Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Book Review: The Goose is Loose

The Goose Is Loose, by Rich Gossage (with Russ Pate)

The worst thing about this book is that I bought it in July and didn't get around to reading it until these past few days.

Goose Gossage is a funny, funny man. This is a funny, funny book. He had a very long and crazy career on many teams, and he's got a story about pretty much every guy on every team to tell you. Some are nice, some are not. Most are hilarious. Every page of this book crawls with random similes and jokes; if I open it to a random page, I get him describing the White Sox's state in 1972:

    The most unforgettable aspect of my first season in the majors had to be the brilliant performance by Dick Allen. At the risk of using the most overused and devalued word in the lexicon of sports--what the hell, I'll go ahead-- he was awesome. Capital A.
    Allen carried us to a record of 87-67 in 1972, five and a half games behind the AL West champion Oakland A's. Oakland, beginning its three-year run of world championships, had a star-studded lineup featuring Reggie Jackson, Joe Rudi, Sal Bando, and Bert Campaneris, as well as great pitchers like Catfish Hunter, Ken Holtzman, and Blue Moon Odom.
    We had Dick.
    Granted, having Dick was infinitely better than not having dick, er, Dick. But other than a few solid bats like Melton and Carlos May, we didn't have much punch in our attack.

The book pretty much just tells the entire story of his career. It's not all laughs, though. For example, in one string of stories, first he recounts a hilarious one about Dave Parker calling to his baseball bat like "Here, boy! C'mere!" and dragging it along with wire, but then immediately launches into a string of stories about really terrible injuries that happened to his teammates. I was reading the book on the bus and I went from laughing out loud to wincing as I imagined some of the accidents he described.

Similarly, one minute he has you laughing over stories of the 1978 Yankees, and then the next minute, you're in pages of emotional melancholy over Thurman Munson's death in 1979. I'd fortunately already read enough about Munson that I knew what to expect, but it was still yet another account from a close friend that made you realize what a loss it was to the team and the players. Very sad.

For me in particular, this book was fun to read for another reason -- that it recounted stories of a lot of teams and players that I remember from my childhood, since Goose's career pretty much spanned from a couple years before I was born until the 1994 strike, which was the year I dropped out of baseball to attend college. He talks about little details like going up against the Dodgers with rookie Fernando Valenzuela; he mentions the death of Ray Kroc and subsequently throwing Joan Kroc into a swimming pool the next year; then he's on the Cubs when youngsters Jamie Moyer and Raffy Palmeiro get traded for the Wild Thing, who replaced the Goose as closer. Even just the little details he gives from the half-summer he spent playing for the Hawks in Fukuoka are pretty fun to read.

Also, can you believe that the Goose developed an allergy to beer? What a travesty for any baseball player.

Goose was everywhere in baseball at one point or another, and saw a whole bunch of changes in baseball during his career. When he started playing, there were 12 teams in each league, 6 teams per division, no designated hitter rule, no free agency, heck, no Seattle Mariners, even. By the time he retired, there were 28 major league teams, 14 in each league, three divisions per league, and he was playing for the Mariners. The role of a closer was barely recognizable compared to what it is today when he started pitching; he was the second player to ever reach 300 saves, after Rollie Fingers, but today he only ranks 16th out of 19 players who've reached that number.

An interesting thing about this book is that there's no pictures section. Pictures seem to generally be pretty central to baseball biographies, and for some reason they didn't include one here. I'd be fine with that, except that I think any good story about the Goose has to have a picture of him and his crazy-ass mustache.

Anyway, vastly fun, vastly entertaining book about a vastly crazy guy. I guarantee you *will* laugh if you read this book, even if at times you'll be groaning as he stretches to put a joke on nearly every page.

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