Gossage Apologizes to All, So He Rejoins Padres

Times Staff Writer

Goose Gossage apologized to Ballard Smith, Joan Kroc, McDonald’s restaurants, the people of San Diego and anyone else who would listen.

Now, he can pitch again.

Thursday morning, Jerry Kapstein, Gossage’s agent, completed a deal with Smith, the Padre president, who suspended Gossage without pay Aug. 29 and vowed he would never pitch again for the Padres unless he learned to keep his mouth shut. Gossage, among other things, had called Smith “gutless and spineless” and had said of owner Joan Kroc, “She’s poisoning the world with her (McDonald’s) hamburgers.”

But Gossage made his amends, rather than enter into what would have been a bitter arbitration hearing this weekend. The Padre front office, for instance, had planned to call some Padre players as witnesses to dispute Gossage’s arguments. And the Major League Players Assn. had planned the same strategy. You could have had Steve Garvey and Andy Hawkins testifying for conflicting sides.


Instead, Smith and Gossage and Kapstein came to the following financial resolution:

Gossage, who stood to lose $140,000 because of the suspension (his 1986 base salary is $800,000 and his guaranteed deferred money was not affected by the suspension), will be reimbursed--except for $25,000 that he will donate to the San Diego Ronald McDonald House charity. But after taxes, he stands to lose just $11,000 total.

“I’m as convinced as I can be that had the case gone to a hearing, it was a lead-pipe cinch winner,” said Don Fehr, director of the players’ association. “There’s not the slightest doubt in my mind. The club was out of line (for suspending Gossage), and they would’ve been beaten. And I think they would’ve been beaten badly. . . . As far as I can figure out, Goose just wasn’t interested in fighting about it. It ($11,000) wasn’t worth it to him.”

But the bottom line, sources said, was that Gossage badly wants to finish his career here. To go into arbitration would have been suicide for his chances to play in San Diego--win or lose. He only would have made more enemies.

“We weren’t trying to teach him any lessons,” Smith said. “This is not a situation where one person wins and one person loses. I look at this as a win-win situation for both of us. We’re back on the right track, pulling together. . . . I talked to Goose last night and this morning and I told him the incident is over. It’s done. We’re starting fresh and going from here.”

A source close to Gossage said: “I think he (Gossage) wanted to live there (in San Diego). I think he didn’t want to create a confrontation that would have made it hard to work there. He wanted to finish his career in San Diego.”


Gossage’s statement on Thursday reflected that.

“I am pleased that we have resolved this matter, and I am eager to return to playing baseball,” he said. “I apologize to Joan Kroc and Ballard Smith for my comments about them. I was wrong to make personal remarks about them and I regret having done so. As a result of my meeting with them, I hope they understand that my primary concern has been the success of the club. I believe we all have a better understanding of each other and I am convinced that we all share a strong commitment to winning baseball in San Diego.

“I also apologize to McDonald’s. My family and I have been and will continue to be regular customers of McDonald’s. Throughout this matter, I have been and will remain committed to the San Diego fans. This is a great community, and I look forward to continuing my best efforts for the team and the fans.”

Yet, beyond the handshakes and grins is a simple fact: Gossage will take on a diminished role in the bullpen. And Smith would not rule out a potential trade. Gossage has become too reliant on his fastball this season when his manager, Steve Boros, preferred that he make use of his slider--to throw batters off-balance. Gossage was less effective (21 saves in 32 chances), and the Padres--privately--were glad to have 22-year-old Lance McCullers replace him as the club’s bullpen ace.

In their recent meetings, Smith and Gossage discussed the problem, and Gossage said he was very impressed with McCullers, too.

“He (Gossage) knows that, at least for the time being, his role on the club will be a little different,” Smith said Thursday. “Obviously, Lance McCullers has done a very good job. . . . And both Jack McKeon (general manager) and Steve Boros plan to sit down with him (Gossage).

“You have to remember, we’re talking about a guy who’s a Hall of Fame relief pitcher and who has an excellent chance of catching Rollie Fingers in terms of all-time saves. He’s a great competitor, a winner all of his life. And now he’s at a state where he has to make some adjustments. He understands that and is anxious to do that. We went through the same thing with Rollie Fingers. When Fingers was here, he had to make adjustments (throw more breaking balls), and he made them. He ended up going to Milwaukee and was named Most Valuable Player.

“It’ll be interesting (next season). Like he (Gossage) said to me in one of our meetings, he loves competition. If someone can take his job, so be it. But he’ll be in there fighting.”

Of a possible trade, Smith said: “There was a serious rift between an employer and employee, but he’s indicated he wants to stay here. I’m hopeful that that’s the way it’ll end up. Obviously, on the other side of the coin, we’ve got to do what’s best for the overall team. But what happens in the future (regarding trades) will have nothing to do with this dispute.”

Gossage flew with the team Thursday to Houston--where it begins a three-game series tonight. Players erupted with joy when they saw him, and though both McKeon and Boros planned to talk with Gossage about his new role, neither did it on the plane.

“He spent most of the flight getting acquainted with the guys and chatting,” Boros said. “And I didn’t want to intrude on all that. But I will be talking with him at the ballpark.”

McKeon: “I didn’t think it (the plane ride) was time. But I will sit down and talk with Goose. Steve said he wanted to talk with him, and I wanted to talk with him, too. There are a lot of things I want to discuss with him. I just didn’t have time on the plane.”

A source close to the situation, but not within the organization, previewed a possible scenario for next season by saying Thursday:

“He (Gossage) can’t be the macho man he was. He needs to make adjustments. What will his role be next year? Who knows. McCullers has done a good job, and he could be in the same category as a Goose next year.”

Kapstein wouldn’t comment directly on Gossage’s role, but he said: “I’ve known Goose for 11 years. We’ve been close for 11 years. He’s a total team player.”

And Kapstein might be the MVP here. Smith--when he suspended Gossage for the rest of the season--was saying privately that Gossage was gone for good. But Kapstein and his partner Bob Teaff--both of whom are former Navy lawyers, serving as military judges in court marshal cases--worked with Smith and created a positive atmosphere.

“Fortunately, Rich has an agent--Jerry Kapstein--who is a good problem solver,” Smith said.

And now that it is solved, Gossage can pitch. Or can he? His last game was in late August, and Boros said Gossage probably won’t be in shape to pitch again until the team returns home, Sept. 26.

There will be nine games left in 1986.