Monday, January 28, 2008

Tales Of The Goose

I saw recently that baseball reliever Rich "Goose" Gossage was finally elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. I agree with this-- he was one of the great relievers to ever pitch in baseball-- except, of course, when he was with the Cubs in 1988. This is the basis of all three of these stories.

The first was not my story, actually, but my friend Karol's. Karol is one of the only people who is a bigger Cubs fan than I am, and possibly the only person as big a fan as my son Adam. In the summer of 1988, Karol attended many games. One of these games, Rich "Goose" Gossage, purported "hot shit" reliever with the Yankees, the White Sox and other teams, blew a save opportunity, one of many that season. The friend Karol was with wanted to wait until the Cubs came out after the game to catch a glimpse of a Cubs player she thought was hot. Suddenly, Karol spotted the hapless Goose only a couple of feet away and started to yell "Hey Goose-- you suck!" She got as far as "Hey Goose..." and realized that his kids were with him. Being the classy lady she is, she shifted gears, put her hand on his shoulder and continued, "...keep at it, man!"

He stopped, looked her in the eye and said "Thanks, ma'am!" She realized later that this guy had been taking a drubbing all season from the Chicago fans and appreciated an encouraging word.

He didn't get those words from me.

The summer of 1988 was the summer of the stupidest thing I've ever done. This was the summer I was rooming with two of the closest friends I've ever had and ever will, Dan and Mark, in a great apartment about a block and a half from Wrigley Field. This summer was unbelievably hot. We'd managed to acquire, despite out general post-college poverty, an air conditioner, which we'd installed in the dining room, which actually served as our living room. Our television, our duct tape-repaired couch, our Velvet Elvis, all the things we needed for life, except for the stereo, which was in the "front room" ("frunch-room" in "Chicagoese" or "living room" to the rest of America), were in the dining room. To concentrate the cool, we'd put blankets over the doorways of the dining room so that the cool air actually made a difference rather than being spread uselessly throughout the apartment. On a typical hot July, 1988 night, I was laying on a couch, watching television. I was laying on the couch in the only tolerable room in the house because my right leg, which was in a cast up to the knee as a result of the stupidest thing I've ever done, was throbbing.

I was watching the Cubs game. This was a funny experience in that apartment, because you could actually hear the crowd sounds in Wrigley Field over the sounds on the television. As I watched the Cubs cling to their slim lead, I switched to some other station and started watching something else. Suddenly I heard the unmistakable sound of the 35,000 plus people in Wrigley Field booing. I turned back to WGN, and of course, the Cubs had put their expensive but useless reliever Goose Gossage in the game. I turned back to whatever else I was watching.

A few minutes later, I heard booing that made the previous booing sound like a cheer. I grabbed the remote and switched back to WGN. The Goose had just given up a three-run home run, which ended up being the game-winning hit. I was irate. Later, it occurred to me how funny it was that I was listening to the progress of the game from the crowd noise as I watched television.

A few weeks later, my good friend Dobie and I decided to go visit our old friend Kringle down in St. Louis. The timing was perfect. The Cubs were playing in St. Louis that weekend.

We had a grand weekend with Kringle. When we went, on a Saturday morning, to the ball game, we left early. I'd gotten the cast off from the stupidest thing I've ever done a few days before, but my right foot was still a black and blue potato-shaped mass of pain and swollenness, and I still had to walk on crutches.

We got to the now-razed old Busch Stadium in time to pick some very nice bleacher seats and to catch batting practice. As we sat, who should amble across the field to our general vicinity, but good ol' Goose Gossage.

I'd had a couple of brews at Kringle's apartment, and we'd gotten a round at Busch Stadium already, and that probably mixed just fine with the painkillers I was on, so that probably had something to do with the interaction that followed. When Goose came within earshot, I couldn't resist yelling "Hey, Goose-- you should stay in St. Louis!"

