When Dwight Gooden Was King

11 01 2008

If scientists ever successfully build a time machine (which I think they won’t, because if anyone in the future actually built one, wouldn’t they have traveled back in time to show it off to us by now?), there are several players that I would like to have the opportunity to go back and watch at the peak of their careers. Of course the big names like Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Ty Cobb come quickly to mind, but I’d also like to go back and watch a young Dwight “Dr. K” Gooden pitch in the minor leagues. Did you know that at 18 years old, Gooden struck out 300 batters in 191 innings in A+ ball? That must have been amazing to watch. The following year, at the ripe old age of 19, Gooden struck out 276 batters in 218 innings at the major league level for the New York Mets, and as the youngest All-Star ever he struck out all 3 batters he faced in the All-Star game. His 276 strikeouts crushed the record for most strikeouts by a rookie, which was previously set by Herb Score in 1955 with 245 strikeouts. If you consider how major league teams are moving towards restrictive pitch counts and caps on the number of innings pitched by their young pitchers, it’s very likely that Gooden’s strikeout record may never be broken.

At 20 years old, Gooden won 24 games and won the NL Cy Young Award while posting an ERA of just 1.53, and he captured the triple-crown of pitching by leading all pitchers in strikeouts, wins and ERA. New York City became obsessed with their new young ace, and counting his strikeout totals became a city-wide pastime. With all the hype and early success, can you imagine what Gooden’s rookie cards would go for if he was just now coming up through the minors? How about an autographed gold refractor? That would be one sick card.

Since no has invented a time machine yet, and we haven’t had visitors from the future bring us one, I’ll just have to settle for watching YouTube clips of Gooden. One of my favorite clips is his major league debut on April 7, 1984. The first two batters he faced hit weak-sauce grounders to second and the third batter struck out. He works fast and zips pitches right by those poor scrawny saps wearing those puke-awful early-80’s Astros uniforms and after watching just a few pitches, you already get the feeling that Gooden was going to be something special. Another clip shows Gooden returning from a stint in rehab on June 5, 1987 and the first batter he faces is a svelte looking Barry Bonds. Bonds fouls off the first pitch, but then Gooden comes back with a devastating breaking ball that freezes Bonds in the box. The next pitch is a high heater outside that Bonds stays away from, but the fourth pitch is an eye level fast ball that Bonds can’t catch up to and he goes down swinging. Watching those clips is probably as close as I’ll ever get to seeing Doc Gooden pitch in person, and I’m a little upset just thinking about it.

Unfortunately for the Mets, Gooden, and baseball fans all over the world, Gooden underwent a steady decline that stretched into his early-30’s and he never was able to live up to his early career expectations. The 1980’s weren’t kind to many ball players, and Gooden was no exception. He tested positive for cocaine use several times, and was eventually suspended for the entire 1995 season. He continued to struggle with alcohol and cocaine use, and was arrested several times, ultimately spending 7 months in jail in 2006 after he showed up at a meeting with his probation officer under the influence of cocaine. No one can say whether it was the extreme work load he endured early in his career, or it if was the drugs that led to his decline, but I think everyone can agree that the world of baseball was robbed of one of its brightest stars.

Every decade or so there comes along a player that is set apart from the rest, and like a foreordained deity, they rule the world of baseball and everything in it. The ball field is their footstool, the dugout bench their throne, and in their right hand sits a flaming baseball that will forever burn in the minds and memories of those who were blessed enough to worship at their cleated feet. Sometimes the baseball faithful are allowed only a few short seasons with their newest Diamond King, and so they must pass down their stories to their children because he who once was is now gone. If you ever have the chance to witness such a being, grab onto it and cherish every moment. Though you may not know it, you will be in the midst of angels with a trumpet in one hand and a bat in the other, who have come down from heaven to witness the paradisaical event. I missed out on Gooden the first time around, but time machine be damned, there is baseball in heaven, and I’ll go there just to watch him pitch.


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16 responses

12 01 2008
Dylan

I agree. I have a quite a few of those “wish I saw ’em” guys and Gooden’s one of them.

