Jim Rice was certainly disappointed when he fell 16 votes shy of election into Baseball's Hall of Fame, but aside from Rice himself, the person who might have felt his pain more than anyone was Rich "Goose" Gossage, the one player who was elected in balloting announced by the Baseball Writers Association of America yesterday.
"I said a few days ago, I would have loved to have gone to Cooperstown with Jimmy," said Gossage, the great Yankees closer. "I've been surprised he hasn't got in and I thought this would be it.
"He came so close. But that's a sign that he's going to get there with me soon. I said it before and I'll say it again: I didn't fear any hitter, but he was the closest I ever came to fearing."
Gossage was named on 466 of 543 ballots (85.8 percent) cast by 10-year members of the BBWAA.
"It was very emotional, I'll tell you, off the charts," said Gossage. "I can't describe the feeling. I can't lie. There's been some frustration and some disappointment."
Rice, who has one more year of eligibility in the writers' balloting, received 392 votes, or 72.2 percent, just shy of the 75 percent required for election. He seemed to be helped by the absence of a first-time slam-dunk candidate this time, as his total was up by 46 votes from 2007.
In a statement released by the Red Sox, for whom he played 15 seasons, Rice said, "Today's results are obviously a disappointment. I believe my accomplishments speak for themselves, and a majority of the voters seem to agree. It is tough to come this close, but I remain hopeful for the 2009 results."
Gossage, though genuinely disappointed at Rice's shortfall, was buoyant about winning election after nine years on the ballot. The fifth reliever to be elected, he had a career record of 124-107 with a 3.01 ERA and 310 saves, appearing in 1,002 games with nine teams over 22 seasons. He struck out 1,502.
In these parts, Gossage is remembered as the imposing figure coming out of the Yankee bullpen. He closed out the infamous "Bucky Dent" playoff game in 1978, preserving a 5-4 New York victory by getting fellow Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski on a popup to end it.
"I loved that rivalry," Gossage said. "I respected every one of the Red Sox players. They had a great lineup and Jimmy was really the centerpiece of that lineup. He made it go. He was a great hitter. I don't think anyone would ever have a bad word about him."
The feeling is mutual. Rice said recently, "Goose was one of the toughest competitors you'll ever see on that mound. When he came on, you were in for a battle. He won more than his share. I'd be very happy for Goose if he got in."
In Rice's final year of eligibility before his candidacy falls into the hands of the Veterans Committee, Rickey Henderson will be a first-timer on the ballot, and though Henderson is likely to be elected, that shouldn't hurt Rice's chances.
Elsewhere on this year's ballot, Andre Dawson picked up new support, finishing third with 358 votes (65.9 percent) - up 49 votes from 2007 - followed by Bert Blyleven at 336 (61.9 percent), Lee Smith at 235 (43.3 percent), and Jack Morris at 233 (42.9 percent). Smith, who spent two-plus seasons with the Red Sox, could be the next reliever who moves up the charts and follows Gossage into the Hall.
Mark McGwire, in his second year on the ballot, received the same number of votes he got last year, 128, far short of election. He is still feeling the backlash of what voters believe was a career tainted by steroids.
"I don't think this steroid thing is over by any means," said Gossage. "I'm sure that most of you guys, the writers, don't really know how to approach this."
First-time eligible Tim Raines received 24.3 percent of the vote, one of 13 players who got the minimum 5 percent to remain on the ballot for next year. Falling off, though, will be Dave Concepcion, who received 88 votes (16.2 percent) in his 15th and final year on the writers' ballot.
At the July 27 induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y., Gossage will be joined by one of his former managers, Dick Williams, who was elected earlier along with four others by the Veterans Committee. Williams, manager of the "Impossible Dream" Red Sox in 1967, managed Gossage with the Padres in 1984 and '85.
"There isn't anybody I'd rather go in with than Dick Williams," said Gossage.
Gossage was at his home in Colorado Springs when he got the news of his election.
"A shock wave went through my body, like an anvil just fell on my head," said Gossage. "I think having to wait makes it that much more special."