Goose hopes contracts are appreciated

Goose hopes contracts are appreciated

NEW YORK -- Speaking in the heart of America's financial capital, new Hall of Famer Goose Gossage said Thursday that he welcomes the exorbitant money being offered this week to such stars as CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira -- but that he does not think today's players fully appreciate what made it possible.

That worries the former reliever almost as much as the prospect of having to go on strike back in his day, when labor wars routinely clouded the national pastime. Today he sees peace, spectacular salaries and a new player attitude.

"Baseball players fought to get in the position these players are in now," Gossage told during an appearance at the Sports Museum of America, where he met with hundreds of underprivileged kids and helped a Toys for Tots drive. "When I broke in, in 1972, the minimum salary was $12,500 [It is now $390,000]. I have seen everything from 'Sign this contract or go dig a ditch' to multi-year contracts. I have been through all six labor stoppages we ever had in Major League Baseball -- '72 was the first one, and then my career ended on the last one, in 1994 when I was with the Seattle Mariners. That was the ugliest one, because we lost the World Series as a result.

"I don't think the kids today really have a clue -- especially if the guys have never been through a work stoppage. On the Yankees, A-Rod is the only player who was around for the last one. They don't really know how they got to make that much money. There are a lot of inflated egos, guys who think they are better than they are, but overall I'm happy for them. ... I'm very happy for the Yankees getting CC. He deserves it."

Major League Baseball is in the midst of its longest stretch of labor peace. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement between management and the MLB Players Association expires on Dec. 11, 2011. There are no present indications of anything that might hinder a peaceful extension of that agreement.

There actually have been eight strikes or lockouts since 1966 -- when Marvin Miller, an economist with the U.S. Steel Workers of America, was chosen by the players to be the Association's first executive director.

Hot Stove

"He belongs in the Hall," Gossage says of Miller.

That total includes five strikes (1972, '80, '81, '85 and '94-'95), and three instances in which the owners locked out the players ('73, '76 and '90). As Gossage correctly notes, Alex Rodriguez is the only current member of the Yankees who was around during that '94 season; the team's main core all came in '95.

Gossage said he does want to see a return to the owners-union adversity that prevailed for so long, but he does want the modern player to understand what went into today's contracts, such as the seven-year, $161 million deal the Yankees offered to Sabathia.

"I don't think the game can afford what it went through in '94," Gossage said. "That next year, it took guys like Big Mac [Mark McGwire] and [Sammy] Sosa to really bring people back. That was hard. It's not something you want to do.

"People ask me, 'What is the biggest change in the game?' I believe the innocence of the game is gone. It was a love of the game. Money has really changed that. It's become a big business. That's missing. That feeling that I had the privilege of playing."

Asked if players used to think about "contract years," Gossage said, "When you were playing it, the money never really entered into it. It was, financially, your family, and you kind of survived it year to year, then you started getting multi-year contracts. I always approached it thinking I had to make that team. I never had a problem motivating myself. ... I was just fortunate to be making a living for something I'd do for free."

There definitely was innocence in the air Thursday morning at the Sports Museum of America, which is a grandiose new facility right across the street from the iconic golden bull just around the corner from the holiday-festooned New York Stock Exchange. The highlight of Gossage's appearance was when he took a stage in front of hundreds of children who were all seated before him, each holding up a red foam giant hand with the No. 1 index finger. They asked him questions, and it went like this:

Child: "Can I have your autograph?"

Gossage: "No [Lots of moaning]. If I signed one, I would have to sign them all."

Child: "What do you think of the Yankees getting Sabathia?"

Gossage: "That's a huge start in preparing for next year. One of the best pitchers in the game today. That's a great start, great question. I don't think they're done."

Child: "How old are you?"

Gossage: "I'm about 57 years old."

Children, collectively and with feeling: "Whoooooaaaaaa!"

Gossage: "Old enough, buddy."

Child: "Do you miss playing baseball?"

Gossage: "Yeah, I wish I could have done it my whole life. I promised myself I would give it my best shot. I was never gonna say, 'Coulda, shoulda, woulda.' I only wanted to put my uniform on that one time, and that one time turned into 23 years. So I'm very happy."

Child: "How did you like playing for the Yankees?"

Gossage: "I played for nine different teams and loved every team. Putting on pinstripes, playing for them was a lot of pressure, but one of my greatest experiences."

The kids were from PS 16 in Corona Queens, near Shea Stadium, constituting the entire fifth grade there. It is a Title 1 school, considered the most underprivileged in the New York City public school system. The 240-or-so students were brought there by Harlem Hip Hop Tours, and after that Q&A session, several were chosen to pose with Gossage as they all dropped toys into a Toys for Tots container.

"I was just fortunate to be making a living for something I'd do for free."
-- Goose Gossage

Susan Burnett teaches "Self Contained Class" -- a special education program for children at PS 16. Going through the exhibits with the students, she was especially amazed at how riveted the children had been during the session with Gossage.

"For them to pay attention to anything is amazing," Burnett said. "I don't get their attention for that long in the classroom. This is waking up their brains and making them think. I can use that in the classroom. It's so valuable, because I can make a connection back in class, that maybe I couldn't make before."

Like those kids, Gossage toured the Sports Museum of America himself, paying close attention to the original Heisman Trophy (it is the official home of that trophy) and, of course, the baseball room. He said he has not yet decided what artifact of his own to contribute, but whenever he does, it will be among a fairly remarkable collection. John Urban, president of the museum located at 26 Broadway, said it features nearly 1,000 artifacts to go along with a wealth of interactivity and special events space.

"Six months into it, we've gotten phenomenal response from visitors," Urban said. "We were shooting for a new kind of museum, a museum attraction, and that's what it has become. We initially asked: 'How do you touch them, how do you create total immersion for them?' Our challenge was to create a flow over 90 minutes, which is about the average time it takes to go through chapter and book.

"One thing we've learned first-hand is, the event business is particularly strong. We're also doing family pricing, with a Family Pack that costs just $45 for a family of four. We've been trying to learn and adjust, and the exposure and excitement that's been created for us through events like this has been tremendous."

It is important to note that the Sports Museum of America works in collaboration with the Halls of Fame from other sports. In fact, an exit room in the museum serves to point visitors toward those respective Halls, such as the one up in Cooperstown, N.Y., where a certain dominating former reliever was inducted just last summer.

Gossage said the Induction speech was one of the hardest things he ever had to do, and it "hung over my head. I have never been so relieved to get it over with."

He also said that he has been invited back as a special instruction coach for the Yankees' next Spring Training; Jim Rice deserves to be voted in on his 15th and final year on the Hall ballot; he still regrets losing to the Dodgers in the 1981 World Series because "we had the better team"; he enjoys the constant world of signing autographs and "always enjoyed the fans as a player"; his whirlwind first year as a Hall-of-Famer has been a "life-changing experience"; and the Yankees aren't done acquiring.

"I think they'll go after a lot of guys," Gossage said. "Mr. Steinbrenner used to go out and sign a lot of guys, and we'd have 20-something top guys reporting to camp in Florida. People said, 'Don't you have too much pitching?' I was a firm believer in the fact that you can't have too much pitching. Getting Sabathia is huge, but I definitely don't think that's the end of it for the Yankees."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.