12 01 2008
JT

I saw Gooden pitch a couple of times, and he was a sight to behold. He was one of my favorites of the 1980s.

3 04 2008
Jay

I was 8 when Dwight came to town. I’ve been a Mets fan ever since. We were such fans, my parents and I refer(red) to him by his first name. “Dwight’s pitchin’ tonite.”

I was at shea when he hit his first homerun. My dad drew a poster of him for banner day (the day where fans marched down the rightfield line with banners and posters between games of a double header).

Dwight was nasty. As a kid I didn’t fully appreciate his dominance, especially with pitchers like Roger Clemens, Mike Scott, Orel Herschiser in the league. It seemed like everyone was good, he was just on a team that I liked. For a long time, I thought an ERA under 2.0 was normal. Dwight did it all the time.

Anyway, it always saddens me to think about his career relative to his potential. I blame the coke. It’s no coincidence that his numbers steadily declined after the Mets’ 1986 success. Yes, he was a work horse, but he was healthy, from a baseball sense: no arm/elbow/shoulder issues.

For me, he’s exhibit A for the case against coke.

And don’t get me started on his boy Daryll….

17 04 2008
Frank

Great article !!!!!
If you can believe ……..nothing in words can describe the electricity he brought to the game !!!!

Those two years of power and poise …he made
teams collectively look so outmatched …..as though the walk to the batters box was a walk to the gallows !!!

Thank you for reminding me of a special moment in time !!!

Frank

17 04 2008
Justin

I saw that this story was the most recently commented on and checked it out. I had never read this before and it really touched a memory. I was 12 and at the peak of my card collecting in 86′. I remember opening those Topps packs and getting a lump in my throat when a Strawberry or Gooden showed up. I bought screwdowns for every one. I remember how amazing I thought he was and I loved the fans hanging the paper “K”‘s on the outfield wall for every strikeout. Some days they seemed like they extended far from the screen. My collecting would last one more year, I would buy occasional packs sometimes just to see what they had come up with, but other interests (and of course girls) had clouded away the fun. I returned to the hobby when my son was born in 2000. It seemed ideal as some of my best childhood memories revolve around card shops and those cards. I really wanted him to have those memories as well. The new collecting started with him in his crib by buying every card I lusted for in the case of my childhood card shop. Today he is seven and we save change for the commons box at the shop across town. He gets just as excited about the card shop as I did. He gathers cards of all the players dad talks about and hordes cards of the Tigers and Lions. We watch all the games together and look through our cards for our favorite player of the game. Our collection is pretty extensive now (and I have the credit card bill to prove it) but I am so happy I made the decision to start the collection again for him. My point is even when I have many times spent two or three hundred dollars on a card for us those Goodens still sit in the box with them. Why? Because to me the book value means nothing. Those cards have more memories than any book can measure and if my son sits at a box with his son staring at a worthless card of a star he stood in awe of for just a moment it will be worth every thousand I have blown.

17 05 2008
Ronald Tenore

I have been “Doc” Goodens biggest fan I have seen Dwight Pitch from the inception of his debut with the METS. Till this day I believe that during Dwight’s first three years as a Met, no player since Koufax and Bob Gibson has electrified baseball the way Dwight has. He was the youngest Rookie of the Year, as well as yougest Cy Young winner (triple crown)as weel as breaking almost every Met record in pitching since Tom Seaver. as a matter of fact there is scientific proof that Gooden was a better pitcher than Tom. He did break a few of his records such as ERA and many others. I was his biggest Fan . The Tampa Tribune did a front page interview with me on June 8,2000 when Doc pitched for the Yankees against the Mets in game one of a double header. I believe the Mets should now retire Dwight’s #16 or they should be ashamed of themselves for Dwight Gooden was alegend at shea. To see the article you can google The Tampa Tribune , SPorts section “Doc’s biggest fan” and it should come up . Martin Fennely was the writer

