By In Stuff

The Goose is Loose


By now, we all know pretty much where Goose Gossage stands on just about everything.

— He believes baseball used to be better.

— Like … way better.

— Steroids and steroids and steroids and harumph and harumph.

— He believes the kids today don’t respect the game like they should.

— He believes players in his day — present company included — were way tougher than players now … and probably loved the game more too.

— Check that: The old guys definitely loved the game more.

— Money. Money. Money. I made $12,500 in my first … money!

And, more than anything,  the Goose seems to believe two things.

1. Closers today ain’t worth a hill of beans ’cause they only pitch one inning.

2. The eggheads running baseball today with their slide-rulers and newfangled notions are a pox upon the game because they don’t know diddlysquat.

Now, all of this was in the movie “Trouble With The Curve” so it’s not new. Also, Gossage has been so consistent in these views that any time you want an “old guy screams at sun,” quote, he will undoubtedly offer it.

But I’d like to point out something that the Goose probably didn’t think about. First, though, let’s review. Yes, again this week, Gossage chose to bash-not-bash Mariano Rivera. It is, by my count, the third or fourth straight year Gossage has chosen to bash-not-bash Mo.

“This is not a knock against Mo,” he says.

And he also says: “I’d like to know how many inherited runners I came in with and a guy like Mo, how many inherited runners did he come in with?”

“I’m not taking anyway way from what Mo did,” he says.

And he also says: “Don’t compare me to him. It’s insulting. It really is.”

And so on. He’s not here to say that Mariano Rivers is overrated, but Mariano Rivera is overrated. He’s not here to say that Mo and others of his ilk are weak, but Mo and others of his ilk are weak. He’s not here to say it was way harder in his time but … actually, yeah, he is here to say it was way harder in his time.

It’s funny that Gossage so thoroughly despises statistical analysis because it actually does back up what he says — not so much about it being TOUGHER in his time but certainly about it being DIFFERENT. Guys like Gossage, Dan Quisenberry, Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, Kent Tekulve and such were absolutely and unquestionably used differently than Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, Billy Wagner and the more recent closers.

Gossage gripes that most or Rivera’s saves were one-inning saves. He’s right.

Percentage of one-inning (or less) saves:

Gossage: 38% (117 out of 310)
Rivera: 82% (533 out of 652)

Gossage gripes that a much higher percentage of Rivera’s saves were cheap ones, with three-run leads. He’s right again, though not quite AS right about that. It’s tricky to figure, but looking at saves where the team ended up winning by three runs or more:

Gossage: 31% (95 out of 310)
Rivera: 34% (219 out of 652)

Gossage gripes that Rivera didn’t have to deal with nearly as many inherited runners as he and pitchers of his time did. Once again, the numbers show it to be true:

Gossage 832 inherited runners (277 scored — 33%)
Mariano Rivera: 367 inherited runners (107 scored — 29%)

The trouble is: Gossage — yes, this is a shocker — tends to cherry pick the more difficult parts of his time and his career. “I wished I had pitched one inning,” he says. “I might be still pitching at 65.”

Yeah … uh … no.

In Gossage’s career, he had 404 games — roughly 40% of the times he pitched — where he went one inning or less. Now, obviously, many of these were games when Gossage just didn’t have it; this is why he got pulled after one inning or less. Still, those one-inning games make up more than 40% of his appearances — that’s a lot.

In his one-inning-or-less games, the league hit .297 against him, slugged .580, his WHIP was an abominable 1.71, his ERA approached 6.00 and so on. Much of this came late in Gossage’s career, when he WAS largely used as a one-inning pitcher, Anyway, the whole pitching to 65 idea, um, that was never a thing.

And this is because of something Gossage misses about the Rivera era: Yes, it’s true, closers are not asked to pitch multiple innings very often. You know why? Right: Because the very old school people who played and managed in Goose Gossage’s era — Pete Rose and Tony La Russa and Jeff Torborg and Joe Torre among them — decided that those Gossage era closers were not getting the job done. They were blowing too many saves.

It’s not EXACTLY true — we can point out that the win percentages when leading per inning have not changed all that much through the years. But it is SORT OF true. You know who has the most blown saves in baseball history?

Right: Richard Michael “Goose” Gossage.

Most blown saves:

1. Goose Gossage, 112
2. Rollie Fingers, 109
3. Jeff Reardon, 106
4. Lee Smith, 103
5. Bruce Sutter, 101

Of course, as you can see by the Top 5 all pitching n the same time, those blown saves are mainly because of how the relievers were used — multiple innings, came into games with runners on base, etc. Still, even by the standards of his day, Gossage blew a lot of saves. Quisenberry, who was used similarly and routinely pitched more innings than Gossage, blew 10 saves in a year just once. Gossage did it six times.

Well, the old school guys were tired of blown saves. They’re the ones who created this new-fangled closer role — it wasn’t the slide-rule guys. They asked closers to pitch fewer innings. But they also expected these modern closers to be pretty much perfect.

Here are the save percentages for pitchers with 250 or more saves:

1. Craig Kimbrel, 91.1%
2. Joe Nathan, 89.1%
3. Mariano Rivera, 89.1%
4. Trevor Hoffman, 88.8%

Space bar

14. Dennis Eckersley, 84.6%

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20. Lee Smith, 82.3%

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35. Goose Gossage, 73.5%

There are no more space bars … Gossage is dead last on this list.

This is what you get when you grumpily compare pitchers from different eras. For every Gossage argument about how his time was tougher, there are five arguments that show Rivera was better, his ERA, WHIP, strikeout-to-walk ratio, batting average against, slugging percentage against, postseason numbers and everything else are much better even though he pitched in a higher scoring era.

