However, if there is one thing about today's players that really rankles the Goose, it's that the game is overpopulated with brats who love what they can take from the game more than they love the game itself. "That's what has changed," he says. "Guys see the big dollar signs instead of letting the dollars take care of themselves and just going out and playing the game for fun. That's why I'm thankful I came along and played when I did, to have played in that era.
"Money has never been at the bottom line for me. The bottom line is, I got to play a game I love. Yeah, the innocence is gone. But then I see the innocence is gone out of Little League, so it figures. They stack teams in Little League! They put the best players on the same team, and they kick the——out of everyone. It is gross!
"Every parent thinks he's got a big league player out there in Little League," he goes on. "They don't see a kid playing baseball. They see dollar signs. I want to tell the parent, 'Hey, you're missing the——boat!' I want to go up and slap the——out of that parent and say, 'What are you doing?' "
Seattle manager Lou Piniella, who was playing for the Royals when Gossage made his big league debut and later played with him on the Yankees, brought his friend to the Mariners this season, at a salary of $200,000, to counsel a youthful bullpen. "And he's worked out great," Piniella says.
All Gossage asks of young players is that they respect the game. In spring training two years ago, while he was pitching for the Oakland A's, two minor league pitchers from the Cub organization, Lance Dickson and Turk Wendell, met up with him in a bar. They were thrilled to make his acquaintance and asked him for some advice. Gossage stared hard at them and boomed, "Don't you forget that you play the game from here [he pointed to his heart], not here [he pointed to his head] and not here [then he pointed to his wallet]. And the minute you forget that, get the hell out of my game."
Gossage was watching television one day when he came across an interview with Willie Nelson, one of his good friends. The interviewer asked Nelson how he would like to be remembered. "I guess," Nelson said simply, "that I gave them their money's worth."
Gossage jumped out of his chair. "God, Willie, that's it!" he shouted at the TV.
"That's the way I feel too," Gossage says now. "It just hit me then. Bam! Willie's such an unselfish person. I love the guy. For me it's always been the chance to go out there and turn people on. There's nothing greater. I mean, to go out there in a stadium packed with 50,000 people and just bring the house down. It's a turn-on. It's an adrenaline rush that no drug could ever give you.
"When I'm out there on the mound and I have a ball in my hands, something happens to me. I'm a different person. I'm like some animal. I don't know. It's scary. I swear, I scare myself sometimes. I can't believe it's me."
One day during the 1990 lockout Gossage was throwing batting practice to his son Keith, who was 10 at the time. Keith was having trouble hitting the outside pitch because he stepped away from the ball rather than toward it. "You're stepping in the bucket," Gossage hollered. "Let's work on it."