(If you like this post, you might also want to know which card was first to feature saves as a statistic. Check out the story here.)
As baseball fans, we tend to take certain things for granted. Like Goose Gossage and his monster fastball, for example.
From the mid-1970s through the late 1980s, we knew the Goose would probably be on the hill somewhere in the Major Leagues in the ninth inning on any given summer night.
And then, gradually, he appeared less and less until he hung up hist spikes for good after the 1994 season. You might not have noticed his absence until you went looking for him.
As collectors, we also take certain things for granted. Like Goose Gossage baseball cards, for example.
Goose Gossage cards are as much a part of our childhoods as TV dinners and clunky cars.
I mean, starting with his rookie card and stretching all the way through ….
Oh, what’s that? You say that 1973 Topps card features Rich Gossage and not Goose Gossage? Hmmm, so it does.
Well, maybe Topps just hadn’t caught up with Rich’s new nickname. After all, it was only the season before, in 1972, when Chicago White Sox teammate Tom Bradley had christened Gossage as “The Goose” because of the way he looked when he leaned in to get signs from the catcher.
But if you thumb through a stack of Goose cards from different years, you might be surprised at how few of them are actually Goose cards … a huge chunk are, like that Topps rookie, merely Rich cards.
So, which one is the first Goose Gossage baseball card? There’s only one way to find out.
The Master List
Our task is to work through every known Gossage card from the beginning, not stopping until we find a Goose. And, as with most superstars of yesteryear, the best place to find our candidates is the master (or super) set checklists that PSA maintains. In Gossage’s case, that super set contains 400 different cards, starting with his 1972 Puerto Rican League Sticker … where he appears as “Rick.”
Stepping through, we find the 1973 Topps and O-Pee-Chee rookie cards, and we already know those are Gooseless.
Next come the 1974 Topps and OPC cards, both the single Gossages and the White Sox team cards with Chuck Tanner as manager. None of those pasteboards mention Goose anywhere on them.
The following year, in 1975, Gossage appeared on six cards: base and White Sox team cards in “regular” Topps, Topps Mini, and OPC formats. If you count the SSPC set as a 1975 issue, then you can add that one in here, too.
And what do we find? Well, the team cards don’t help us, as Gossage is Rich across the board.
Ah, but there on the backs of Gossage’s single cards in the Topps regular, Topps Mini and OPC sets, we hit pay dirt:
For an added bonus, SSPC pulls out “The Goose” right in the first line of its card back:
But most folks I know consider SSPC to have been issued in 1976, so we’ll stick with the 1975 Topps/OPC cards as the first time Goose made an appearance on a swatch of cardboard.
Are any of those really “Goose Gossage Baseball Cards” in the proper sense, though?
Not for my money.
In order to qualify for that honor, a card would have to
- Show “Goose” as his primary first name on the card front and …
- Show up on the set’s checklist as “Goose Gossage”
Not of these fit that, ahem, bill.
Duck … Duck … Goose
So Topps, O-Pee-Chee, and SSPC (sort of) each got close to issuing the first Goose Gossage baseball card in 1975, but they all came up short.
Surely, this wrong would be righted the next year, right?
Well, not quite.
Rich was “Rich” on his 1976 Topps card … and on his 1977 Topps card … and on his 1978 Topps card … and …
You see where this is going.
There weren’t many other non-Topps options in those days, either, though Gossage did appear in a handful of oddball sets, including 1977 Hostess, 1978 Kellogg’s, and 1979 Hostess. Alas, he was Rich-ly rewarded on all those cards, as well.
When Fleer finally broke Topps’ monopoly in 1981 and was joined in the market by non-sports staple Donruss, there was finally hope for Goose-hungry collectors.
But that first year passed with nary a sight of Goose or gander, and 1982 was similarly unfowled.
If you were a collector anticipating the arrival of the new 1983 baseball cards, and particularly the chances of uncovering the first-ever Goose Gossage baseball card, your chances of happiness depended largely on the order in which you acquired your wax packs.
If you began with Topps, you struck out again.
If you began with Donruss, well, you were just a glutton for punishment.
But for those lucky few who began their yearly collecting journey with a pack or 20 of 1983 Fleer, the Golden Egg awaited their hungry little fingers.
For there, on card #381 of Fleer’s third modern set, was none other than Goose Gossage, staring down the cameraman with his nostrils flaring. If you flipped the card over, you were greeted to more Goose and another headshot (sepia this time).
And if you flipped all the way to the New York Yankees checklist on card #654, you got one final shot of the Goose.
Now, you might be wondering why Fleer chose 1983 as the year to finally break the Great Goose Gridlock.
Was it because they somehow knew that Gossage would be gone to San Diego by 1984? Or did their market research show that a Goose sighting would help them eat into Topps’ market?
In the end, it doesn’t matter, of course.
Because the real question is just what took all those guys so long to get on the Goose bandwagon in the first place?
Maybe it was just fear of the Goose, the same thing that crippled poor Major League hitters for two decades.