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Then, Gossage's rants were mostly entertaining; now they appear to be the mark of a middle-aged man who may be clinging too closely to the past. "The saddest thing to me," says ESPN commentator Skip Bayless (who has called Gossage a "throw-hard blowhard"), is "the ex-athlete who can't let go." Gossage's rank dismissal of the talent ("The pitchers can't pitch") and fortitude ("The game is getting really soft") of today's players, as well as the character of younger baseball writers ("They don't have any respect for the game"), is destructive nostalgia, experts say. "If you look back, far into history, there is evidence of people having this tendency [to trumpet the good old days] for generations and generations and generations," says Lisa Libby, a psychology professor at Ohio State University and co-author of a 2003 study titled "When Change in the Self Is Mistaken for Change in the World." "So if it were true that there was all this decline in each successive generation, we'd have nothing left at this point. So clearly some of it has to be illusory."
The job of relief pitcher probably was tougher in his day. In 1975, a year in which he led the American League with 26 saves, Gossage pitched 142 innings. Thirty years later, Bob Wickman shared the lead with 45 saves, pitching just 62 innings. That's half the work, double the reward. But it's a stretch to say that today's chiseled, athletic players are inferior to yesterday's stars. "Laughable," says Miami Herald sports columnist Dan Le Batard, 37. "What, anywhere in society, was better 25 years ago? You're using better training methods and previous education. And there's a worldwide talent pool now."
Gossage really misfires with his argument that young writers are keeping him out of the Hall. A writer must cover baseball for 10 consecutive years before receiving a vote. So they're not as wet as Gossage suggests. The youngest of the Hall of Fame voters are old enough to have seen Gossage play.
As with anyone else's glorification of the past, Gossage's celebration of the "old school" doesn't have to be a bad thing. Nostalgia, once viewed as a psychiatric disorder, can be beneficial in reasonable doses. "If someone is angry with something in the present, being nostalgic can be therapeutic," says Krystine Batcho, a Le Moyne College psychology professor and author of several studies on the subject. "It reminds you that you are someone. You're not just an ordinary Joe."
The key is to mix retro thinking with an eye for the future. How do you know when you've crossed the line pining for the old days? "People who keep reliving their past can really wear others down," says Batcho. "So if you notice people starting to avoid you, that's usually a clear sign." Striking a healthy balance may require you to shift your focus--to others, away from yourself. "Once you become pro-social," says Batcho, "you can reach down into the successes of the past and think, How can I use them now? You succeeded because you were talented in some way and other people appreciated it. So how can I do that again?"