It’s sad that we must pick at greatness. Gossage was overpowering in his time, Rivera overpowering in his. Isn’t that enough?

No. It is not. We will compare generations. We always have. And the least surprising thing of all is that a pitcher like Goose Gossage will refuse to acknowledge that Rivera surpassed him … that Joe Montana will refuse to call Tom Brady (or anyone else) the greatest quarterback ever … that Michael Jordan will now and again leak out his feelings about LeBron James challenging what most consider MJ’s spot on top of the basketball world.*

*If anything, it probably should surprise us more when legends DO acknowledge that they have been surpassed, when Jack Nicklaus talks about how Tiger Woods at his best was the best of all time, when Chris Evert rhapsodizes about Serena Williams.

After all, these were great players, legends  … and the fire never quite goes away. The ambition never quite goes away. Goose Gossage built a career on challenging hitters, any hitter. He believed (and expected) that he would throw his blazing fastball by anyone who ever came along. It takes a certain mindset, an attitude, to go for the best in the world, to go for the best of all time. And so it should not surprise us that the fury does not go away. It should not surprise us that Goose Gossage is still out there, competing his butt off.

“(Bleep!), he told when it was suggested the Rivera was the greatest reliever of all time. “That’s bull***. Do what I did and we’ll compare apples to apples. Or Sutter or Rollie Fingers, the guys that set the bar. I’ll tell you what, setup guys have a harder role today than closers.”

Huh. Setup guys have a harder role today than closers? You know who else says that?

Right. Who knew that, in the end, Goose Gossage would sound like one of the Ivy League interlopers with their spreadsheets and silly computers?



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84 Responses to The Goose is Loose

  1. invitro says:

    In Rich’s defense, he and his White Sox teammates had to be pretty durn tough to wear that collared jersey and shorts and still look like a big league baseball player. Put Bryce and Trout in those uniforms and see how tough they look.

  2. Tepposdad says:

    Gossage is right, but those pitchers from the 50’s now they were tough though, and i can’t even begin to tell you about the pitchers from the 30’s, bullpens we don’t even need a bullpen, I would try and get into the pitchers from the aughts and the 10’s but I am not even tough enough to attempt that. I hope I am never one of those old people. Man people are just insecure and angry aren’t they.

    • SDG says:

      What annoys me about Goose and everyone like him is their rants contain two different complaints that have nothing to do with each other. The first is Closers These Days are soft and coddled and get paid too much and IN MY DAY we had to walk uphill to the ballpark in the snow, blah blah etc. The second is that baseball is run by nerds with their math who don’t understand the game and never kissed a girl, blah blah etc. So which is it, the nerds care about winning over toughness so they switched to modern closers, or baseball is too soft and no one has what it takes to win any more, so they switched to modern closers.

      As I’ve said plenty of times here, Goose is accidentally right in that the modern closer usage is dumb and about playing to the stat. But Jesus, if I become Goose when I’m old, complaining about how anything different from my life experience is a sign of character defects in everyone in the world but me I invite you all to come kill me.

      • Marc Schneider says:

        In my day, we didn’t have these newfangled cell phones. If we needed to make a call.we had to find a phone booth and that could be tough. Now these wimps don’t even have to walk across the street and brave vicious gangs to make a call.

  3. Crazy Diamond says:

    Great piece, Joe! It’s a little heavy on sarcasm, but Goose brings that out of people. The idea that Mo isn’t the greatest reliever ever is, of course, patently absurd. The fact that Goose seems so mortified by that is silly…and unfortunate. Appreciate Mo for Mo, appreciate Goose for Goose – just as you suggest. Excellent writing.

    • invitro says:

      What about Rich being mortified by steroids? Silly? Unfortunate? Harumph harumph?

      • Crazy Diamond says:

        To me Goose being mortified by steroids is ludicrous and completely disingenuous. Same with Frank Thomas, Mike Greenwell, and many others. They ALL knew what was going on and none of them did anything about it. If they really truly cared, they would’ve said something. And I don’t buy this “Code of Silence” bull. Frank Thomas was a 2-time MVP, so it wasn’t like he was a fringe player who might get black-balled. Give me a break. This holier-than-thou stuff is stupid.

        • Karyn says:

          I dunno about Mike Greenwell, but Frank Thomas was outspoken on the topic at the time. It couldn’t have made him popular among some of his peers.

        • nightfly says:

          If it’s worth enough, a price will be exacted from anyone – the 80s collusion cases affected huge stars like Tim Raines and Kirk Gibson, for example. Thomas actually risked quite a lot to speak up, and it’s not that surprising that others kept their head down and kept playing.

      • Crazy Diamond says:

        And was it just me or did Rich seem to condemn Bonds a bit more than the Bash Brothers?

  4. RJB says:

    While It is obvious that Rivera is way better and that Gossage is a ridiculous windbag,
    it is not quite fair to make direct comparisons of their WHIPs, ERAs, save percentages, etc. Rivera wouldn’t have been as good in any of those if he’d had as high a percentage of 2 and 3 inning appearances as Gossage.

  5. This isn’t meant to agree or disagree with Gossage, but one of the reasons we have trouble comparing generations is the story that Carl Erskine told in The Boys of Summer. He was pitching in his first season and his arm hurt. He told his manager, Burt Shotton, who replied that he was pitching a two-hitter, so go out there, and Erskine did. He also said he never pitched another game without pain.

