0

Gossage, Rice await Hall of Fame announcement

NEW YORK - Goose Gossage was having trouble getting a full night's sleep as the Hall of Fame announcement approached.

'I try not to get too excited,' he said Monday.

After falling short eight times in voting for Cooperstown, Gossage was the leading candidate on this year's ballot.

Votes from 10-year members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America had to be in by Dec. 31, and totals were to be released today.

When Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn were elected last year, Gossage was third with 388 votes (71.2 percent), 21 shy of the 75 percent needed for election.

Jim Rice was next with 346 (63.5 percent), followed by Andre Dawson at 309 (56.7) and Bert Blyleven at 260 (47.7).

Tainted by accusations of steroids use, Mark McGwire received just 128 votes (23.5 percent) in his first appearance on the ballot. Given Barry Bonds' indictment on perjury and obstruction charges and allegations of performance-enhancing drug use against Roger Clemens, it will be interesting to see if McGwire's percentage increases, stays the same or declines.

Tim Raines and David Justice headed 11 first-time candidates on the 25-man ballot. While there were no odds-on favorites among this year's newcomers, career steals leader Rickey Henderson will be on the ballot for the first time in 2009.

Just four pitchers who were primarily relievers are in the Hall: Hoyt Wilhelm (1985), Rollie Fingers (1992), Dennis Eckersley (2004) and Bruce Sutter (2006).

Gossage is proud that he was the type of closer that doesn't exist today: Fifty-two of his 310 saves were of seven outs or more, while Mariano Rivera has just one, Trevor Hoffman two and Eckersley five.

Back in the 1970s and early 1980s, closers regularly entered in the sixth and seventh innings. Fingers had 74 saves of seven outs or more and Sutter 46.

'Now it takes three guys to do kind of what I used to do,' Gossage said.

He was a nine-time All-Star and played for nine teams during a big league career that spanned 1972-94. Rice, an eight-time All-Star and three-time home run champion, spent his entire career with the Boston Red Sox, playing from 1974-89.

The 1978 AL MVP, Rice put up impressive statistics that have been dwarfed by all the inflated offense following his retirement. He was 36th on the career RBIs list when he retired, but now he is 54th.

'Things are not like they used to be; the players are not the same,' said Rice, who hit 382 homers. 'You have to put guys in different categories and ask, 'What were those guys considered during their time?

'You can go back before the steroids; you can go back to Nautilus equipment, weights, more teams, smaller ballparks. There's a lot of things you can go back into. The question is, what kind of hitter was I? Did I do things for the team or more as an individual? I could have been more selfish, but when I played it was a team thing. If you tell a young guy now, you've got to hit 500 home runs to get to the Hall of Fame, he'd have to decide if he wants to do that.'

Rice, on the ballot for the 14th time, saw his percentage drop slightly last year from 64.8 in 2006. The highest percentage for a player who wasn't elected in a later year was 63.4 by Gil Hodges in 1983, his final time on the ballot.

McGwire, eighth on the career list with 583 home runs, appeared on 128 of 545 ballots, a percentage that raised doubts about whether Bonds, Sammy Sosa or other sluggers from baseball's Steroids Era will ever gain entry.

'I hope that as time goes on, that number will increase,' Gwynn said. 'I hope that one day he will get into the Hall of Fame, because I really believe he deserves it.'