17 05 2008
Ronald Tenore

IT’s time to retire Dwight Goodens Number and there is no doubt about it. Enough of the politics at Shea. It’s the last year that Shea will exist and it’s retires numbers should welcome another. Yes #16 should be brought to the Walls of Shea in recognition of the great Dwight Doc Gooden. The `86 Mets will live forever and the most intregal piece of the puzzle was Dwight Doc Gooden with his heroics and pitching prowess. We all loved and lived with each pitch he threw. A pitcher of that caliber only comes once in a generation, and Dwight through all his ups and downs deserves his day at Shea before the walls come tumbling down. there is nou doubt tht this is arguably the greatest Met since Tom Seaver to play the game. Until the Mets Retire his number I personally believe the Mets will never win another championship. Just as the curse of the Babe hit Boston for 80 something years, I know the Mets need to break the curse of Dwight Gooden by retiring his number. METS !!! DO THE RIGHT THING.
If you feel you would like to be a part of the Doc Goodens “Retire his number club, than please EMAIL here or write to “DOC” Retired number fan club and be part of the petition that is soon to take place. Send your signed statement to DOC c/o Ron @ p.o. box 3133, Mount Vernon, N.Y. 10553

17 05 2008
Joe Talbot

Yes I agree that Ron Tenore is on the right track . Dwight Gooden was the greatest. Let’s all be part of the Doc retired numbers petition. Mike Piazza wasn’t anywhere near what Dwight Gooden meant to the Mets. Even Mike Francessa said one day on the air, “If you want to know how famous Dwight Gooden was well take Mike Piazzas career and multiply that by 10 and that’s what Doc Gooden was to the New York world.
Plese lets all send in the signatured statements at Ron’s P.o. box.

17 05 2008
Bill Reed

GO Ron! LEt’s bring Dwight Gooden to the Top agin He rightfully deserves all the accolades. I’ll join that petiion signing for Doc. He was the best

17 05 2008
Mario A.

Umm, Ron, Joe, Bill, who’s next?

17 05 2008
Daniel Schrank

I feel it is very interesting article and hopefully Doc will get his day at Shea. I remember seeing this guy and how great he was as a pitcher.

18 05 2008
WJB

Dudes a drug addict…leave him in jail…I was a HUGE DG fan but he disappointed me many times as a kid growing up and was ahorrible role model for many…

20 05 2008
Jessie Walker

Great article DG has always been a Big Hero of mine!! Thanks Jessie

6 07 2008
FRANK

Doc Gooden…just hearing that name brings a smile to my face. He was power and grace, electric and sparkling, hero and goat, brilliant and tragic. I loved Doc Gooden and i still do. There isn’t a day that goes by if i’m watching a game that i don’t think about his high leg kick swipping down, then sending a blistering seed into Carters mit. I was a Mets fan until they dismissed Doc…and when the Yanks welcomed him with open arms i was with him and the Mets didn’t mean anything to me anymore. If the Mets do come to their senses and retire his number I will have to give them some of my time out of respect for him.

And to every please don’t say he was a waste of talent b/c he wasn’t, he just about perfect for many seasons and for the others seasons he was one of the leagues best…he never give up, and if he let you down a few times well that’s a lot less than the next best pitcher. He gave everything he had on every ptch we watched. Doc Gooden thru too many innings at an early age – Mel Stolamyer should be held accountable for that. Doc should be held to the highest regards for what he did do and not what he didn’t accomplish or fall short of. He accomplished a great deal and we had the pleasure to watch it. Remember that!

12 10 2008
gibby

I’ll never forget watching Gooden strike out the side in his All-Star debut. The announcers were all like, “who is this kid?” but we Met fans knew.

It was a privilege to watch him pitch at Shea those years. 1985 and 1986 are two Met seasons I will never forget. To be in my 20s, living on my own in NYC and going to Met games on the Subway was just so much fun. I’ll never forget the ride back on the 7 train to Manhattan after Game 6 – a celebration with total strangers laughing and hugging.

Gooden was just so huge in those days. Those of us who had suffered with the team through some very lean years just could not believe our luck when he came up. It’s sad how he fell to addiction, but he made an appearance at the Shea farewell and did interviews, and he looked and sounded great, finally at peace with himself, you can see it in his eyes.

I wish him all the luck in the world – he was special.

22 06 2009
First Year

I’d do anything to have this card back in the day. Doc you were a god.
Gooden Rookie

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