“I can’t stand to watch this game, the way it’s changed and the way guys act,” Gossage told Chicago’s ESPN 1000, after his comments to an ESPN reporter had already gone viral. “If I see one more pie in somebody’s face, I’m gonna break my TV.”
Gossage was cruising down one of those greasy downhill slopes of angriness, when the first few steps of dissatisfaction somehow accelerate into a furious sprint, and you just need to roar. (“I didn’t want to do this, but I lost it; I’ve seen enough,” he said.) And the timing was too perfect, what with Bryce Harper having just made another one of his regular (and fairly mild) defenses of youthful joy and flair in baseball. So the Waddle and Silvy show couldn’t help but ask Gossage what he thought of Harper’s comments: that baseball is tired in the way it discourages individual expression, and that some element of the code might need updating. You can probably guess how that went.
“What does this kid know? This kid doesn’t know squat about the game, and [has] no respect for it,” Gossage said with audible disgust. “Here he is making millions of frickin’ dollars; that’s great. I’m happy for all the players and all the money that they’re making, because it’s hard-earned by all the players that came before these guys. Ninety percent of these guys never went through a strike, a work stoppage. They don’t know the blood sweat and tears that has been spent on what these guys are making. All we wanted was a piece of the pie. Marvin Miller did that, Curt Flood, from on up. My career started out on the first strike in 1972, and it ended in the last one in 1994, when we lost a World Series, which should have never happened, but it did. … We fought for everything these players are getting. So let me tell Bryce Harper something: go look at the history, figure it out and quit acting like a fool.”
I’m one to talk, since I’m writing about it, but I think you can probably disregard all of this, or at least knowingly laugh it off. I don’t know Harper or Gossage, but I have a feeling they would love each other: they’re both incredibly devoted to their sport, they both appreciate a certain grit and tenaciousness, and yes, they both have an intense respect for the sport’s history. Harper was born in the ’90s, but he knows more baseball history than plenty of his older colleagues, and he goes out of his way to mention how much he models himself after players like George Brett and Pete Rose. Why?
“They played the game absolutely as hard as they could every day,” Harper once explained.
“Nobody played the game harder than Pete,” Gossage said on Thursday, apparently unaware of Harper’s similar admiration. “Pete never showed anybody up. Neither did any of those great Reds players.”
Where the men might differ is on the propriety of individual happiness, or at least its public expression.
“I went in the clubhouse and shook hands,” Gossage said, when asked how he celebrated. “The Dodgers are the ones that started staying out on the field after making it a big display, because that was L.A. They would stay out on the field for 10 minutes after the game, or 15 minutes after the game, congratulating everybody. We went in the clubhouse and went by each guy’s locker and congratulated one another. That’s how we did it. We didn’t celebrate in front of everybody. But now, that’s not the way. Now, it’s all about dig me, dig me, man, I just hit a bomb.”
At some point, I think it’s okay to react to people like this with some sympathy. Change in your chosen industry is terrifying. In between making a living by excerpting radio and magazine interviews, I cower in fear over how sports journalism is changing: the way speed and shareability are valued, the way controversy (increasingly?) sells, the way polarizing radio and magazine excerpts can push aside some of the more thoughtful and investigative pieces that require much more time and skill. It’s not hard to move from that fear to loud public rage, in a bad moment and with a little prompting. But in some ways, Gossage is on our side: he wants to keep humans at the center of the sport. That’s the whole point.
“They’ve taken the human element out of the game,” he complained. “What’s wrong with the manager coming out and arguing with an umpire and kicking dirt all over him and throwing bases and getting kicked out of the game? That used to fire up the people, on both sides. It used to fire all of us up. That’s gone. Now they’ve got replay, because who died in the last 100 years because of a bad call? No one.”
I’d guess that many of the people who support the mild pimping of a home run would also support a manager throwing bases, and for much the same reason: it’s a show. It makes you smile. It’s great for the Internet economy. If that happened every night, it might — to use Harper’s word — become tired. But it could happen a bit more often, and be treated with a bit more levity by some traditionalists.
(I have far less sympathy for someone like Danny Kanell, the former quarterback and current radio host, who doesn’t exactly have Gossage’s history. “People want to see home runs, they want to see spectacular hits,” Kanell said on “Mike and Mike” on Friday morning. “I think they’d rather see great baseball than players who are acting like punks, which is a lot of what Bryce Harper has done. He’s a phenomenal player, but he does act like a punk for a lot of the time.”)
Gossage’s critiques were wide-ranging: he blasted replay, and the inability of pitchers to throw inside without getting warned, and the use of data to assist in decision-making. He said in his day, kids who were scared of getting hit by an inside fastball would go play soccer. Sometimes your great uncle will say things like this at the Thanksgiving table, and you won’t respond by throwing a pumpkin pie in his face; you’ll just smile at your siblings and ask Great Uncle Goose to talk about when things were great. Here, then, is Gossage talking about when things were great.
“You were supposed to act like a professional and conduct yourself in every manner, in every way as a professional,” he said. “You know, now it’s all about self-promoting and hitting home runs and bombs and showing up the pitcher and trotting around, doing your little act, your tired little act around the bases and at home plate and in the dugout and all that stuff. You know, if I punched out [a batter], I never wanted to show up a hitter, because it’s going to come back and bite me in the butt. And it’s just the way that I was brought up. You know, it seems like money has really changed this game. And not for the best. And not for the better.”