Nobody ever accuses Goose Gossage of not speaking his mind, and 99 times out of 100 I love his openness and honesty. But when it comes to calling himself the best closer of all time over Mo, I gotta call a timeout on that one. Gossage's comments to Players Press:
"I think that he is a tremendous relief pitcher. He's the best, current-day, modern reliever. When I was inducted into the Hall of Fame, I was told that I had 53 saves with seven-plus outs. I was told that Mariano had one and Trevor Hoffman had two. So I think that says it in a nutshell." (courtesy of Players Press)
Goosey, baby. I love ya but allow me to take that nutshell and crack the shit out of it. The stats, both basic and standardized just don't support your claim (all stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com).
For starters, Mo has far more saves (525-310) than Gossage, he has won more World Series' (5-1) than Gossage, and has been named the league's best closer, AKA The Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Award, more times (4-1) than Gossage. Goose's career ERA and WHIP, while both solid at 3.10 and 1.232, are bested by Mo's 2.25 and 1.015, which, coincidentally, are the best ERA and WHIP of the live ball era. Quite simply, when you break it down and compare the most basic measurements of individual and team success it's not even a contest. Game, Rivera.
Goose's argument is based on the logic that he pitched in more games for more innings and had more multi-inning saves, which is all true. But the game was different at the time Goose was in his prime, and teams were still learning to specialize their bullpens. The plan of most teams was to use your best reliever or relievers for as long as possible to give yourself the best chance to win, and as a fireballer with a rubber arm, Goose thrived in that environment. But the invention of sabermetrics and the growing attention to standardized stats over the last few decades since Goose's heyday now allow us to compare 2 guys from different eras and eliminate the apparent advantages that come from pitching more innings based solely on the era in which one played. When you compare some of these stats for Goose and Mo, Mo still takes the cake, ices it, and eats it right in Gossage's face.
Mo's ERA+, a much better way to show how good a pitcher is than just ERA, is 202, once again the highest of all-time. Goose's is 126. While Goose has pitched far more regular season innings than Mo (1,809.1-1,090), his overall effectiveness in those innings is not as good as Mo's. Goose's career H/9 and BB/9 are 7.4 and 3.6 respectively. By comparison, Mo's are 7.0 and 2.1 respectively. And while Goose has 1,502 career Ks to Mo's 1006, Mo has averaged 8.3 K/9 over his career as opposed to Goose's 7.5. Set, Rivera.
And when you factor in postseason success it really gets unfair. By all accounts, Mo is the greatest postseason relief pitcher of all-time and his 0.74 ERA, 0.773 WHIP, 39 saves, and 5-to-1 K to BB ratio speak to that. Granted he has spent far more time in the playoffs than Gossage, but that also means Mo had far more chances to make mistakes and hurt his career numbers in short series' and instead he has thrived time and time again in the highest of pressure situations. There's something to be said for a relief pitcher who has won a World Series MVP and ALCS MVP for his team in 2 separate postseasons and that pitcher isn't Goose Gossage, it's Mariano Rivera.
And just in case there is still a shadow of a doubt, consider longevity. Sure Gossage pitched for 22 seasons, but by his 15th year in baseball he was fast approaching the downside of his career. After his 15th season, Gossage only recorded 32 saves for the remainder of his career as his IP and K/9 went down and his WHIP and ERA went up. Mo's 15th season was last year and he recorded 44 saves, had an ERA under 2.00, a WHIP under 1.00, and recorded his highest K/9 average since 1996. Mo has showed no signs of slowing down and barring injury, he should eclipse Gossage's final 7-year save total in one season this year. Game, Set, Match, Rivera.
Everybody is entitled to their opinions but the numbers don't lie. Mariano Rivera has been more dominant, more efficient, and more consistent than Goose Gossage over a long period of time, and at an age where Gossage began to significantly decline, Mo has been able to maintain, if not improve, his high level of performance. Gossage's argument, while logical, is severely misguided as standardized statistics show that Mo's per-inning and per- 9 inning numbers are better than those of Goose, thereby negating the higher totals that Gossage accumulated as a result of pitching more innings. Rather than attempt to use that to prove his superiority over Rivera, Gossage would be wiser to show how his incredible stats could have been even better had he been used in today's system. Less wear and tear on his arm could have extended the life of Goose's prime and given him a shot at 400-450 saves, as well improved his per-inning and per-9 inning stats.
I will never try to argue that Goose wasn't a great player because he was. He was the inspiration for today's closers and still ranks as one of the 5 greatest closers of all time in my book. But he never has been and never will be better than Mariano Rivera. One inning or multiple innings, Mariano Rivera is the Bret Hart of relief pitchers/closers: the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.
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