Gossage, who just turned 57, needn't have worried, although he didn't wear a suit. He and Dick Williams, his former manager when both were with the San Diego Padres, looked resplendent on the stage behind the Clark Sports Center. Gossage wore a tan sports jacket and white slacks and Williams a black suit.
"What an honor," said Williams, who went in wearing an Oakland A's cap for his part in managing that team to back-to-back World Series titles in 1972-73. "This has to be one of my most memorable times. I can't believe I'm standing here in front of these prestigious Hall of Famers. I'm not going to look back, because I'm going to start bawling."
Both were inducted after long waits. Williams' final game as a manager was in 1988. Gossage, who last threw a big league pitch as a reliever just before the strike that wiped out the remainder of the 1994 season and postseason, made it in his ninth year on the ballot distributed each December to eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. He was enshrined wearing a Yankees cap.
"My whole career is kind of storybook," said Gossage afterwards. "If I had to write out a script, I wouldn't change a single thing. All I ever wanted to do was put a big league uniform on one time. And that one time turned into 22 years. I can't comprehend that. I can't comprehend that I had that type of career. The longer that I'm retired, the further away that career gets. I just can't put it all into words."
Williams and Gossage were accompanied on the stage by 54 of the other 62 living Hall of Famers -- the 56 total being a record to attend an induction ceremony. They were later joined by various family members and representatives for the other four inductees, all of whom have passed away: Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, manager Billy Southworth and pioneer owners Walter O'Malley of the Dodgers and Barney Dreyfuss of the early 20th century Pirates.
2008 Induction Ceremony
Williams, 79, was elected by a reconstituted 16-person veteran's committee that examined managers and umpires only. The others were selected by the 12-person committee overseeing pioneers and executives.
The group of returning Hall of Famers included such superstars as Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, Frank Robinson, last year's inductees Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr., and the two oldest living enshrined players: Bobby Doerr and Bob Feller. Doerr recently turned 90, and Feller is 89.
A large contingent of Yankees executives were there in support of Gossage -- owner George Steinbrenner's daughter, Jennifer; Lonn Trost, the team's chief operating officer; and general manager Brian Cashman. There as well were former Yankees players Ron Guidry, Graig Nettles, Mickey Rivers, Jim Beattie, Roy White and Reggie Jackson, a fellow Hall of Famer who was on the stage with Gossage.
"They were with me on that great 1978 [World Series] championship team," Gossage said. "That was another highlight of my career."
On a day when a hot sun played nip-and-tuck with a sea of swimming billowy clouds, Mariners announcer Dave Niehaus was honored with the Ford C. Frick Award, and the late Larry Whiteside of the Boston Globe was presented with the annual J.G. Taylor Spink Award for excellence in baseball writing. Former Negro Leaguer Buck O'Neil was also the first recipient of a lifetime achievement award in his name.
"I just wish everyone could experience the feeling I'm having now," said Niehaus just after he stepped up to the rostrum. "There will never be anything like it again in my lifetime."
Tony Whiteside accepted the award for his ground-breaking African American father, whom almost everyone simply knew as "Sides."
"I'm standing up here trying to fill some enormous shoes," he said. "It's an impossible task."
On Friday, a statue of O'Neil was unveiled just off the entrance to the red-bricked museum on Main Street. Joe Morgan, the Hall of Fame second baseman and an ESPN analyst, accepted 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. The Hall's board of directors created the statue and award in O'Neil's honor earlier this year.
"Some might say this lifetime achievement award is a bit overdue," Morgan said. "However, for the award's first recipient and namesake, Buck O'Neil, the honor should be considered right on time. Being right on time has been both an irony and hallmark of Buck O'Neil's life."
Dreyfuss, who died at the age of 66 in 1932, oversaw the most successful era of Pirates baseball and made a $2 million investment in Forbes Field, the team's Pittsburgh home from 1909-1970.
"We are very pleased that Barney Dreyfuss is finally being reunited with the legendary Honus Wagner in the Hall of Fame," said Andrew Dreyfuss, one of the late Dreyfuss' twin great-grandchildren, "and deeply honored that he is joining 12 other Pirates in the Hall, including Ralph Kiner and Bill Mazeroski, who are on the stage with us today."
Kuhn, who died last year at 80, was the fourth Major League Baseball Commissioner inducted, joining Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Happy Chandler and Frick. His widow, Luisa, accepted the plaque from current Commissioner Bud Selig.
"I'm sincerely humble to be on this stage," said his stepson Paul Degener, who made the acceptance speech. "We in the Kuhn family are grateful for recognizing what my dad did for baseball, but most importantly, what baseball did for my dad. The game was paramount. It was the game that brought us together."
O'Malley, who died at 75 in 1979, bought the then-Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950 and spearheaded Major League Baseball's western expansion by moving the team to Los Angeles after the 1957 season.
"Our family has thought a lot about what my father would've done today," said O'Malley's son, Peter, who ran the club until it was sold in 1998. "My dad would have been a proud member of the Class of 2008. And tonight, he would've thrown a great party. My dad always knew how to throw a party."
Southworth, who passed away in 1969 at 76, managed two World Series champions and two more National League pennant winners with the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Braves from 1942-1948. He also played on the 1926 Cardinals team that defeated the Yankees in that World Series.
"We're all proud of Billy Southworth and his election to the Hall of Fame," said Bill DeWitt Jr., the chairman of the Cardinals, who accepted the plaque and spoke on Southworth's behalf. "He was a humble and private man who taught his children that humbleness is greatness. He was a winner in every sense."
Gossage and Williams tried their best to keep their emotions in check.
The yardstick seemed to be the 180-second speech delivered in 2001 by Mazeroski, the great Pirates second baseman, who broke down in tears at that point and left the stage, never to return on that day.
"Tony Gwynn told me the other day, when you look at your family, you're going to break down," Williams said, referring to a man who played along with Gossage on the Williams-managed Padres that won the 1984 National League pennant. "Then he said, 'Pick out a tree and talk to the tree.' I just hope it's not a weeping willow."
It must have worked. Williams began to choke up a little when acknowledging his family about a minute into the speech. Several times, he stopped and took some deep breaths, even losing his place at one point, but ultimately, he made it through his 20-minute presentation.
"It wasn't beautiful, but we got it done," Williams said afterward.
Gossage raised his plaque on high, launched into his speech and easily made it through the first 2 minutes, 30 seconds, talking about his childhood growing up as a Yankees fan, and his family. And then he went on from there, finally breaking down 10 minutes into his 17-minute talk as he mentioned his teammates, now deceased: coach Larry Sherry, catcher Thurman Munson and fellow Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter, among others.
"They were my dear friends and added to the fun of my baseball career," Gossage said. "I feel very honored to wear a Yankees cap into the Hall of Fame today and be part of that great Yankees tradition. You may have heard me say that my career was like a kid getting on his favorite ride at Disney World and not getting off for 22 years. Thanks for sharing the ride with me, you guys. It's been amazing."