Tanner loved those two guys in the pen—Rick long and Terry short. They threw BBs. "Two of the hardest young throwers I ever saw in baseball," Tanner says. "You know what I liked about Gossage? I liked his face. People laugh when I tell them that. But it's true. I can't describe what I mean. You don't recognize it till you see it, but he has got a winning face."
Successful or not, Gossage thought that '72 was a long season. "I always believed being in the bullpen was a demotion," he says. "It was a hellhole. You didn't get any recognition there. The bullpen was always where the starter who could no longer start was sent. It seemed like your old starters all ended up in the bullpen. That's where you were sent when you were finished. Now, if you can't start anymore, you're not sent to the pen. You're through."
The game has changed. Today you win it with a stopper in the pen. Tanner put Gossage there not because he thought Gossage couldn't start—he never really tried Gossage at that—but because he sensed that relieving suited Gossage. He could keep the ball down, throw strikes, warm up quickly, pitch without rest and throw extremely hard. Finesse pitchers can make it in the pen, of course, coaxing ground balls to short, but the ones most prized are those who can strike hitters out.
Gossage loved Chicago. Both he and Forster got married early in their careers there, Gossage to Coma Lukaszewicz, a hometown sweetheart, and Forster to Pam Sherley. The four became close. The Gossages have two boys now—Jeff, 3, and Keith, 2—but there were no such responsibilities back then. They drank a lot of beer—"We used to drink ourselves into oblivion," Corna says—and they dined together frequently.
Those were fun years in Chicago, the best. The Gossages were a stitch, playing it very loose. One evening the two couples were in an Italian restaurant in Chicago when the waitress, bearing plates of salad, leaned over Corna to set one in front of Rick. The salad in the waitress' other hand slipped off the plate and settled, like a lettuce bonnet, on Corna's head. Italian dressing dripped down her cheeks. "Rick and Corna rolled on the floor laughing," Pam says.
They didn't have much money back in those days, but that didn't matter. They spent what they didn't have anyway. "Once, when I was making about $20,000, Corna and I took out a $300 loan and spent most of it on a big dinner," Gossage says. "We always had a good time. We never worried about money."
But it did trouble him when, in 1973, he lost his fastball. It was a consequence of two things: too little work and too much breaking ball. All his life he had been a thrower. "I had no clue about a breaking ball," he says. When Gossage got to Chicago, though, pitching Coach Johnny Sain urged him to develop an effective slider. Gossage recalls Sain's telling him, "You can't throw the ball by hitters. You have to come up with some kind of breaking ball."
"How did I know any different?" Gossage says. "I was just happy to be in the big leagues. He had me believing it, too. Sain held to the theory that you can't throw the ball by a guy, because he never did. A great instructor on the breaking ball, but that's as far as it went. He had no knowledge of fastballs."
Gossage worked on the breaking ball constantly. And he found himself getting shelled when he got into games and tried to throw hard. "I'd lost my fastball," he says. "It was scary. I never got to the point where I didn't think I could regain it. I just couldn't figure out where it went to. It was the first time in my life I'd ever been without it. At that point, I didn't know anything about pitching. I'd always worked hard at throwing. Real hard. What people don't realize is that you have to work on your fastball as much as you work on your breaking ball. I know because I lost it. You lose movement and velocity. You lose everything."
These days Gossage throws what he calls a "slurve," a combination slider-curve. Set off against the fastball, his slurve is a nasty pitch. Sain taught it to him. If he lost his fastball developing it, Gossage says, it almost seems worth it now. Yet he often struggled during those first three years in Chicago: 1972, 7-1, 4.28 ERA, 80 innings; 1973, 0-4, 7.38 ERA, 50 innings, with a stretch in the minor leagues; 1974, 4-6, 4.15 ERA, 89 innings, with a spell in Appleton. Gossage needs steady work. In fact, says Cerone, Gossage is at his best when he's slightly tired, because then he tends to throw less with his arm and more with his whole body. He didn't get the work he needed in Chicago. "Not enough innings," he says. "Only 80! I was a long man."