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Making Hay
Tom Verducci
September 12, 1994
Idled by yet another strike, 43-year-old Goose Gossage may have seen the sun set on his baseball career
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September 12, 1994

Making Hay

Idled by yet another strike, 43-year-old Goose Gossage may have seen the sun set on his baseball career

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The bushes need trimming. The barn out back is in need of repair. The green '57 Chevy, the first car he ever called his own, stands like some beleaguered sentry over the backyard, awaiting a fresh coat of paint before it becomes his eldest son's car. The carpet must be cleaned (thanks to the puppy) and the hay over at the cattle ranch needs to be baled, and surely he cannot forget his promise to take the three boys fishing. There is much for Rich (Goose) Gossage to do, and goodness knows he has the time to get around to all of it.

There is no ball game tonight, and there might never be another one for Gossage, who though seated on a chair in front of his Colorado Springs house, appears prepared should one, like a brushfire, break out. He is wearing a Seattle Mariner T-shirt, athletic shorts and shower sandals, just as he would in a clubhouse during the hours before the first pitch.

His world at this moment is absolutely quiet, with Cheyenne Mountain towering above him and not so much as a rustling leaf disturbing the afternoon stillness. Then, from some place high but unseen, softly comes a beautiful melodic ringing sound. It is coming from the mountain, from the Shrine of the Sun, a tower dedicated to Will Rogers. Gossage hears the bells.

"I know I could have thrown my last pitch and may never put on a uniform again." he says. "I'm O.K. with that. Don't get me wrong. I'm going to miss the game. For me it's been like going to Disneyland and riding the best ride in the whole place and never getting off. That's what I wish people understood. We're players. There's nothing we'd rather be doing than playing baseball right now."

Gossage is housebound because of a player strike that is now in its fourth week, with no sign that it will end anytime soon. On Aug. 15, three days alter the start of the strike, he had taken one of his trucks to a service station to get a tire fixed. The attendant, recognizing the famous relief pitcher, harrumphed, "Well, I know whose side I'm on." Gossage thought to himself, Do you? But he decided not to say anything because most people never get beyond equating major leaguers with the ridiculous sums of money so many of them make.

Someday there will be baseball in major league cities again, and everything about the game will be back in its place: its perfect distance between the bases, its lovelorn fans in the stands and all of its confounding intricacies, which, like yesterday's crossword puzzle, turn up solved in the next morning's paper in the deceitful tidiness of the box score. There is no recovery, though, of a ballplayer's most precious commodity: time. It runs out especially quickly if you're a 43-year-old pitcher and four teams in the past five years have already decided you're finished.

Twenty-four years have passed since that day he ran home to the one-bedroom house on Beacon Street in Colorado Springs—the house so small that he slept in the same bedroom with his mother while his father slept at an aunt's house—Hung open the door and announced, "Mom, I've got a job working as a counselor at the summer camp!" Mother Goose had replied, "Son, you've got another job. There's a man here from the Chicago White Sox, and he says they've drafted you in the ninth round." So overwhelmed was the boy that he ran off alone into the mountains and cried.

Gazing now upon the same range of mountains, he knows that it might all be over, this heart-racing ride of a major league career that began before the designated hitter, before free agency and before Ken Griffey Senior reached the big leagues. No other active player—if that term may still be used—goes back that far, his career having spanned all of the game's eight work stoppages. He is the last dinosaur, and if given the choice, he would gladly take the game he entered in place of this business he is leaving.

"The innocence," he says, "is gone."

Is this how it ends for him? Silenced by a strike? How odd. Because this is exactly how it began.

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