Dance to the Music

Rich “Goose” Gossage was a mean, tough pitcher for 17 seasons in the major leagues with a commanding, intimidating presence. He pitched for several teams during his great career, most notably for the Yankees in the Bronx zoo era of the late 70s and early 80s. He was the guy who enabled the reptilian George Steinbrenner to rid himself of another great relief pitcher, lefty Sparky Lyle, who talked, and wrote,too much to please the Boss, and I don’t mean Bruce Springsteen.
In 1976, Gossage was mostly a starting pitcher for the Chicago White Sox, completing 15 of his 29 starts while winning 9 games and losing 17 with a 3.94 earned run average in 224 innings of work. The next season the Goose became a bullpen specialist for Chuck Tanner‘s Pittsburgh Pirates and he was spectacular. He finished 55 games with 26 saves with a 1.62 ERA in 133 innings. That innings total would make about three seasons’ worth for “closers” nowadays but Gossage gave Tanner and the Pirates up to three innings per appearance and combined with the relief work of Kent Tekulve to get the Pirates very close to the Eastern Division crown won by the Philadelphia Phillies. Pittsburgh needed that because, other than John Candelaria and Jim Rooker, their starters were not among the best.
Steinbrenner opened up his saddlebags full of cash and signed Gossage for 1978 and Gossage did not disappoint the Lyin’ King. He just about duplicated the previous season by again pitching often and well, notching 134 and one third innings with 55 finished games, 27 saves, and a 2.01 earned run average.
That’s the sort of player he was and he continued for quite a good long while.
Now, the Goose has grabbed headlines again without touching a ball. He’s done it the way it’s most often done these days—with his mouth. Apparently his profanity laced diatribe on ESPN contained damning statements about “celebrating” on the field, pointing in particular to the Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista‘s bat flip during the playoffs as an example of what players in his day did not approve of or engage in very often.
Before getting into whether or not Gossage’s old school rant was justified, let’s pick a bone about what constitutes journalism in 2016. I wonder sometimes if it is even being taught the way some of us once learned it, and I am more than certain that it is not being learned. Click bait is just another form of old yeller in journalism that, while not admirable, has its roots in the fact that if nothing sells no one gets paid. What bugs me more is that I was taught that what a person does should hold substantially more weight than what a person says. That’s an important thing, in my opinion, in journalism as well as the rest of life. What that means, for instance, is that when an apparently drunk driver loses control of his vehicle and smashes into a tree it is not really necessary to interview his neighbors about whether or not he is a nice person who pays his rent on time. It is also not necessary to interview the tree. Yet, to an ever increasing degree, that is what we get. Headlines are created more and more by quotes and less and less by events. That is, in part, how we came to the time when an amoral asshole like Donald Trump dominates news space and time. As Spencer Crump, my old instructor, would say, “That ain’t news.”
Now back to the “celebrating” by Bautista et al. What the Toronto outfielder did, in the context of where and when he did it, was okay in my book. There is a big difference between genuine joy at accomplishing something important like winning a World Series or a pennant and “showing up” your opponent with some mean display such as finger pointing and other gestures only fit for Republican presidential candidates. Celebrating smaller accomplishments is only natural and is okay as well. I don’t think we need Miss Manners on the sidelines telling the players what is cool and what is not but, on the other hand…some displays are a bit much. In the NBA, at least back when I used to watch games, it became an embarrassment to see players getting patted on the butt and high fives all around after a missed free throw. Maybe they were just encouraging him to perhaps make the next one. The first cooler full of overrated sugar water to get poured over the coach’s head by surprise was kind of funny. Every one since then has been lame. All of the convoluted dance routines that have ever been performed by touchdown scorers have been lame. That is especially so when it makes the score 52-7. In baseball, sometimes we see little hand signals from one teammate to another or to the dugout. That’s a bonding thing, absolutely cool. The pointing to the sky thing rather baffles me but harms no one.
The whole thing about “showmanship” and entertainment began in the early days of Monday Night Football while Howard Cosell was committing weekly sins of omission as extra cameras began to focus more and more on the boasters and the jerks. Now, it is important to remember that TV runs the whole mess. It’s not like the old days, Goose. Every inning of every game is on the tube or online. These players are exposed for good or bad on a daily basis. The cameras are in the dugout and the clubhouse and they are always on. How would you like to have all of your workdays on tape? And these players have grown up with that fact and no other way of seeing things. So we can cut them some slack no matter how much more money they make than we do. Just like we did when you and Reggie and Billy and Graig were “entertaining”.

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