The 1984 season was magical. We’ll cover it in detail coming soon, but for now, we’ll focus on one piece of the puzzle that made up the National League Champion Padres in 1984. The team was coming off an 81-81 showing in 1983. It was a solid performance, and one that had the team and fans thirsty for more. So as the team went through the 1983/84 offseason, Buzz Bavasi and Dick Williams knew they needed more.
On November 7, 1983 the New York Yankees granted Gossage free agency. The Padres quickly scooped him up. On January 6, 1984, the San Diego Padres came to terms with Gossage for a contract that many considered the richest signed by any pitcher ever. There was some debate in that regard as the guaranteed money due to Gossage was just $4.625 million over four year. However, the Padres agreed to deferred payments starting in 1990 and lasting through 2016 that would pay him a reported $5.33 million more. The total contract was thought to be $9.955 million, but in reality some thought it would only come to $6.25 million. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.
The interesting part of Gossage’s signing with the Padres was the fact that numerous other teams offered him more money. Gossage had already spent 12 years in the league when he signed with San Diego, and he made it clear that he was not interested in the highest bidder, but the quality of the experience.
Gossage’s legacy had been built in the bullpens of the White Sox and Yankees (with a quick stop off in Pittsburgh mixed in). Prior to coming to San Diego, Gossage had already compiled a 82-73 record with an ERA in Chicago of 3.80 and an ERA in New York of 2.14. Gossage had over 1200 innings pitched in his three stops before the Padres over the course of 13 seasons. Many starters don’t amass that many innings these days, let alone relievers.
Gossage had 207 saves by the time he headed out west, but he was far from done. As one of the most dominating relievers and someone who helped defined the role “closer,” Gossage would continue shutting batters down for years to come. He did so, generally speaking, with low walk totals and high strikeouts. In Chicago, his K/9 ratio was 6.4. In New York it jumped to 8.6. And in his one year with the Pirated, it was a very impressive 10.2.
Now, Gossage was faced with pitching for a Padres team that had never made the play-offs, had very few recognizable names on the roster, and was hungry for success. Gossage would help them earn that success, starting with his 1984 season.
Donning the tradeMark Brown and yellow, Gossage made his first appearance as a Padre on Opening Day, 1984. It was April 3, 1984, in a game against one of Gossage’s former teams, the Pittsburgh Pirates, that Gossage would first trot out to the mound of Jack Murphy Stadium. It was a day game played in front of a sold-out crowd of 44,553. The atmosphere was electric as fans were there to celebrate the start to another season and to help urge the team to more success. The 81-81 season in 1983 was not enough.
The Padres quickly found themselves in a hole after giving up a first inning run to the Pirates. But San Diego stormed back in the bottom of the first. Tony Gwynn knocked in the first run with a double. He was later brought home by a Terry Kennedy ground out. The Padres were back on top 2-1, and would not relinquish that lead the rest of the game.
San Diego tacked on runs in the second and the sixth innings and were leading 5-1 heading into the top of the eighth inning. Padres starter Eric Show has performed beautifully in the previous seven innings giving up just one run on three hits, but he was lifted in the eighth for Rich “Goose” Gossage. With the crowd on its feet, clearly understanding of Gossage’s prior success, the Padres new closer took the mound.
It wasn’t a different game for Gossage. It was the same as it had always been. He knew his job, and he had done it thousands of times before. But after his time with the Yankees, under George Steinbrenner, maybe it felt a little bit more relaxed. In an April, 1984 article by Tom Cushman of The Sporting News, Gossage said, “It was the George Steinbrenner show. Everything was so negative that eventually I found myself even hating the drive to the ballpark.”
Now, in the sunny state of California, in America’s Finest City, Gossage would be able to feel at ease. He would be, and was, welcomed like a hero. And he quickly did what he had been known for over the course of his career. He got batters out. He struck out the first batter he faced then induced two weak ground balls. Returning in the ninth, Gossage once again made quick work of the Pirates hitters. He got a quick ground out followed by two easy fly-outs. Game over. The Padres won 5-1 and Gossage had two innings of perfect baseball in a Padres uniform under his belt.
When asked about pitching in the National League, Gossage said:
It remains a fairly simple game. I have to throw the ball. They have to hit it. That’s the way it is in the American League, the National League, or if we’re playing on the moon.
Gossage would pitch in 102.1 innings for the Padres in 1984. He had a 10-6 record with a 2.90 ERA and 25 saves. He was a force in the bullpen, and gave the Padres confidence that if they could just get the game to Goose, they would win. The team went on to win 92 games that year, squeaked through the NLCS, and made the World Series.
Gossage did not fare as well in the postseason with an ERA of 4.50 in the NLCS and an ERA of 13.50 in the World Series. But there is no question Gossage was a key to the Padres even making it that far. The team would eventually lose the World Series to the Tigers in five games, but Goose Gossage had made a name for himself in San Diego.
In his four years in San Diego, Gossage went 25-20 with a 2.99 ERA. He saved 83 games in that time as well. After his time with the Padres, Gossage went on to pitch for the Cubs, the Giants, the Yankees again, the Rangers, the A’s, and finally the Mariners.
In all, he pitched for 22 years, had a 124-107 record, and posted a 3.01 ERA. He finished his career with 310 saves in over 1800 innings pitched. In 2008, 14 years after he finished playing the game, Gossage finally got the recognition he deserved. The Baseball Writers Association of America elected Gossage to the Baseball Hall of Fame with 85.8% of the vote. It was an honor long overdue.
Gossage’s time with the Padres was short in comparison to his overall career, but his impact was enormous. He helped San Diego continue to build a reputation beyond their normal perception as “bottom-feeders.” Along with some other great Padres players, Gossage helped the Padres get recognized by the baseball world. If only for a short period of time, the Padres were relevant, and Gossage had a lot to do with that.