Mets Merized Online is rolling out our Metsmerized Hall of Fame. We will be enshrining one player each week until our five founding members are all unveiled. So far, we’ve selected Tom Seaver in week one, Keith Hernandez in week two, and Jerry Koosman in week three. After our five Founding Members are selected, we will ask you, our readers, to cast your ballot for who should be selected for enshrinement in 2013. Learn more by visiting our Metsmerized Hall of Fame. It’s with great pleasure that we announce our fourth founding member of the Metsmerized Hall of Fame…
The Doctor Is In: Dwight Gooden, RHP
In the spring of 1973, I was seven years old when my dad introduced me to Baseball. It’s been a love that has lasted 40 years and still going strong. I started reading about the greats of the game, ballplayers who were like Greek Gods to a young boy. I asked my dad what it was like to actually see in person guys like Snider, Campanella, Robinson, Hodges, Mantle, Berra. My dad told me about Ebbets Field and stories of some of the ones I mentioned. However, being a Brooklyn fan, he had no stories about Mickey or Yogi. After all, they were part of the hated Yankees.
On May 5, 1991, no longer living in New York, I took my wife to her first major league game and my first at Shea in 8 years. We sat in the loge section along 3rd base. In the top of the first, I leaned over to my wife, pointed to the guy on the mound for the Mets and said, “One day we’ll be able to tell our grand-kids we saw Doc Gooden pitch.”
THAT was Doc Gooden.
Mets fans had been hearing about this rookie phenom for a while. Along with friend and former Tidewater teammate Darryl Strawberry, Dwight was supposed to lead us to the promised land. For it was he who we would build our dynasty around.
Dwight made his debut on April 7, 1984. He picked up a win in a 3-2 victory over Houston, striking out five in five innings pitched and allowing just three hits.
Knowing how management always leads us to believe that every rookie we bring up will be the next Pete Rose (Gregg Jefferies anyone?) we were, as usual, cautiously optimistic. However, with this Gooden kid, he was the real deal. He possessed a 98 MPH fastball that painted the black and a sweeping knee-buckling curve. Yes, the Mets FINALLY had a rookie superstar.
As the strikeouts piled up and “K’s” started getting hung, Dwight became known as Doctor K. Then simply Doc. Later that summer, the 19 year old became the youngest player to ever appear in the All-Star Game. He pitched one inning—and promptly struck out the side.
As the season wore on and the Mets found themselves in a pennant race for the first time in nearly a decade, the rookie did not show signs of slowing down. If anything, Doc became stronger. He won eight of his last nine starts. In his last three starts alone, the numbers were mind-boggling: He struck out 41 and walked just a single batter. He averaged 11.39 K/9 IP, setting a record. His 17 wins were the most by a Mets rookie since Jerry Koosman in 1968. He was named Rookie of the Year, one year after teammate Strawberry won it in 83 and 4th in Mets history.
Yes, Gooden was definitely living up to the hype. However, it was only the beginning.
By 1985, I was no longer a 7 year old kid who thought of Baseball players as Gods. But I started to rethink that upon seeing Doc pitch.
In previous days, when Tom Seaver would take the mound, Mets fans felt confident we’d win. When Doc took the mound, it was a sure thing. Seeing Doc lose was just…incomprehensible. Attendance at Shea went up by 7500 when he pitched. (Apparently, other fans also wanted something to tell their grandkids about). Gooden dominated the league in a way not seen in a generation. His 1.53 ERA was the 2nd lowest in history since the end of the Dead Ball era. Only Bob Gibson’s 1.12 in 1968 was lower. From his 2nd start of the season, his ERA was never over 2.00. Doc went 24-4 and fanned 268. En route to his first Cy Young award, his ERA, wins and K’s were enough to lead the majors. He also led the NL in IP (276 2/3) and CG (16).
Down the stretch, as the Mets battled St. Louis, Gooden put together a string of 31 scoreless innings.
With numbers like this, it’s easy to see how and why he won 24 games. But what about those 4 losses? Well, in those 4 games, he allowed only 26 hits in 28 innings. He walked just 5 while whiffing 28. His ERA for those 4 losses was 2.89.
In September Doc had two back-to-back no decisions. In each of those he pitched nine innings and allowed no runs.
