Fosse a big believer in Gio's abilities
Former catcher, Nats left-hander also share love of Motown
VIERA, Fla. -- Ray Fosse was an average Major League catcher in the 1960s and '70s, hitting .256 with 61 home runs and 324 RBIs in 12 seasons with the Indians, Athletics, Mariners and Brewers.
But talk to Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez and he will tell you that Fosse is a "Hall of Famer in my eyes." There is a good reason for such praise.
According to Gonzalez, Fosse was the first person in Major League Baseball to tell him that he would be a great pitcher one day. Fosse went so far as to tell Gonzalez that he would win 20 games in a season.
In his last year in Oakland, Gonzalez was four wins short of winning 20, but Fosse, now a TV analyst for the Athletics, said Gonzalez will reach that goal more than once.
"Probably the one thing he lacked here in Oakland was a little bit of run support that probably cost him some wins," Fosse said. "I just tried to get him to believe that he was as good as what I saw in him when the A's acquired him [from the White Sox]. He is such a great pitcher, a great talent. He wants to do well every time he takes the mound. He works hard and is just a great young man."
Gonzalez and Fosse first met in 2008, when Gonzalez made his Major League debut. Gonzalez was hit hard that year and acknowledged that his confidence was shot.
One day, after Gonzalez had a rough outing, Fosse mentioned to Gonzalez that he caught three 20-game winners during his career -- Catfish Hunter, Gaylord Perry and Vida Blue. Fosse believed Gonzalez would have similar success.
"I see it in you," Fosse told Gonzalez.
"I guess he just saw this competitive kid that was down. He saw that I was never going to quit," Gonzalez said. "He was one guy -- even when I was down and out -- who believed in me more than I would believe in myself. The expectations he has of me are unbelievable. I think that kind of way of thinking only betters the player. It only helps him out. It keeps him locked in and focused. I think what he did for me, in that aspect of it, [he gave me] my confidence. It was unbelievable."
When Gonzalez is on the mound, Fosse is often reminded of Blue, a former Cy Young Award winner who won 209 games during his career.
"The overpowering fastball -- Vida Blue had it. He would just kill my hand, break bats," Fosse said. "Gio's fastball is so overpowering. He is going to get better and better. There is no doubt that his walk totals were a little bit too high, but he is getting better and better. He is a kid. ... He has the curveball and a better changeup."
Last December, Fosse had mixed emotions when the Athletics traded Gonzalez and right-hander Robert Gilliam to the Nationals for four prospects -- catcher Derek Norris and pitchers A.J. Cole, Tom Milone and Brad Peacock.
"There is no doubt the Washington Nationals received a tremendous player [in Gio]," Fosse said. "I know there is talk about maybe the Nationals gave up too much for Gio. Believe me, what he has done and what he did the last two years, [he took] the ball every fifth day, a competitor, a tremendous talent."
Baseball is not the only thing Gonzalez and Fosse have in common. They love the music from Motown. During his days in Oakland, a few hours before he would get on the mound, Gonzalez was known to blast music from the Temptations, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder in the clubhouse. Fosse was so impressed that he named Gonzalez, "The Motown Kid."
"As soon as I walked in [the clubhouse], I would say, 'Gio is pitching, where is the Motown Kid?'" Fosse recalled. "He would always play Motown music. Guys like myself and some of the clubhouse people would say, 'Gio is pitching. This is great because this is music that we love.'"
Said Gonzalez, "Ray loved that music. He loved the Temptations. Him and I were on the same page when it came to music. There are two levels of music for me, the old-school music or the new-school music. I always stuck with the old-school music in Oakland. I kid you not, from the security guards to everyone that worked there, all they would listen to was Motown. It felt like I packed the clubhouse and it was like a club because of the music that I played. When Ray Fosse came in, I would crank it up and he would be right there singing along to it."
Fosse and Gonzalez have a lot in common. No wonder Gonzalez is grateful for the friendship they have.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.