Notes: Gossage on Munson

Mussina thinks pitching phenom Philip Hughes can wait
01/30/2007 9:45 PM ET
By Jon Lane /
NEW YORK — It was a call Rich Gossage will never forget, one that still gives him chills to this day.

The Goose and his wife were getting ready to see Waylon Jennings in an off-Broadway performance when the phone rang. Gossage answered and the voice on the other end said, "Goose, this is George." Gossage responded, "George who?" He wasn't expecting the Yankees principal owner to have dialed his number.

It was the night of Aug. 2, 1979, when George Steinbrenner informed Gossage of the terrible news that his teammate and Yankees captain Thurman Munson had been killed in a plane crash.

"The toughest thing I've ever gone through as a player. I've never gone through anything like that ever before and I certainly don't want to do that ever again," Gossage said.

The legacy of Munson has persevered ever since. For the last 27 years, the Thurman Munson Awards Dinner has raised money to benefit the Association for the Help of Retarded Children. Along with current Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina, Mets slugger Carlos Delgado, Jets running back Curtis Martin and former Knicks center Patrick Ewing, Gossage was honored Tuesday night for his six seasons in pinstripes and a 22-year career that has nearly earned him entry into baseball's hall of fame.

Gossage, who saved 310 games, fell 21 votes shy of election in January after falling 54 shy a year ago, but his percentage increased from 64.6 to 71.2. His only sense of urgency to gain entry was so his mother, who died last September, could see him inducted while she was still alive.

"If I had a chance to go into the Hall of Fame, I certainly wanted to go when she was still around," Gossage said. "It didn't happen, but I can't complain about the kind of career I've had."

He had no complaints about Munson either. The captain was known for his grit and gruff exterior, but there was a side to Munson few saw, whether it was during the game or in the clubhouse.

"He was the most fun catcher I played with," Gossage said. "We had a lot of fun on the mound. There were some pretty difficult times with the Yanks, but Thurman always seemed to take the lighter side of it — always."

To this day, Munson still has a locker in the clubhouse next to the trainer's room, never to be occupied again. A nameplate of his No. 15 reamins on top, forever a reminder of his enduring legacy.

"You see a little bit of Thurman every day in the clubhouse," Mussina said. "This is a great cause and it's very important to their family and I'm glad to be part of it."

Munson's influence even extends beyond the diamond. Martin, unofficially retired after 11 seasons in the NFL, has few role models. One of them was Munson.

"My tendency is to gravitate towards people who do extraordinary things off the field," Martin said. "Thurman's one of those."

A storyline to follow this spring will be the continuing development of Phil Hughes, the Yankees' top pitching prospect who went 10-3 with a 2.25 ERA in 21 starts for Double-A Trenton. Hughes is so coveted that the Yankees refused to include him in any deal at last season's trade deadline, and some think he could steal the No. 5 starter's job with a strong Grapefruit season.

Though Yankees senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman said on Tuesday there's a chance that could happen, the Yankees want to see him further develop in Triple-A, and Mussina agrees.

"I don't think they should be throwing him into the fire at 20 or 21 years old, but he's not very far away," Mussina said. "I hope they let the kid go out there and develop and be a strong major league pitcher when it's time to ask him to be."

Asked to weigh in on Barry Bonds' pursuit of Hank Aaron's all-time home run record, Gossage believes the chase will be obscured by a dark cloud. Bonds needs 21 to reach Aaron's milestone 755 but is also the center of the controversial BALCO investigation.

Though Bonds has repeatedly denied knowingly using steroids, baseball is dealing with a skeptical public and an issue that will likely get worse before it gets better.

"That's a tough predicament to be in," Gossage said. "I'd hate to be the commissioner."

Available in bookstores is a new full-color book written by former New York City corrections officer, Aris Sakellaridis, "Yankees Retired Numbers." The book is a full-color collection of every player whose number will no longer be worn by another Yankee and features a forward by Hall of Fame shortstop Phil Rizzuto. The Yankees retired the Scooter's No. 10 in 1985.

Jon Lane is an editorial producer for He can be reached at comments