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Gossage bound for Boise, not the Hall

As a feared right-handed relief pitcher for 22 seasons in the big leagues, Rich "Goose" Gossage didn't find himself in too many jams he couldn't escape.

"I was put into situations that God couldn't have gotten out of, and I got out of them," Gossage told me last week.

But now Gossage finds himself in one that isn't quite as easy to get out of. There's no way for Gossage to blow his fastball past the Hall of Fame voters, the ones who have kept him out of Cooperstown for seven years — and counting.

Gossage and Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins will be in Boise on Feb. 10 to participate in a fundraiser for the Boise High baseball team and the Boise Seminoles, an American Legion program.

Earlier this month, Gossage was again denied entrance in the most sacred of sport's halls, collecting 336 of a possible 520 votes (64.6 percent). Players must be named on 75 percent of ballots cast by veteran members of the Baseball Writers Association of America to be elected.

"I try not to get too excited, but I can't help it," Gossage said. "Every year, I say I'm not going to get all excited and set myself up for disappointment. But it happens and I get excited."

And disappointed.

He has every right to be.

Gossage should be in the Hall of Fame — or, at the very least, entering the hallowed Cooperstown grounds this year with fellow relief pitcher Bruce Sutter, a contemporary, but not an equal.

By nearly every measure, Gossage was a far superior pitcher to Sutter, who pitched for the Cubs, Cardinals and Braves from 1976 to 1988.

Gossage, who pitched for nine big-league teams from 1972 through 1996 and is best remembered for his six-year tenure with the Yankees, pitched 10 more seasons and nearly 800 more innings than Sutter. He appeared in 1,002 games to Sutter's 661.

He racked up more wins, strikeouts and saves.

Gossage clearly wins the "Who would you least like to face with the game on the line?" survey. In a landslide — and not just because of his scowl and menacing mustache.

His 3.01 ERA compares well with Sutter's 2.83 when you consider his longevity, a factor that's now being used against Gossage, who pitched until he 42, long after his best days and into the offense-heavy 1990s.

"I don't understand that. I set the standard. I set the bar. I just came back to the pack a little bit," said Gossage, a nine-time All-Star who finished in the top five in Cy Young voting five times, but never won the award. "Maybe I wasn't the pitcher that I was, but I set the bar pretty damn high."

Sutter, who won the Cy Young in 1979, will become just the fourth relief pitcher to be enshrined, joining Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers and Dennis Eckersley and the first with no career starts.

In addition to his numbers, Sutter is often credited for elevating the role of the one-inning closer and for developing the split-finger fastball, though many argue those merits.

"The other argument for Sutter is 'dominance,' the notion that he was a player who was a special one in his day, and that his value went beyond the numbers," wrote Joe Sheehan, on the influential Baseball Prospectus Web site.

"Maybe that's true, but if the other guy in the room is Goose Gossage, I fail to see how bringing 'dominance' into the argument is going to help the guy who isn't Goose," wrote Sheehan, who does not have a Hall of Fame vote.

Instead, it's Gossage who waits — and not quietly.

He is the rare Hall of Fame-caliber player willing to push his agenda.

"It may hurt me in the long run, but if you don't right what is wrong and set the record straight, then it never will be," Gossage said.

His biggest complaint: being compared to the one-inning save specialist prevalent in the game today. When Gossage toiled the mound, he was often called to protect the lead from the seventh inning on.

He was less a closer than a stopper, a role that no longer exists, called upon when the starter tired. If that was in the seventh inning, so be it. If the bases were loaded, so be it.

Closers today rarely enter before the ninth inning and, most times, get to open the inning on the hill. Jams, if they face any, are self-created.

"(Voters) forget about how the relief position has changed and how it has evolved," Gossage said. "We did what it takes three guys to do today. I just wish that they'd get it right. That's all I wish.

"(Mariano) Rivera belongs in the Hall of Fame and probably (Trevor) Hoffman. But until we go in, they shouldn't go in. Until the guys that were workhorses go in, then they shouldn't have these relievers go in."

Such talk is refreshing, even if it sounds a bit like sour grapes. But Gossage is not dismissing the work of the current closers, just lamenting that time — and Hall of Fame voters — seem to have passed the stopper by.

Gossage actually favors the current model of bullpen usage because of the frequency with which managers can use Rivera or Hoffman. He just prefers voters match him against the pitchers of his own generation — with whom, there's little comparison.

"Compare apples to apples," he said. "It's an easy job compared to what we did."