Goose Gossage, one of America’s original sports millionaires, could be a grump about Stephen Curry’s astronomical contract.
He’s not. Gossage was a happy pioneer on the path of colossal sports contracts. He thrilled to see Curry walking gleefully along the same route. Curry will earn – gasp! - $40 million per season to shoot from 40 feet and in for the Warriors next season. It’s the largest contract ever in American team sports.
“You’re talking to the wrong guy if you think I’m bitter about the contract,” Gossage says from his home in Colorado Springs.
Gossage is one of the original millionaires of American team sports. In 1984, he inked a five-year, $10 million contract with the Padres. At the time, it was staggering money, the highest salary ever for a pitcher.
Not bad for a man who grew up near Fillmore Street, then the far north end of the Springs. He spent summer Saturday afternoons sitting with his mom and dad, savoring the Gossage ritual of watching and exalting baseball heroes on the family’s black-and-white TV.
A part of him still struggles to comprehend his baseball odyssey.
“The fun that I had and the money that I made,” he says, laughing. “Sometimes I sit at a traffic light and shake my head. Unbelievable.”
Yes, it was his dream to play in the bigs.
But the bigs were his means to earn a living and care for his family, too.
Gossage remembers his first major league contract, the one he signed as a 20-year-old in 1972. This was before the advent of free agency and the labor strife that invaded baseball and would eventually invade football, basketball and hockey, too.
His 1972 contract paid him $12,500, the minimum. The minimum salary in 2017 has soared to $535,000.
“The money that’s so crazy today, we fought for it,” Gossage says. “Had we not fought for everything, we’d still be in the dark ages on salaries.”
Gossage pitched 22 seasons in the majors. He also endured eight work stoppages, either by player strike or owner lockout. In the NBA and NFL, the same strikes and lockouts built the foundations that will pay LeBron James $33 million and Von Miller $19 million to play games in 2017.
This massive money can inspire serious grumpiness. I know this truth. Last summer, a few dozen Gazette readers snarled when I supported Von’s aggressive pursuit of the mega-contract that made him the NFL’s highest paid defensive player.
Gossage has heard moans, too. Greedy players, fans shout, are responsible for overpriced tickets and hot dogs and beers.
The Goose sighs.
“The ticket prices would be the same,” he says. “The owners would be putting the money in their pockets. There’s so much money in those franchises and in sports, period. It’s always been big business, but the players never shared in that. All we wanted when we went on strike was our fair portion of the pie.”
Now, Curry can savor a staggeringly massive slice of the pie. The guard who struggled out of high school to find scholarship offers now sits atop a mountain of cash.
Gossage was a basketball star who averaged 19 points his senior year at Wasson High School in 1970. He was an aggressive small forward with the finest jump shot in the city. Basketball ranked as his favorite sport when he was a teen.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a shooter like Steph Curry,” says Gossage, who has followed the NBA for more than 50 years. “He puts so much pressure from the outside. He opens up the whole floor.”
One of America’s pioneering sport millionaires battled with extreme diligence to send salaries into the stratosphere. He’s thrilled to see this generation soaring way up there with fantastical riches.
“Heck,” the Goose says, “I’m happy for Steph Curry.”