    Then we have today’s approach, which is so much different. The money is bigger on both sides, and the number of innings and pitches matters–or, at least, they are carefully counted. That doesn’t mean we can’t make comparisons–we’ll always do it anyway, and they can be very telling, whether or not they use statistics and whatever statistics they use. But it’s worth remembering that we can know, to some degree, but in other ways can never know how often players performed then–and now–with injuries, and how those injuries are treated.

    • Scott says:

      Even Gossage was used differently from earlier relievers. Over his career, Hoyt Wilhelm, who began his career at 29, averaged over 100 innings a game (this includes his starts, but also the end of his career when he through ~20 innings a season). Dick Radatz might have the best pitcher outside of Sandy Koufax during his three year peak, but his arm fell off from over-use.

      Because their usage has changed so much, it’s almost impossible to compare current relievers to past ones. I have a decent grasp about how to compare Kershaw to Koufax and Grove. But comparing Rivera to Wilhelm is almost impossible – it’s more akin to comparing Tom Brady to Sammy Baugh or Otto Graham.

    • SDG says:

      That’s true. The Boys of Summer were pre free agency and management teams who could make demands for players and giant personal training and nutrition staffs. Of course, Carl Erskine had it easy compared to the generations before him where you had to work in a steel mill in the offseason and you were expected to complete all your games because there were no real relievers on staff. But by the time Goose came along, players had better deals and more money and people to advocate for them like Erskine never had.

      It’s all academic anyway, because that’s not Goose’s argument. He’s saying he got less money (true, irrelevant) and he was used for more innings and with men on. Not that he was expected to play hurt in a way Rivera wasn’t.

      Besides, part of that was Shotton was an old-fashioned manager. Even by the standards of the 1940s. My theory is poor management (mostly in a reluctance to move players around but also things like this) were why the Dodgers kept getting their butts kicked by the Yankees. Casey Stengel might have handled him differently.

  6. route66news says:

    Gossage doesn’t help his argument by posting a 3.77 ERA the last EIGHT seasons of his career, giving him an ERA+ of a mediocre 105 at that time. He’d go through seasons during that time in which he was OK, then gawdawful. That 1988 season he had with the Cubs was cringe-inducing; I saw it with my own eyes on WGN.

    Meanwhile, Rivera in his last eight seasons had an ERA of 2.00 and an ERA+ of 220. Rivera’s worst season in that span was a 144 in ERA+.

    I know who’d I’d rather have in my bullpen.

  7. EnzoHernandez11 says:

    There is, of course, an inconsistency in Gossage’s various briefs against modernity. If, as he believes, the use of steroids tarnished the game by turning men into supermen (and supermen into Barry Bonds), then that would seem to provide additional evidence of the relative excellence of Mariano Rivera. Gossage, after all, never had to pitch against a lineup of roid ragers; Rivera did. If Goose is right, that creates even more distance between the two, in Rivera’s favor. (Unless Gossage somehow believes that thin, wiry little Mo Rivera was juicing, which seems awfully unlikely.)

    • invitro says:

      “Gossage, after all, never had to pitch against a lineup of roid ragers” — Well, he pitched in 277 games from 1987 through 1994. Surely he faced some steroid-infused hitters in that time?

      • Crazy Diamond says:

        Canseco and Mac both had been juicing pretty much throughout that timeframe. Raffy might’ve been, too. Dykstra obviously was.

  8. Rob Smith says:

    Older relievers were often put in tougher situations, I.e. Inherited runners and high leverage, high stress situations and asked to face hitters a second time with declining stuff. So their numbers suffered. That is the crux of Gossages argument. Modern relievers aren’t asked to pitch in tough situations therefore they’re not tough. And the “nerds” don’t appreciate the degree of difficulty of the situations older relievers were put in and mainly report that the newer relievers have much better numbers.

    If you parse his words that way, he’s not wrong. He swears and puts down the current generation and that IS wrong and makes him sound like get off my lawn guy. Critiquing Mariano Rivera as somehow having a lesser career because of being used more favorably is absurd.

    But the main thrust of his argument, that his generation faced tougher situations and were asked to do much more in a game. And that their stats suffered because of it, which is not fully accounted for by standard or advanced metrics, is accurate IMO.

    • Jerry Skurnik says:

      Every nerds I know of does appreciate the degree of difficulty of the situations older relievers were put in and thats why they praised Francona for using his relievers more like Gossage was used

    • SDG says:

      Except he’s wrong. If ANYBODY thinks the save is a dumb stat and that older “fireman” relievers had a harder job because they had inherited runners and more innings and weren’t kept for when the score was up, it’s nerds. That is, in fact, a central nerd argument. The nerds are NOT comparing Gossage to Rivera on the basis of saves.

      The toughness thing is ridiculous. It makes me want to learn resurrection and break every law or nature so I can bring back Ty Cobb and and John McGraw so they can tell Gossage he is a sissy little pampered baby who never had to play in tough conditions. And then find some Medieval peasant who could tell Gossage a thing or two about toughness and suffering.

      • invitro says:

        Are you saying “his generation faced tougher situations and were asked to do much more in a game” is wrong?

        • SDG says:

          Toughness has nothing to do with it. Some things are more difficult. It’s harder to pitch more innings, or with runners on, or after they juiced the ball, or after they juiced the players. This is why we compare across eras, being as objective as we can. We don’t just throw up our hands and say baseball was a harder game played by tougher men the further back you go. We don’t say Gavvy Cravath was a tougher, and therefore better, hitter than Babe Ruth because hitting homers was harder when he did it and players were paid less then and weren’t as spoiled, and therefore Cravath is the better player. I mean really.

