Since the results of the latest Baseball Hall of Fame ballot will be announced in less than two weeks, and, related, the Hall of Fame debate for former Yankee Goose Gossage is in the news these days, I have decided to share an excerpt of my book, The Baseball Same Game, where Gossage is highlighted. Those who are wondering about what pitcher(s) in baseball history were like Gossage may find this information helpful. If you like this excerpt, there are 64 additional ones that can be found in the book, if you want to pick up a copy for yourself.
Usually, the strength of a case involving pitchers in The Baseball Same Game has its foundation drawn from the comparison of Innings Pitched and Runs Saved Above Average. In the case of Richard “Goose” Gossage and John Hiller, the driver is different. In this pairing, it is The Baseball Same Game metrics other than Innings Pitched and Runs Saved Above Average that facilitate the claim of sameness.
The marks for Gossage and Hiller in Earned Run Average versus the league average and Strikeouts Per 9 Innings Pitched versus the league average are nearly dead solid perfect matches. And, their totals for Strikeouts to Walks Ratio versus the league average and Base Runners Allowed Per 9 Innings Pitched versus the league average are fairly close as well. These four points of comparison lend towards making the case here.
Without question, Gossage pitched more often than Hiller – as noted by the difference of 500+ Innings Pitched between the two. And, Goose had more Runs Saved Above Average than John did in his career. Nonetheless, because of the closeness in the metrics here outside of Innings Pitched and Runs Saved Above Average and the fact that the ratios of Runs Saved Above Average to Innings Pitched for Gossage and Hiller (.09 and .11, respectively) are close as well, this case will be permitted to stand in The Baseball Same Game.
Goose Gossage was an extremely hard thrower. He first made the major leagues with the Chicago White Sox in 1972 as a relief pitcher and was nothing special during his first three seasons in the big leagues. Then, in 1975, he had a stellar season for the White Sox coming out of the pen. So, what did Chicago do? They moved Gossage to the starting rotation in 1976 and he bombed. On December 10, 1976, Goose was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates and they decided to use him as their closer. Goose went on to be one of the ten best pitchers in the National League in this role with Pittsburgh in 1977. And, as a result of that effort, Gossage was awarded (what was then) a big Free Agent contract to come pitch for the New York Yankees.
Goose went on to have six consecutive solid seasons as the Yankees closer. Tiring of the pressure that came with playing in New York, Gossage left as a Free Agent in 1984 and signed with the San Diego Padres. Gossage was good in his first two years in San Diego, but he was not as good in his last two years there. And, in 1988, Goose was traded to the Chicago Cubs. From this point in his career, Gossage became a nomadic and average relief pitcher. From 1988 through 1994, Gossage would pitch for the Cubs, San Francisco Giants, New York Yankees (again), Texas Rangers, Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners. Goose even pitched in Japan during the 1990 season.
Unlike Gossage the eventual traveler, Canadian born John Hiller played his entire career with the Detroit Tigers. Hiller had cup of coffee short stays with the Tigers in 1965 and 1966. It was not until 1967 that he earned a full-time job in the big leagues. Through the 1970 season, John was an effective pitcher for Detroit (pitching mostly in relief but also starting some games).
On January 11, 1971, John Hiller’s career took an unexpected turn. On that day, Hiller suffered a massive heart attack (just a few months short of his 28th birthday). Subsequently, John would need to have seven feet of his intestine removed to alleviate a cholesterol problem. He missed the entire 1971 season. And, in 1972, Hiller’s action was limited to serving as a batting practice pitcher for the Tigers until a comeback to live play on July 8, 1972.
In 1973, John Hiller fully came back. Serving as the Tigers’ closer, he was one of the ten best pitchers in the American League that season. Moreover, from 1973 through 1978, Hiller was the best relief pitcher in the American League. John’s career began to end with a sub par season in 1979. And, while he pitched some in 1980, Hiller probably should have called it quits after 1979. No longer being an effective pitcher, John retired from the game.
There is still great debate as to whether or not Goose Gossage should be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. As this is being penned, it is not known if Gossage will make it to the Hall. However, if Goose does get in, as a result of this case in The Baseball Same Game, it is hoped that some will think about John Hiller on that day (as well as reflecting on the career of Rich “Goose” Gossage). In terms of qualitative career pitching results, the two were the same.
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