An enormous photo of Doc was put up in Penn Station that tallied his strikeouts. Sports Illustrated exhibited a 102 foot mural in Times Square. The image was of Doc in the middle of his wind-up. The caption underneath read, ‘How does it feel to be looking down the barrel of a loaded gun?’
Ah, yes. The Mets owned New York.
Although Doc could never repeat his once-in-a-lifetime 1985 season, he still had superb numbers in 1986. He went 17-6 with 200 K’s and a 2.84 ERA. That summer, he became the youngest pitcher ever to start an All-Star Game.
With 3 full seasons under his belt, Doc’s numbers were incredible. His record was 58-19, he had a career 2.32 ERA and 744 strikeouts in 744 2/3 IP. He was just 21. And Cooperstown was a lock!
To actually witness a pitcher like this was something to behold. Knowing he was on MY Mets made it a beautiful thing.
Although he pitched superbly in the NLCS against Houston, he failed to pick up a win. Facing Cy Young winner Mike Scott in Game 1 and Nolan Ryan in game 5, Gooden allowed just 2 ER in 17 innings for a 1.06 ERA. But he was 0-1.
Against Boston in the World Series, Gooden struggled miserably. It was hard for fans to watch, much less fathom. Gooden did not just not pitch well. He got crushed. Of the 3 games the Red Sox won, Doc was the loser in 2 of them. He never made it beyond the 5th. In a total of 9 IP, he gave up 8 ER on 17 hits. Doc was not just human after all. He was ineffective. Something was definitely wrong. A few days later, when the World Champion Mets received their victory parade, Gooden was nowhere to be seen.
Six weeks after that great moment in team history, Gooden was arrested in Tampa for fighting with a police officer. The following spring he tested positive for Cocaine and went into rehab. The 87 season had not even started and already it seemed impossible to repeat as World Champions.
Although Doc did not make his first start until June 5, he still managed to win 15 games.
In 1988, the Mets entered the post-season heavily favored over the Dodgers. In Game 1, Doc matched up against Orel Hershiser who finished the season with 59 scoreless innings. Doc fanned 10 and allowed only 2 ER thru 7. The Mets won, but he got a no-decision.
Gooden took the mound again in game 4. The Mets were up 2 games to 1 and things were looking good. Although Doc gave up 2 in the 1st, the Mets rallied. We had a 4-2 lead going to the 9th, just 3 outs away from going up in the series, 3-1. Gooden ended up giving a 9th inning HR to Mike Scioscia. The Dodgers won the game in 12 and went on to win the pennant. With the shocking defeat, Keith and Gary entering the twilight of their careers and Doc being less effective, this was the moment in team history when we realized the dynasty of the 80’s would never quite materialize.
In 89, Doc was injured. He made only 17 starts and posted a 9-4 record. The following season, he bounced back, going 19-7 and recording 223 K’s.
By 1991, however, it was becoming clear Doc was a shadow of what he had once been. There was the drug use, the numerous run-ins with the law and injuries that were taking their toll.
Was it just one thing or a combination of all three? That’s open for discussion. Many have criticized the Mets for overusing him. Only two pitchers, knuckleballer Charlie Hough and Roger Clemens, have tossed more innings than Doc’s 276 total in 85. Estimates show that from 83-85, Gooden threw just under 11,000 pitches. He was not even 21.
Dwight Gooden was a four time All-Star who throughout his career also pitched for the Yankees, Astros, Indians and Devil Rays. He retired in 2001 with a record of 194-112. Of those 194 wins, more than half came before he turned 25.
Although he struggled at the end of his career with the Mets, he still is amongst the best we ever had. His record with us was 157-85. He is 5th in team history with a 3.10 ERA, 2nd in strikeouts with 1875, 3rd in IP with 2169 2/3 and 4th in shut-outs with 23.
Many can point to Doc and blame him for the reason the Mets of the 80’s never lived up to expectations. And yes, while it is sad ‘what could’ve been,’ Doc, at least for a while, was someone we will never forget.
Dwight Gooden was eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2006. His name was only mentioned on 17 of the 520 ballots cast. Since he received less than 5%, his name was removed and he will no longer be considered to be enshrined. Cooperstown was not a lock after all.