          We universally agree shortstop is a harder position that RF. I have never EVER heard anyone claim that shortstops are tougher. That would be insane.

      • Bpdelia says:

        The very idea of relative “toughness” is absurd. It has nothing to do with era. People in the middle ages are weak and strong, smart and stupid. We handle stress the same as ever and the stress you feel for any situation and how you handleit is completely separate from some grand stress scale. An overdue mortgage and crumbling marriage can produce the same effect as a broken leg.

        Stress is stress. Its precisely why you can take normal everyday people, throw them into a war and they will behave and preform exactly like every other person through history who was thrown in a war.

        Kids today will be just as good and bad and tough or weak as a Russian doorman fighting the Mongols. People are still people.
        Read some of the ancient Greek philosophers and realize these people were exactly the same as us. Right down to telling kids to get off their lawn.

      • Marc Schneider says:

        Yes, every generation of baseball players thinks the next generation are wimps compared to them. I’m sure the current generation will do the same thing. And, by the way, in my day, we didn’t have these sissy remotes to change channels. We had to get up and turn the dial ourselves. And we only had three channels. We had no choice but to watch bad TV shows.

  9. Donald A. Coffin says:


  10. KHAZAD says:

    It’s funny that he denigrates stat guys because those are the very guys that point out that it was a harder job when he played. For instance a guy into these things could tell you Gossage faced 50% more hitters in his career than Rivera, or that Gossage faced 8 times as many hitters a second or third time in a game as Rivera.

    But when you put down a great because you don’t like the fact that he had it easier than you did, you diminish yourself. You are not automatically better because the times you lived were more difficult. I am not better than someone who grows up now just because I didn’t have a computer or a cell phone, or my TV only had three channels. My grandfather was not better than me simply because he didn’t have a TV or a washing machine, and he had to walk three miles to school.

    Rivera was great. He was better than Gossage. It would be tough for someone to be as good as he was for as long as he was even if they were only coming in to get ONE out at a time.

    It would be fine if Gossage pointed out that the job of a relief pitcher was more difficult when he played. That part is true. But saying that more modern players are weak because they are not asked to do what he did is ridiculous. Pointing at Rivera of all people to make his point is really silly. It would be like the starters from the era when they were expected to complete a game said that Maddux and Pedro were worthless because they couldn’t finish enough games. Greatness is still great. Trying to put down greatness and say he was better just makes him the classic old man cliche.

    He always throws in the money comment as well, and it seems the root of his jealousy, really, is that players are richer now.

    • Gerry says:

      Completely agree with all your points. Baseball tactics, particularly the way bullpens are used, have evolved significantly over the last 20 years. In the 70’s, the best relievers were used to put out fires. Over the last 20 years, the job focus has been to prevent fires. It will be interesting to see if it continues to evolve so that the best relievers are used in high leverage situations to influence the outcome, rather than waiting for the 9th inning to seal the outcome.

      It’s also interesting that neither manager of the 78 Yankees (Martin/Lemon) was able to successfully use the Lyle/Gossage tandem. They later got it right using Ron Davis as a setup man for Goose so maybe Goose and/or Sparky couldn’t generate the necessary adrenaline to pitch effectively without the game on the line.

      One last comment on Goose. Both he and Mo were moved to the pen after unsuccessful trials as starters. Using his (flawed) logic, that would make him a much lesser player than a quality starting pitcher. Ron Guidry probably could have pitched to 100 if he stayed in the bullpen and pitched as many innings as Goose. Maybe Goose should cede his HOF plaque to the Gator.

  11. Mike says:

    Thanks Joe for taking the time to look at how many times Gossage blew saves and struggled as part of your analysis. I am agnostic on whether he or Rivera were better relievers–different eras and asked to do different roles–but too often when retired players or writers talk about how players used to be tougher because they were asked to do more, they don’t look back and consider how often players failed, because they were asked to do more. Sure, Walter Johnson and his contemporaries finished almost every game they started, but there were a lot of games when he was great at the beginning and tired toward the end. Would it have been better to replace him in the 8th innings when he started to tire? Is today’s game better or worse? We all have our opinions, but let’s not cherry pick stats from the past.

  12. Dave says:

    I don’t really care what Jordan thinks of LeBron, but I’d be interested to know what the greatest basketball player of all time would think. But, alas, Wilt isn’t around. And, likewise with Montana. Now that Brady has passed Joe with 5 NFL championships, I don’t want to hear from Joe. Let me know what Bart Starr has to say since Brady has now brought himself into a tie with Bart. But we already know what Bart would have to say. Always the gentleman, he would divert all questions about comparing the two players, and just talk about what a great talent Brady is. Bart Starr, there is an example for great athletes to follow. BTW, with 2 innings left and the game on the line, give me Quisenberry over Goose every time.

    • Crazy Diamond says:

      Eh, Joe Montana never lost a SB. Brady lost two of them, including one when he had the best team in the league (16-0) and still couldn’t get the W in the SB. While Montana arguably had better teammates than Brady, he also had tougher competition (before the league got watered down). Brady wouldn’t have lasted against Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White, and Bruce Smith in their primes. Montana did. It’s a similar argument to MJ vs. LeBron. MJ never lost. LJ did. MJ had to beat Bird, Magic, Isiah, Hakeem, and other studs. It’s just not the same playing field…

      • Edosek says:

        That’s a flawed argument, you can’t penalize someone for going further in a season. It’s better to reach the super bowl and lose than to be eliminated earlier. Do you think a player is happier to lose in the divisional round or lose in the super bowl.

      • Mark Daniel says:

        Montana only won 4 SBs. Brady has won 5.

