So here we stand just three players left that us fans consider the creme de la creme of Mets history. When you look at the past 47 men who have graced this list, you will mainly find men who had mediocre to decent careers. But in one way or another they have ingratiated themselves to us fans by either displaying once in a lifetime career moments, such as a Dave Kingman mammoth game winning homer, or a Al Leiter complete game one hitter, these men will forever be Mets in our collective psyche. The man who you voted in at number three on this countdown falls into the same category as number four on the countdown – what could have and should have been player. He burst onto the scene as a rookie who most of us never heard of before that Spring training, and yet he was our touchstone on the mound for the better part of a decade. Yes folks number three is none other than Dwight ” Doc” Gooden.
Dwight Eugene Gooden was born in Tampa Florida on November 16, 1964. After graduating high school in 1982, Dwight was selected as the Mets first round pick ( fifth player overall) in that years Major League Baseball amateur draft. Dwight would spend only two seasons in the Mets minor league farm system, dominating on every level he was assigned. In 1983 he led their double A affiliate, The Lynchburgh Mets with 300 strikeouts in 191 innings. Later that season he would be promoted to the Mets triple A team in Tidewater , where he would be managed by his future Mets Manager, Davey Johnson. Davey fell in love with Dwights fastball. When Johnson was named the Mets manager just before the ’84 season, he lobbied hard for Dwight to make the team out of Spring training.
Davey got his wish and Dwight made his major league debut on April 7, 1984. Dwight was a little known 19 year old, but he turned heads in his first start when he unleashed a barrage of 98 mile per hour fastballs , augmented with a nasty curve ball. Dwight had brought life back to a franchise that had toiled in the abyss of irrelevance. The Mets fans who endured through that long slumber embraced Dwight immediately. He was considered the second coming of Tom Seaver- a man who would help bring the franchise back to the forefront of New York Sports. Games would sell out on the days that he pitched, and he was nicknamed ” Dr. K” by an adoring fan base for his penchant for striking out the toughest of hitters with the accuracy of a surgeon. In the left field corner of the mezzanine section of Shea Stadium , a group of fans would commandeer the section and instituted the aptly named K -Korner, hanging cardboard K’s every time the doctor dispatched a hitter via strikeout.
At the age of 19 , Dwight became the youngest player to ever participate in a All Star Game. He was brought in during the fifth inning and proceeded to strike out the side which consisted of three of the American League’s most feared hitters which included Tigers catcher, Lance Parrish, White Sox outfielder, Chet Lemon, as well as Alvin Davis.
Gooden finished the season with a record of 17-9 with a ERA of 2.60. He led the league with 276 strike outs ( which is still a record for a rookie season) . He was just the fourth Met ( and still the last) to win the National League Rookie of the Year award ( Tom Seaver, John Matlack and Darryl Strawberry are the other three) . The Mets won 90 games that season finishing second to the Chicago Cubs in the N.L East, but they were number one in the hearts of the New York fans.
1985 was no doubt the best season in Dwight’s career. he dominated the National League by going an amazing 24-4 with a minuscule ERA of 1.53 ( the lowest since Bob Gibson had a 1.12 in 1968!). Throw in the fact that the Doctor struck out 268 batters and won the pitching Triple Crown. But even with his monster season, the Mets still finished in second place to their newly christened arch rivals – the St Louis Cardinals. The Cards and Mets were locked in a dogfight that entire season, and when the smoke cleared the Cards won 101 games to the Mets 98. That off season, Dwight became the youngest player ever to win the Cy Young Award. I remember as a teenager seeing that giant mural of him when I would take the bus in from Vernon New Jersey into the Port Authority Bus Terminal when I came in to visit my mother ( happy birthday mom !!). It was a larger than life fresco of a man who seemed to be a giant among other Major League pitchers.
In 1986, as Bob Murphy once said ” The Dream Has Come True !!” That year Dwight was very good, but not as dominant as the previous season. The Doctor would go 17–6 with a ERA of 2.84 with 200 strikeouts. He was still a feared pitcher, but the fact that the front office tried to steer him away from being a power pitcher to a player who relied more on his breaking pitches baffled many Mets fans. Dwight was voted to his third straight All Star Team that season, and was given the honor of starting. At 21, Dwight was the youngest pitcher to ever receive that honor.
Gooden was lights out during the ’86 NLCS. He lost a 1-0 pitchers duel against Mike Scott of the Houston Astros due to a error by second baseman, Tim Teufel. In game five he was embroiled in a pitchers duel with one time Mets pitching icon, Nolan Ryan. Dwight pitched 10 innings of 1-run ball in a game the Mets eventually won. The Mets ended up beating the Astros in six games, which advanced them into the World Series against the Boston Red Sox. Dwight pitched horribly during the World Series. He did not get past the fifth inning is his two World Series starts.
After the Mets won the World Series in 7 games. The next day , Dwight was AWOL for the ticker tape parade down the famous” Canyon of Heroes”. He blamed it on oversleeping. During Spring training of 1987, Dwight tested positive for cocaine. He was immediately enrolled into the Smithers Rehabilitation Clinic in New York City. Dwight missed the first two months of the season, but when he came back he seemed to be like the dominant Gooden of old. Dwight finished the season with a record of 15-7 with a ERA of 3.21, with 148 strike outs. I know his record lookd s mortal but when you take into consideration he missed the first third of the season it is actually a very good record. The Mets didn’t make the post season in part to injuries as well as Dwight’s stay in rehab, finishing second to the St Louis Cardinals.
