When the LeFlore County Youth Services organization was looking for a keynote individual to help its fundraiser to help fund its new building currently being constructed on North Broadway, The Community State Bank President Larry Spradley did not know a trip to Colorado would provide such an individual.
When Spradley went to Colorado, he happened to run into a ranch owner whose father is a Baseball Hall of Famer. One thing led to another, and Rich â€śGooseâ€ť Gossage came to Poteau for Thursday's LeFlore County Youth Services Golf Tournament and banquet that night.
â€śI got contacted by Larry,â€ť Gossage said just before teeing off in Thursday's tournament. â€śMy son, Jeff, has a ranch of about 100,000 acres up in Colorado, and Larry went up there. Larry goes up there for a vacation, and he finds out that Jeff is my son â€” and they get to talking. Larry then got the idea for me to come in here and do the fundraiser.â€ť
The visit was Gossage's first in this area of the country.
â€śIt's the first time I'd been here in the Fort Smith (Ark.) area, and obviously in Poteau,â€ť he said. â€śI live up in rural America. My dad should have been a mountain man, but he was born about 100 years too late. I grew up in Colorado. This is great country down here.â€ť
Gossage was in the Major Leagues from 1972-94 for the Chicago White Sox, Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres, Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners. His career record is 124-107 with 1,502 strikeouts and 310 saves.
The Hall of Fame reliever said that he's seen it all come pretty much full circle as far as the job of the â€ścloserâ€ť is concerned.
â€śI've really seen the whole game change,â€ť Gossage said. â€śI think money has been behind that change probably more than anything. When I broke in (the Major Leagues) in 1972 (with the Chicago White Sox), you didn't want to be in the bullpen. It was a place where starters went who couldn't start anymore. A 'closer' wasn't even a coined phrase until they started pitching just the one inning. I got to where I loved the bullpen. When I came up with the White Sox, Manager Chuck Tanner and Pitching Coach Johnny Sain put me in the bullpen, I became in love with it. Then, I saw the whole changes. Starters still prided themselves in finishing what they started. Now, there's even set-up guys, and now you have one guys specifically set to pitch the ninth inning. So, I've seen (the relief pitcher job) go complete evolution.â€ť
As far as the game of baseball itself is concerned, most of the changes have not been ones the HOF reliever has liked.
â€śThey're building ballparks smaller, and add more offense to the game,â€ť Gossage said. â€śI think they are completely out of their minds. It used to be 500 homers to be the water mark (to be in line for Hall of Fame consideration), and now it may be 600. The benchmark isn't what it used to be. You can't pitch inside any more. It was my job to make the hitter as uncomfortable as possible. Now, the hitters are protected by the league. There wasn't enough talent to merit expansion back in my day. Now, there's so much talent and expansion that I think it's really watered down. It really is a totally different game.â€ť
Gossage is quick to point out he's from the old school.
â€śI'm not for change,â€ť he said. â€śI don't like interleague play. I'm a traditionalist. I broke in with the old-school mentality. We policed ourselves. now, you saw someone like (Philadelphia) pitcher Cole Hammels drill (Washington's rookie) Bryce Harper. I thought (Hammels) was totally out of line drilling this kid. I'm not crazy about the playoff format. It's good to pique interest. You take the St. Louis Cardinals, who won it all out of the wild card. What a great season they had, but that wouldn't have happened in the day because it was only teams who won their division who saw the playoffs. The urgency isn't there as it used to be, but you do get more teams and more playoffs â€” and I enjoy that aspect. But it's still a great game. I could sit here and complain, but I don't have a solution.â€ť