        • kehnn13 says:

          I guess that makes Otto Graham the greatest QB of all time? comparing QBs based on Superbowl wins is silly and implies that noone else on a team matters except for the QB.

      • Rob Smith says:

        Montana lived in an era where the 49ers could choose to pay Steve Young to sit on the bench. The 49ers were loaded with talent and had a deep bench, which they could afford to pay and weren’t constrained by the salary cap to do so. To compare the 49ers of that era to the salary cap era Patriots is apples and oranges.

        Most teams in this era are lucky if they have a 2-3 year window to compete for a championship. Then they start losing key players that they can’t afford to retain because of the cap. The Patriots are the big exception. The Steelers are the only other team that’s close. The 49ers comp is really the 70s Steelers with Bradshaw and that HOF loaded defense.

      • Marc Schneider says:

        How do you know Brady wouldn’t have lasted against LT? And, in fact, Montana once lost a playoff game to the Giants 49-3 and lost an NFC title game to them. I think Brady could have done at least as well.

        As for the SB, in two of the games, Montana beat a Miami team with no defense and no running game, and a Denver team with nothing but Elway.

        This is not to denigrate Montana, but you can pick ANYONE’S career apart. And if you are going to talk about SB wins, how about Terry Bradshaw, who also won 4 and who beat Roger Staubach in two of them?

  13. Alejo says:

    Oh, I think someone has to be the old guy complaining at the sun.

    It is a necessary role that makes life more savoury.

    I find the opposite disturbing, the people who believe reality is summarised in one or two numbers. Statistics evolve and change, what seemed true isn’t now (wins, saves, BA, etc) and what is true today will be suspect tomorrow.

    That is just in the nature of science, that conclusions are not permanent and it is dangerous to believe it so.

    By the way, MJ is still the greatest ever, no possible comparison with anyone.

    And the Babe is still the greatest.

    And Ali.

    Golf is more difficult though…

    • invitro says:

      The greatest pinball player ever is Bowen Kerins, though Lyman F. Sheats might have an argument.

    • EnzoHernandez11 says:

      I always recoil a bit when someone says “no possible” comparison. Michael didn’t play for a winning Bulls team until his fourth NBA season, which was, not coincidentally, the year Scottie Pippen hit town. Contrast that with the immediate impact Wilt, Kareem, and LeBron had on terrible Warriors, Bucks, and Cavaliers teams. No question that Michael is in the Pantheon, and the six rings are strong evidence in his favor, but the case is not open and shut. Sometimes I wish Wilt had joined the Lakers in 1962. I suspect that if he had, the GOAT argument would be about second place, at it is with Babe Ruth (though what Kareem pulled of with an expansion team and an over-the-hill Oscar was something to behold; and LeBron clearly belongs in the conversation, too, especially if you believe–as I do–that the quality of play today is better than it was even 20 years ago).

      • Alejo says:

        Man, you have to have seen MJ play in his heyday.

        Nothing compares to that.

        Something on the Babe: stellar left handed pitcher with two seasons winning 20+ games and five seasons with ERA+ above 100.

        That will always put him over the top.

        • invitro says:

          “Man, you have to have seen MJ play in his heyday. Nothing compares to that.” — Well, I saw him play tons in his heyday. People now either forget, or don’t want to admit, that a big part of Jordan’s success was the referees. The rules were different for him than for other players. Any player who got within two feet of him when he shot got called for a foul. Just watch any of his finals games for evidence, if you don’t believe me. He was still great of course, but with equal rules, he probably wouldn’t be in the top-five player conversation, and he certainly wouldn’t have won six rings.

          On the other hand, I don’t see any of that with today’s stars. I find LeBron to be quite a bit more dominating than Jordan. One of LeBron’s skills that doesn’t seem to get mentioned much is how damn smart of a player he is — he’s able to take any role on the court at any time, and he really does get his teammates playing at their best, and improves them. I even think Curry and Durant, at their best, look better to my eye than Jordan did.

          Now that’s all eye-test stuff, and I don’t trust the eye test, least of all mine, so I may be full of bunk. (However, I’m dreaming of the day when someone goes through those old Jordan finals games, and marks the incorrect foul calls. Maybe I’ll be the one to do it…)

          • Gerry says:

            Understand that Jordan’s reputation has now achieved mystique status. However, his ability to dominate a game, for extended periods, on both ends of the floor is unsurpassed. All while being the go to guy in close games and, seemingly always, coming through.


            Believe the Bulls probably would have gone eight straight if not for MJ’s baseball hiatus. He didn’t do it alone but was clearly the dominant player.

          • Dave says:

            The NBA had figured out marketing when MJ came along. There were rules written to try and stop Wilt from dominating, and the referees were certainly trying to minimize his dominance. By the time that MJ was there, the NBA welcomed their star attractions with open arms, and I did perceive a complete 180 in the referees when the NBA wanted that big money draw.

        • Dave says:

          I believe that you didn’t see Wilt play in his prime. If so, you wouldn’t be arguing for MJ. I do agree with the Babe being the best of all time.

          • Gerry says:

            First started following basketball when Wilt was in SF. He was obviously a great, dominant player with no statistical equal.

            However, during his 1st two seasons with the Lakers, he failed to come up big in the finals. In both series his FT% was in the 30’s. Against the Celts he was 4/13 in game 7 and was 1/11 against the Knicks in game 7.

            Willis barely played in game 7, so Wilt was guarded by a combination of Nate Bowman, Dave Stallworth and Dave DeB. Clyde also badly outplayed West but Wilt should have taken control of that game.

