The pay is great, a reported $2 million per year. A seat in the bullpen isn't exactly fifth row center, but it's a whole lot closer than where they stick Bingo Bob Uecker. And you can't beat the hours.
Here we are going into the fourth game of the World Series and while he's sitting there waiting for the bell like a Dalmatian at a firehouse, three guys who at the start of this season may as well have been named Larry, Curly and Moe -- Andy Hawkins, Craig Lefferts and Dave Dravecky -- are posting nothing but zeros on the Detroit side of the scoreboard. Twelve straight worth of zip. Nada. Goose-egg.
Speaking of which . . .
Anybody here seen Gossage?
"San Diego's got the best bullpen I've seen all year," Sparky Anderson, the Tigers' monologist-cum-manager said this morning, "and we haven't even seen Gossage yet. God almighty, I'm a little concerned about that big horse."
Is it possible that the whole Series could go by and Rich Gossage, he of the 12th Century mustache and the jet age heater, would spend it lounging on the bench, studying his stock portfolio and clipping coupons?
Ask Gossage about it and he gives you the best "What, me worry?" this side of the immortal Alfred E. Neuman. "Hey, if we win, wahoo!" Gossage said the other night. "I don't care if I ever pitch again. If we win, I'll sit back and watch." Like that space cadet kid in the movie, "Wild Life," says just before he nods -- "It's casual."
Until tonight's improvisational comedy subtitled "Let's Take a Walk Around the Park," many people were making a justifiable fuss over the other Padres relievers. And so far, Gossage hasn't been called on to do anything more strenuous with his storied right arm than wave it during pregame introductions and warm up in the ninth tonight. In Game 2, with the Padres leading, 5-3, after the fifth it was Lefferts who finished up and got the save. They say baseball is a strange game, but keeping a $2-million arm in mothballs, an arm that has never yielded a run in six games and 11 innings worth of lifetime World Series appearances, is more like bizarre.
Then again, it's casual. "They didn't need me," Gossage said after the game. "These guys -- Hawkins, Dravecky and Lefferts -- have been fantastic; you just can't be any better." Then, in a manner of speaking that might charitably be called exuberantly malapropic, Gossage said, "I don't want to be any more sung than they are."
Not to worry.
If he continues to no-show, he'll be the all-time stumper on "Name That Tune."
In truth, Gossage hasn't had the kind of drop-dead fearsome season in taco brown that he has had in pinstripe blue. Ten victories, 25 saves and a 2.90 earned run average are exemplary stats. But his career highwater marks with the Yankees were 13 victories, 33 saves and a 2.01 ERA. While one might reasonably discount Gossage's save-free September as a function of the Padres' coasting to the division championship, nine relief pitchers had more saves this season, and three of them -- Bruce Sutter (45 saves), Dan Quisenberry (44 saves) and the Tigers' Willie Hernandez (32 saves in 33 save situations) -- had the kind of stuff that inspires legends, to say nothing of quickie paperbacks.
Still, Gossage is happier now than ever before, even if his moody manner sometimes belies the assertion. "I've never felt this good, this relaxed," he said. "I play it just like these guys play it here, just have some natural fun. Whatever happens, happens. It's natural, man."
Mr. Natural came to the Padres as a free agent knowing little about a franchise that had managed only one winning season in its 15-year history and never finished higher than fourth. "I knew San Diego had a team -- that's about it," Gossage said. But after talking with both labor and management in San Diego, including Steve Garvey, Tim Lollar, Dick Williams (the manager) and Jack McKeon (the general manager), Gossage became convinced that the Padres could win with him as they hadn't without him. And that, apparently, made all the difference. "I didn't want to come here for five years, play it out and just collect my checks," Gossage said. "The money's never been the thing for me -- it's always been the game."
There was no question he would leave New York and say good riddance to George Steinbrenner. Although not as outspokenly hostile to the Yankee owner as were Reggie Jackson and Graig Nettles, to name just two, Gossage saw Steinbrenner as The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. "I've always wanted to have fun playing," Gossage said, speaking quickly, as if there were a meter running. "I had some fun in New York, but even when we won there, it wasn't the kind of ultimate enjoyment it should have been. Winning was always expected of us, and there wasn't any beauty to it. My last year I said, 'What the hell am I doing this for?' George dumped on us. Everybody dumped on us. It's just a different feeling here."
Nettles describes the difference this way: "In New York they told us to win. In San Diego, they ask." Gossage is not as adroit with a phrase or as sharp with a knife as Nettles, but they are likeminded on the pleasures of playing for a Kroc, not in one. "The owner likes us, and she leaves us alone," Gossage said. "The players are more exuberant. There are no 'Me! Me-ers' or 'I! I-ers' over here. If there are, they're gone."
Curiously, Gossage says that none of the younger players on the San Diego team have come to him seeking advice or counsel on what to expect from a pennant race, a playoff or a World Series, even though he has been through them so many times. Many veterans have traditionally played the sagacious, paternal role on young teams. Not Gossage. "I lead by example," he said. "But look, it's like with kids. If they see panic in their parents' eyes, they'll start to go crazy." Gossage smiled self-satisfiedly. "There's no panic here."
It's still casual.