Rich “Goose” Gossage cut an intimidating figure on the mound with his sinister-looking Fu Manchu mustache and blazing fastball, and at 61, he can still fire a few high, hard ones, as he showed after Wednesday’s Hall of Fame vote, in which players from the steroid era were shut out of Cooperstown.
“I’m glad nobody who is tied to performance-enhancing drugs got elected,” said Gossage, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008 after going 124-107 with a 3.01 earned-run average and 310 saves from 1972 to 1994. “It’s cheating. You’ve got two players, one using, one not. You have two different animals.”
Gossage had particularly harsh words for Barry Bonds, a seven-time most valuable player who holds the career (762) and single-season (73) home run records, and seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens. Both would have been Hall of Fame locks if not for their alleged steroid use.
“I heard the argument that Bonds and Clemens were Hall of Famers before they started using — how do we know when they started using?” Gossage said. “You don’t have the best three or four years of your career at age 41, 42 and 43. You don’t get better the older you get. It just doesn’t happen.
“The most sacred records in baseball were Hank Aaron’s 755 homers and Roger Maris’ 61-homer season. I think they ought to reinstate those records. They stripped Lance Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles.”
Clemens was named on only 37.6% of the ballots and Bonds on 36.2%. Players need 75% for election. Sluggers Mark McGwire (16.9%), Sammy Sosa (12.5%) and Rafael Palmeiro (8.8%), who each 500 homers or more, received scant support.
McGwire admitted to steroid use long after his playing career. Sosa reportedly failed a drug test, and Palmeiro was suspended in 2005 after testing positive for steroids.
“I thought McGwire, Bonds and Clemens got too many votes,” Gossage said. “I thought Bonds and Clemens would get about 20%. I don’t know how we can reward these guys for cheating. What does that say to kids?”
McGwire and Sosa were credited with reviving the sport after the cancellation of the 1994 World Series by staging a dramatic home-run race in 1998, when McGwire hit a then-record 70 homers and Sosa hit 66.
“It was a beautiful thing, and it brought a lot of fans back to baseball, but what does it mean now?” Gossage said. “It’s hollow. They cheated.”
Gossage was a teammate of McGwire and admitted steroid user Jose Canseco during his stint with the Oakland Athletics in 1992 and '93 and recalls standing with fellow reliever Dennis Eckersley in the outfield during batting practicing and marveling at the sluggers.
“I studied hitters for a living, I saw the bat speeds of McGwire, Canseco, Sosa and Bonds, and I said, ‘Man, these guys are not human,’ ” Gossage said. “I lockered next to Canseco, and you know what? I commend him for blowing the whistle. They ought to expose these guys. You cheat, you suffer the consequences.”
Gossage said if a known steroid-user is elected to the Hall of Fame, “I may never go back to Cooperstown — it wouldn’t be a sacred hall anymore.”
And if a Hall of Fame inductee is found to have used performance-enhancing drugs, Gossage thinks his plaque should be removed from the hall.
“There have been some innuendos with Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell; if their numbers say they should be in the Hall of Fame, so be it,” Gossage said. “But if they did use and they’re sleeping with one eye open at night and looking over their shoulder for when that hammer falls and someone rats them out, their plaque should be taken down, just like Lance Armstrong was stripped of his titles. There’s no place for it, especially in the Hall of Fame.”