            Wilt’s teams often lost to the Celts because of a lack of talent. That wasn’t the case here. Tough to consider him the greatest, especially against his contemporary, Russell.

          • invitro says:

            “Tough to consider him the greatest, especially against his contemporary, Russell.” — My heavens. Wilt destroyed Russell in stats, and Russell had a team of Hall of Famers, while Wilt had 38%-shooting Guy Rodgers, maybe the worst player in the entire Hall of Fame. Baseball fans: Rodgers really shouldn’t have even been a first substition off the bench… he was a 10th man at best. I don’t think any baseball HoF’ers are a fraction as bad as Rodgers was.

      • Rob Smith says:

        I agree. Pippen is often underrated, despite being a “Top 50” guy. He played defense, handled the ball, passed it, scored it & could play several positions at an all start level. When he moved to Portland, they often had him at point guard because he was so good at running an offense. He could defend at least three positions well & could stop top players completely even later in his career. So, without Pippen, I don’t see MJs Bulls winning all of those rings.

        I don’t know why it’s become a heresy to refer to MJ as not necessarily the greatest player ever when you consider guys like Wilt, Kareem or even LeBron and their singular impact on their teams. Nobody is saying that MJ wasn’t great. But there are other great players in the conversation that had lesser talent around them at times.

        • Anon says:

          IN support of your point – when Jordan “retired” to play minor league baseball, the remaining Bulls (including Pippen of course) still went to the Eastern Conference Finals.

          When Lebron left the Cavs, they went from 60 wins to 20 wins overnight. When he left the Heat to go back to Cleveland, Miami went from a 60 win powerhouse that won 2 Finals and went to another 2, to a .500 team even though they still had a decent roster. Meanwhile the Cavs became a 60 win team again and have won 1 title and made the Finals the other year.

          I don’t have any problem with the notion that there are great arguments for each of MJ, Kareem, Russell, Wilt and Lebron, but the notion that GOAT is clear-cut is just ridiculous,

        • Gerry says:

          Russell played 13 years and won 11 championships. Wilt scored many more points and generally had a weaker supporting cast.

          However, Wilt won one championship playing four years with Hal Greer, Chet Walker and Billy C. Also, one championship in five years playing with Jerry West and Gail Goodrich.

          I also mentioned his game 7 performances. Any comments there?

          • Anon says:

            Sorry but whatever supporting cast Wilt had, Russell always had it way. way, way better. Russell played with 14 future HOFers in his 13 seasons. Whenever one of his HOF teammates would retire or be traded, Auerbach just always replaced him with another – Cousy’s last year was Havlicek’s 1st, Arnie Risen and Andy Phillip retired right as KC Jones and Sam Jones were coming along, Heinsohn was replaced by Don Nelson.

            Russell is a great player and has his place in the GOAT discussion, but I’ve always thought that Russell gets WAYYYYYY more credit for those 11 titles than he deserved. (or probably better to state that his teammates get far less credit for those titles than they deserve)

          • Gerry says:

            Agree that the Celts had a consistently strong roster during their run. Never saw Cousy or Sharman and only saw Heinsohn at the tail end of his career. Andy Phillips played 2 years with the Celts and averaged about 4 ppg. Russell replace Risen.

            During the 2nd half of the run, the only other top tier players were Sam and Hondo. Guys like Don Nelson and Bailey Howell were solid pros, and important to championship runs, but not great players. KC and Satch were both great defenders but not good offensive players.


            Russell went 11/13 with a championship caliber roster. Wilt was 2/9. The roster for those Sixer and Laker teams were comparable to anything the Celts offered.

          • invitro says:

            “The roster for those Sixer and Laker teams were comparable to anything the Celts offered.” — They don’t look comparable to me. I looked up the career WS/48 for their main teammates over these time periods. I may have missed a player or two, please correct me if I did. Here they are:

            Chet Walker – .168
            Billy Cunningham – .141
            Hal Greer – .124
            Luke Jackson – .078
            Matt Guokas – .077
            Wali Jones – .049
            Al Bianchi – .029

            Sam Jones – .182
            Bailey Howell – .180
            Don Nelson – .165
            John Havlicek – .136
            Tom Sanders – .122
            Larry Siegfried – .116
            K.C. Jones – .106

            Jerry West – .213
            Elgin Baylor – .148
            Happy Hairston – .138
            Gail Goodrich – .109
            Jim McMillian – .109
            Mel Counts – .097
            Johnny Egan – .079
            Willie McCarter – -0.018

            Russell’s BOS teammates were so much better than Wilt’s PHI teammates, that I’m wondering why you would even suggest they were comparable. It’s like comparing an All-Star team to a .400 team. Don Nelson *was* a great player, and Bailey Howell was a super-great player.

            The Lakers’ teammates are better than the Sixers’, thanks to Jerry West, but they’re still well behind the Celtics’.

          • Gerry says:

            I’m not familiar with the stat you’re referencing but any analytic that suggests Don Nelson & Bailey Howell are (significantly) better than Elgin Baylor John Havlicek, Chet Walker and Billy Cunningham is suspect.

            Both Howell and Nelson were savvy and very effective players. Howell, in particular, could silently fill up at stat sheet. Both were great role players but neither were star players.

          • invitro says:

            Ah, the good ol’ “any stat that doesn’t validate my opinions is wrong” argument.

          • Gerry says:

            No I’m just not familiar with that stat (win shares/48 minutes?) and admit my thoughts are subjective.


            However, selecting a single metric to support your position isn’t especially compelling. Let’s leave Walker and Cunningham out the the discussion. Do you truly believe Don Nelson and Bailey Howell are better than Elgin Baylor and John Havlicek?

