arm injuries, was preceded by Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers and Eckersley -- three closers who, like Gossage, also started during their stellar careers. Sutter is the only reliever inducted who never made at least one start.
"I'm probably the only pitcher to see the evolution of the bullpen from the time I broke in to the way it is today," Gossage said. "That's the only point I've ever tried to make: Please don't compare me to these modern-day relievers. It's apples and oranges. It's not the same game."