He turned and smiled. I was befuddled as to why he should take my insult so well. Then it occurred to me that since we were in St. Louis, he probably thought I was a St. Louis fan complimenting him. I needed to fix that. I added, in a voice that I'm told by many an old friend and co-worker carries quite well, "I'm from Chicago!"

Goose responded with a gesture that used to puzzle my son when I gave it on occasion. When he was very little and we were in the car, once in a while, someone would aggravate me. I would respond with a gesture, and Adam would ask, "Daddy-- why you put your finger up wike dat?"

Congratulations, Goose! You're #1! Even Johnny Cash thinks so!


Splotchy said...

Great post, Mr. Yen. Your friend Karol is a class act -- always thinking of the children :).

If people wanna hear it, I still have a funny and profane recording on my right sidebar of Goose losing it talking to some reporters.

SkylersDad said...

There was a lot of coverage about Goose finally getting into the hall around here because he lives here.

From all accounts, he is one of the nicest guys you ever would want to meet.

Johnny Yen said...

That was awesome! Up there with Cubs manager Lee Elia's expletive-laden tirade at a bunch of reporters in 1983.

I'd been looking for an MP3 version of the infamous "Troggs tape." I had it on a Rhino record (vinyl lp), "The World's Worst Records, Vol. 2."

Skyler's Dad-
I actually am glad he made it to the hall-- he was a great player-- except when he was with the Cubs, which seems to happen to a lot of players. Two relievers who were awful here in Chicago, Antonio Alfonseca and Latroy Hawkins, played in the playoffs and/or the World Series last year. Player have a way of sucking on the Cubs, then going on to other teams and being great. Lou Brock is the most notable example of this.

Mathman6293 said...

I love your stories about Chicago. I have been bothered by the Goose Gossage deal ever since the Sox traded him to the Pirates. Who didn't he play for?

But I must admit that living in Atlanta has softened my attitude toward the Cubs simply because Atlanta just doesn't compare compare with Chicago baseball and the great fans of the Sox and Cubs separate as we are.

By the way you are right about the frunch room. I've always said that.

yournamehere said...

A friend and I were watching a Cubs game on WGN back in the early eighties and Lee Elia ate a booger on live TV.

My friend immediately went into his fairly accurate Harry Caray impression: "Holy cow, he might, he could, he did...He ate it! A booger!"

I almost died laughing.

Grant Miller said...

Pitchers report in like 20 days!

Johnny Yen said...

That's increasingly a phenonenon. So many guys, when they make it to the Hall of Fame, have to decide what hat to wear that day.

I looked up Gossage on Wikipedia, and they said he played for nine different teams.

My ex (the ex who is Adam's mother) worked for John Cullerton, an Illinois state senator. Cullerton missed his calling; he was a very funny stand-up comedian. She had a tape of him doing "Chicagoese," including the "frunchroom." Other Chicagoisms: a polish sausage is "a polish." We end every question with "...or no?" And we add an "apostrophe s" to everything; my old friend Bob pointed this out when I repeatedly referred to the place the Bears play at as "Soldier's Field." Bob, who was not from Chicago, pointed out that it is "Soldier Field." And it is "Jewel," not "Jewel's." etc.

Oh my god, that's a classic!

I was just talking to a co-worker about that. It's the only thing getting me through the winter.

GETkristiLOVE said...

Odd looking man, and his pitching style was even more odd. Still, it's like I couldn't take my eyes off him when he was on the mound.

Anonymous said...

The Goose could spit a stream of hot seedy yellow tabaccky juice further'n(Syracuse word(further'n) any major league cud chewer ever thought. I saw 'em myself at the stadium one hot summer night when I was in the big apple visiting Granma Bock ! It was at least a dang foot long and came out of his mouth as he came out of the bullpen, it went across the warning track and about 8-10 feet onto the outfield grass. Yepper, it was GROSS....GOOSE GROSS I called it, but man, could he ever wing that ball, what a sound hittin the mitt.
Mr. Yen, it musta been the chewin tabacky in New York that gave him the juice.
You write a great Blog.

Your favorite Brother in Law East of the Mississippi.

Gordo in da'Cuse