          • invitro says:

            WS/48 is Win Shares per 48 minutes, and is on bb-ref, and is the best single-stat player evaluator I know of. If there’s something better, I’d like to know of it. Since we’re talking about a group of players, not just one player vs another, and the differences in WS/48 are so large, I think it is sufficient to support the claim that Russell’s post-1965 teammates were much better than Wilt’s post-1965 teammates.

            The difference is WS/48 may not be enough to strongly claim that Howell & Nelson were better than Baylor & Havlicek. I don’t know. WS may be a pretty rough estimate, given the lack of data for those seasons. But I do know one thing for sure: Howell & Nelson were much better shooters than Baylor & Havlicek: 48% & 48% vs 43% & 44%. It’s well-known that FG% is the most important “traditional” stat in basketball. The FG% between these players is probably the main reason for their WS/48 difference. And if you think that Baylor & Havlicek are much better, you may not be considering FG% at all.

            Nelson of course took much fewer shots per game than Howell, who took fewer than Havlicek, who took fewer than Baylor, who was usually #2 or #3 in the NBA behind Wilt (and it must be said that while Elgin was shooting 43%, Wilt was at 54%). Some people think high-volume shooters don’t need to shoot at a high %age. This is probably true, but to a tiny extent, that should depend on the FG% of the rest of the team.

            Let’s look at Baylor’s 1963-64 season. He was #2 in FGA, and shot 42.5%. The Lakers as a team shot 44%. The two guys who took the most shots after Baylor were West, 48%, and Dick Barnett, 45%. Now, it doesn’t take a stats wizard to conclude that Baylor hurt the Lakers by taking so many shots, and that they would’ve done better with West and Barnett having a few of Baylor’s shots. Well, that’s a significant negative for Baylor.

            Finally, Baylor’s value is highly concentrated in his first five seasons, long before Wilt got there. The WS/48 numbers I put up are career numbers. The Baylor that was Wilt’s teammate was worse than that, but better than the couple of prior years. Baylor appears to have gotten a sizable boost in FG% due to having Wilt as his teammate.

          • Gerry says:

            “It’s well-known that FG% is the most important “traditional” stat in basketball”


            So….Artis Gilmore with his NBA career 60% FG% is a better player than Wilt who is at 54%?


          • invitro says:

            No, while Artis’s FG% is spectacular (#2 all-time, after DeAndre Jordan’s 67%), it’s not the whole story, and he ranks “only” #52 in NBA WS/48. He’s likely an underrated player, though — I think he didn’t enter the HoF until recently.

  14. TS says:

    The cool thing about baseball is it seems that we CAN compare eras. Makes for fun debate Pointless to compare eras in football or basketball.

  15. Patrick says:

    “By now, we all know pretty much where Goose Gossage stands on just about everything.”

    Which is sort of why we should stop asking Gossage for his opinion on modern closers every year just so we can all point and laugh at how angry and out of touch he is. We can extol the virtues of Mariano Rivera (and, I guess, Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner if that’s your thing) without first hearing from Gossage about them

    • invitro says:

      This whole thing is just a troll/outrage fest. The NJ reporter goes into the dugout and trolls Gossage, knowing he’ll have some outrage. Gossage responds, knowing he’ll outrage the NJ readers. The NJ paper trolls the other reporters with Gossage’s comments, knowing they’ll be outraged. Then Joe uses it to troll us, knowing we’ll be outraged. Gossage has no power, and isn’t hurting anyone… people who are getting so bent out of shape probably need to take a deep breath and re-evaluate their priorities. This is all pretty pitiful, and Joe usually has more class.

      • SDG says:

        Maybe you’re looking at this backwards. Gossage enjoys ranting about how he had to walk ten miles in the snow to the Stadium every day. This makes him feel righteous and happy or he’d stop doing it. The media enjoys making fun of him as it’s good copy and they sell papers/get viewers/get clicks. Then Joe posts it so we can have another opportunity to talk baseball, which we obviously enjoy doing or we wouldn’t be here so much. Everyone’s happy.

        • Patrick says:

          I just think, of all the interesting baseball things we could talk about now, why is Goose Gossage doing Goose Gossage what we’re focused on? I’m interested in it, only in the sense of I think it’s lazy journalism that should be called out (particularly when it’s done by someone who has the ability to write about nearly anything in baseball and make it compelling). It’s an old, tired topic that is really just about letting writers/fans laugh at how much smarter they are than Gossage.

  16. MCD says:

    I think we all pretty much that Gossage has grumpy old man syndrome, but the blown saves % isn’t really a fair measuring stick to ding him, for the very same reason Joe cited when quoting the raw blown saves number. If you are almost always coming in with the bases empty, you are less likely to earn a blown save than a reliever pitching of the same quality that is routinely coming in with runners on base.

    The percentage of inherited runners might be little more telling, but whatever formula is used perhaps should be weighed based on which base the inherited runner scored from. (i.e., allowing a runner from third to score is less damning than allow him to score from first)

  17. Alter Kacker says:

    Somewhere the ghost of Joe McGinnity is spitting tobacco juice and calling Gossage a wimp.

  18. Carl says:

    Another good stat to use Joe:

    Number of thumbs broken in shower stalls fighting the back-up catcher for a bar of soap, costing the Yankees a division title:

    Goosage – 1, Rivera – 0

  19. John Autin says:

    It’s too bad that Goose poisons some valid points with his vitriolic windbaggery.

