The White Sox sent him from Sarasota to Appleton. Wis. and in 1971 he became a phenom in A ball. He roomed with Bucky Dent, now the Yankee shortstop, and another big puppy named Terry Forster. Forster also threw darts. "Appleton was a treat," Forster says now. They had one room and one bed, from which they had removed the mattress. Dent slept on the box spring, and Forster and Gossage shared the mattress on the floor. They bought pots and pans at a Goodwill store. Forster bought a beat-up Chevy for $150, and they traveled in dubious style to all the beer halls of Appleton.
Forster and Gossage wrestled all the time, big puppies that they were. And they threw pillows at each other at 60 per. They also threw each other. One night, in Clinton, Iowa, a raging pillow fight ended when Forster threw Gossage over a bed and Gossage struck a lamp on the night table and dislocated a big toe. "Tear rooms up," Gossage says. "Tip over tables and dressers. Tear the hell out of everything. We'd end up laying there laughing: 'Look at this room.' "
They pitched, too. Oh, how they pitched! The first pitch that Forster ever saw Gossage throw at Appleton was in relief of him. Forster had allowed a man to reach third when Gossage came in. He was nervous as hell. He wound up and let fly his very first offering in Appleton, a hanging curve.
"He missed the on-deck hitter by an inch," Forster says. The other team's third base coach couldn't resist. He walked into the dugout and moments later reappeared wearing a catcher's mask. The fans howled. "I thought to myself," Forster says, "Who's this guy?" He was becoming the Goose.
After his rocky beginning in 1970, Gossage was sensational at Appleton in 1971. A starter, he finished the year as the leading pitcher in the league, with an 18-2 record, 149 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.83. He wished only that his dad could see him now.
Tanner called him up the next year, and until 1978 it remained the most vivid of his career. After a strike delayed Opening Day for two weeks, the Sox began the season in Kansas City. One of Gossage's idols at the time was Dick Allen, who was about to have the best season of his life, an MVP year with the Sox. Before the opener in Royals Stadium, Gossage was warming up on the sidelines, throwing hard but not his hardest, when he glanced up and saw Allen leaning on his bat and watching him throw. Rick's blood surged; the master was in judgment. So he threw harder. And harder.
All of a sudden, Allen strolled to the plate to which Rick was throwing and stood alongside it with his bat cocked as if he were about to hit. No words were spoken. Gossage felt a rush. "Psyched me out," he says. "He just stood in there. You want to show him what you have." So Gossage threw harder. "And harder," he says. "After each pitch Dick just kind if nodded his head. Like, 'Yeah. Nice pitch. Nice fastball.' I was throwing good, real hard and good." He'd just thrown his hardest when Allen left the plate and came up to him and said, "I want to tell you just one thing. For as long as you're in baseball, always keep a shirt on that arm. Always keep it covered."
That was all Allen said. He turned and walked away. This was almost 10 years ago, and many players have said many things to Gossage since then, but he remembers that as clearly as the smell of rain. Gossage was only a rookie—just an elementary student of the game, really—and for him that season was like a piano recital with Chopin on the stool. By watching Allen in that one season, he learned how beautifully his game could be played.
"Dick Allen is the greatest player I've ever seen," Gossage says. "He's in another league. He's up there by himself, and everyone else is down here. He did everything when it counted. I'll never see it duplicated."
Gossage watched Allen, fascinated, and learned from him in the process. "What Allen was best at was setting up pitchers," Gossage says. "If I didn't see him set up pitchers a hundred times, I didn't see him set them up once. He'd strike out two times in a game and look awful. Early in the game? On a slider? With nobody on? Looked terrible. He'd be setting a pitcher up for later in the game—when it counted. He was saying, 'Throw me that same slider you struck me out on twice.' Heh! Next time up, bases loaded late in a game, he'd hit a pea somewhere. Unbelievable. You talk about the word awesome—and that word is overused—he was awesome. He's the only guy I'd ever be afraid to face. Yeah, I have no fear of anyone else."