Last week, I began my series covering the greatest free agent signings of all-time for the San Diego Padres. I began with #5, and discussed how even at the ages of 37 and 42, the Rickey Henderson signings were solid signings for the Friars. I mean after all, Rickey scored over 100 runs, was at or near the top of the NL leaderboard in stolen bases, and brought swagger to a team that was on the verge of contending for several years. But enough about Rickey. It’s time to move on to the #4 greatest free agent signing in the history of the franchise, Rich Gossage.
Goose, as he was nicknamed, was no stranger to being in the heat of pennant races, having taken over the closer’s role in the Bronx from Cy Young winner Sparky Lyle. Goose was on the mound for the New York Yankees, when he closed out what is considered one of the greatest regular season comebacks in history, as the Bombers forced Game 163 in Boston, and of course the Bucky Dent home run as being the big blow to push the Bombers in the postseason. The team eventually defended their World Series crown by knocking off the Los Angeles Dodgers for a second-straight year.
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Unfortunately for the Yankees, by 1982, many things had changed in the Bronx. Billy Martin had come and gone several times, team captain Thurman Munson was tragically killed in an airplane crash outside his home town of Canton, OH, and Reggie Jackson was well on his way to departing for the west coast, fed up with George Steinbrenner’s tactics. Gossage was never one to hold his tongue either, and things came to a head when Goose labeled Steinbrenner, “the fat man upstairs”, a criticism for meddling in the day-to-day operations of the Yankees. By the end of the 1983 season, Gossage had seen and heard enough, and stated he had no intention of remaining in the Bronx after the season.
Goose held true to his word, and on January 6th, 1984, Gossage signed as a free agent with the Padres. In 1984, Gossage surpassed the 100-innings mark for the first time in six seasons, recording 25 saves, making the National League All-Star team, and helping lead the Padres to their first-ever NL West Crown and National League pennant. Unfortunately, the Goose got cooked by Kirk Gibson and the Detroit Tigers in the 1984 World Series.
Over the next couple of seasons, Gossage would have two more 20+ save seasons, before pitching one of the fewest amounts of innings in his career, while recording only 11 saves. During the winter of that off-season, Gossage and Ray Hayward were dealt to the Chicago Cubs, for Mike Brumley and Keith Moreland. Gossage would go on to save 13 more games for the Cubs, helping them to the NL East title.
In four years with the Padres, Gossage would finish with a record of 25-20, an ERA of 2.99, along with 83 saves in just under 300 innings of work. He became the lock down closer the Padres hadn’t had since the departure of Rollie Fingers a few years prior. Goose was just as much an integral a part of making San Diego baseball relevant as anyone during that time period.
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