    Meanwhile, another factor that obscures then-vs.-now comparison is workload at a young age. At 19, Goose threw 187 innings in Class A, completing 15 of 24 starts; he was the best in that league (18-2, 1.83), and they just rode him. By age 26, he’d worked 1,169 IP as a pro, nearly twice Mariano’s total (605).

    In the last 4 years of that stretch, Goose had 3 years of 133+ IP in relief, and one starter year of 224 IP (again with 15 CG). He still had 7 more good years to come, but with a reduced workload (avg. 81 IP age 27-33). And after 33, he was pretty much spent, with less than 400 IP in his last 9 years.

    I’d kinda like to have seen what Goose might have been with a more managed workload, especially early on. But I’m glad I did get to see his monster years.

    • Simon says:

      I didn’t see it brought up anywhere except here. Can we stop for a moment and look at Goose in 1976?

      Like all baseball posts, I end up at Baseball Ref looking at Mo and Goose, and I see that Goose went 9-17 in 1976. 17 seems like an awful lot of vulture wins – except they weren’t. They made Goose a starter that year. He started 29 games and completed 15 of them – can you imagine a jump from a 142 IP RP to a 224 IP SP happening in today’s game?

      He was very good for his first 87 IP / 11 G / 10 starts with 6 CG:
      5-3, 2.39 ERA with opponents batting .216/.287/.305
      He was not as good after that: 137 IP / 20 G / 19 starts with 9 CG:
      4-14, 4.92 ERA with opponents batting .278/.356/.411
      (league avg in ’76 was 3.52 ERA with opponents batting .256/.320/.361)

      Somehow he made the all star team – a good start helps with that – and finished the year as a starter, his last with the White Sox. The next year he pitched for Pittsburgh, who let him start 0 games. Over the rest of his career, he was allowed to start 0 games.

      1975: 141.2 IP with a 212 ERA+ and career-high 8.2 rWAR (as RP)
      1976: Let’s make this guy a starter!
      Dec 10, 1976: Wow, that didn’t work. Time to unload-trade this 9-17 pitcher to Pittsburgh for Silvio Martinez and Richie Zisk
      1977: You’re not a starter. –> Posts 6.0 rWAR and 244 ERA+ in 133 IP as RP
      1978: Yankees Show Him The Money. He pitches 134 innings
      1979: Pitches 58.1 innings in his age-27 season. Never again pitches more than 102 innings, as the game is already starting to change and treat RP like sissies.

  20. Rower41 says:

    I, for one, am a fan of “back in my day” arguments and comparisons. Dana Carvey, for one example, humored me with his rendition of a Grumpy Old Man: “I’m old and I’m not happy. Everything today is improved and I don’t like it. I hate it! In my day we didn’t have hair dryers. If you wanted to blow dry your hair you stood outside during a hurricane. Your hair was dry but you had a sharp piece of wood driven clear through your skull and that’s the way it was and you liked it! You loved it. Whoopee, I’m a human head-kabob. We didn’t have Manoxidol and Hair Wings, in my day if your hair started falling out when you were 16 by 19 you were a bald freak. There was nothing you could do about it. Children would spit at you and nobody would mate with you so you couldn’t pass on your disgusting baldness genes. You were a public menace, a crome dome by age 20 and that’s the way it was and we liked it! We loved it. Hallelujiah look at me, I’m a bald freak oh happy day! Not like today, everybody feeling good about themselves. I hate it! In my day we didn’t have these thin laytex condoms. So you could enjoy sexual pleasure. In my day there was only one kind of condom. You took a rabbit skin and wrapped around your privates and tied it off with a bungee cord and you couldn’t feel nothing! And half the time you didn’t even know your partner was there. And we used the same one over and over again! ‘Cause we were ignorant morons! Just a bunch of hairless, head-kabobs standing around with rabbit skins on our dinks and that’s the way we liked it!”

  21. Pete R says:

    The three best relief pitchers of all time, ranked by career regular season Win Probability Added:
    56.571 Rivera
    34.122 Hoffman
    32.488 Gossage

    On the other hand…
    Rivera’s best single game WPA was .503. Now, Gossage beat that in 15 games: his best was .806. When did Rivera ever pitch seven relief innings for the win?

  22. Brian Schwartz says:

    It’s simply not correct to say Rivera could only pitch one inning. Rivera made 33 career postseason appearances of at least two full innings, allowing only four runs total in those games.

    He also pitched multiple innings in most of his games in 1996, which was his best season by WAR. He pitched in 108 innings in relief that year, including 35 appearances of at least two full innings, and was effective enough to finish third in Cy Young voting. If anything, I think he would have been more valuable if the Yankees did not change his role after 1996.

  23. Gerry says:

    Mariano’s best attribute was his remarkable consistency in pitching at an elite level. He pitched for a high profile team that was highly scrutinized so all current fans are very familiar with him. He had three major breakdowns (Alomar/97, game 7 in 2001, 2004) and beyond that he was routinely superb. Regular season and, most notably, post season.

    Gossage could be incredibly dominating but was nowhere as consistent as Mo. Many of the “firemen” in the 60’s and 70’s were high wire acts. Maybe it’s because they were often brought into game situations that were already teetering. Tactics and approach have changed quite a bit over time.

    Maybe we’re moving into an era where top relievers will be used at key moments in the game to influence the outcome, rather than the final inning to seal the outcome.

  24. 10Guido says:

    My fave Get off my lawn arguments are when I get to see Neyer and Bill James complaining about WAR. Its a good time.

  25. Jm says:

    Re 10guido – been reading Bill James regularly for twenty years and have no idea what you’re talking about. Read a lot less of Neyer and don’t believe he has a problem with war either, except for when people use it as a substitute for thinking.

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