In 1988, Gooden went 18–9 with a ERA of 3.19 with 175 strikeouts. The Mets went on to make their second post season appearance in three years, and faced the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS. Gooden started Game 1 against Dodger Ace, Orel Hershiser. dwight pitched well, allowing two runs on four hits while striking out 10,. He would leave after seven innings of work. He would next pitch in Game 4. Dwight pitched well, giving up 2 runs over the first 8 innings, but with the Mets winning 4-2, Dwight served up a game tying 2 run homer to Dodgers catcher, Mike Scioscia. The Dodgers ended up winning the game in 12 innings. The Dodgers would win the series in seven games.
In 1989, Dwight injured his shoulder . He was out for a few months recuperating and made only 17 starts that season. He went 9–4 with a 2.89 ERA with just 101 strikeouts that season. The Mets were eliminated from making the post season in the final week of the season.
In 1990, Dwight was back to his old form. He went 19–7 with a ERA of 3.83. His strike outs improved also, fanning 223 batters.It would be the last time he would finish a season with 200 strikeouts.
In 1991,Dwight along with Mets outfielder, Darryl Boston and pitcher, David Cone were accused of rape, but were later cleared of all charges. During that season, Dwight injured his shoulder again. He appeared in 27 games , going 13-7 with a 3.67 ERA, striking out 150.
1992 was perhaps Dwight’s worst season in terms of record. He went 10-13, which marked his first losing season ever. The next season Dwight went an abysmal 12–15. Yes those teams were horrible but there was something different about Gooden, he came off as aloof and it seem liked the intensity level he once had was gone.
1 The bottom dropped out for Dwight during the 1994 season.He had a 3–4 record with a bloated6.31 ERA when it was revealed he had failed a random drug test. He was suspended by the commissioner for 60 days. Mets fans were devastated. We felt like we were punched in the gut when he failed that test. But fans still supported him and waited for his suspension to end. Unfortunately Dwight failed a second drug test during his suspension and was banned from the game for one season. Mets fans were livid at their ace and demanded he be released. The Mets terminated his contract and severed all ties with the one time face of their franchise. I remember feeling betrayed when he failed that second test that season. I was coming home from work in N.J and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Yes I was a small voice in the chorus of Mets fans that called for his termination. In retrospect I wish that I was a little bit more understanding – especially since he was exiled from the team for most of the next two decades.
After sitting out the ’95 season because of his suspension, Doc signed with the New York Yankees as a free agent. Like I said before this was one of the ways Yankee owner, George Steinbrenner would tweak the Mets by giving fallen Mets stars a second chance and help them recapture their early glory. Gooden struggled his first month with the Yanks and was nearly released. But on May 14th he did something that we always thought he would do with the Mets. He threw a no hitter against the Seattle Mariners 2-0 at Yankee Stadium. That was like rubbing kosher salt into a gaping wound for us Mets fans. Deep down I was happy for him but yet I was still seething. He finished that season with a record of 11–7, but was left off the Yankees post season roster. He would pitch in the ’98 ALCS with the Yankees . From 1998 to 2000 he pitched for the He pitched for three teams from 1998 to 2000, the Indians, Houston Astros and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Dwight returned to the Yankees in the middle of the ’00 season and pitched against the Mets. It was a very surreal game to watch, I wanted to root for Doc but just couldn’t. Dwight made just five starts fo the Yanks that season before being relegated to the Yankees bullpen and a long reliever. He appeared in both rounds of the a.l Playoffs that season, but he didn’t see game action against the Mets in the World Series. Dwight would get a his third World Series ring after the ’00 season ended.
Doc retired after being released by the Yankees in ’01. He finished with a career record of 194-112, which in some circles could have been considered Hall of Fame Worthy but his past run in with the law on drug charges along with his numerous drug suspensions have put a halt to any consideration for enshrinement.We just have to sit back and wonder what could have been if he had just stayed clean after his first stint in rehab.
Since his retirement, Gooden took a front office job for the New York Yankees, which in my opinion continued his alienation with the Mets fan base which was his true family. Part of his role with the Yanks was to be a player/front office liaison, especially with free agents. That included the negotiations with his nephew, Gary Sheffield just before the 2004 season. Dwight did not attend the 20 year reunion of the ’86 Mets in ’06 due to animosity on both sides. Thankfully a reconciliation was reached just prior the the closing ceremonies at Shea Stadium in September of ’08, and he got possibly the biggest ovation of all the former Mets. The Mets fans showed their undying love to the prodigal son, the doctor was in and he was wearing the Mets blue and orange for one last time. It was his first time stepping onto the infield grass of Shea Stadium since the 2000 World Series when he wore a Yankee uniform. Dwight along with former teammate, Darryl Strawberry along with former manager Davey Johnson and general manager , Frank Cashen were inducted into the Mets Hall Of fame on August first of last season. Just prior to the game both Dwight and Darryl signed a honorary one day contract with the Mets and promptly retired . The two faces of the franchise from three decades ago finally ended symbolically ended their careers where it all started and one of the ultimate Mets wrongs were finally righted.
In his eleven years with the Mets, Dwight has a record of 157-85 with a ERA of 3.10. He struck out a whopping 1875 while pitching 23 shutouts.
Tomorrow we will reveal the number two player on the list of the top 50 Mets of all time, and all I will say is that he was one of the best hitters the Mets had ever had.
And with that said… HERE COMES THE INFAMY !!!!
Mets alumni celebrating a birthday today include:
Mets third base coach from ’97-’00, Cookie Rojas is 72 today (1939) .
The Los Angeles Dodgers signed reserve catcher, Rick Wilkins of the New York Mets as a free agent on March 6, 1999.
The New York Mets signed free agent outfielder, Tony Tarasco on March 6, 2001. Tony would be released on September first that year after he was caught smoking marijuana.
The New York Mets signed free agent middle reliever, Orber Moreno on March 6, 2003.
And while you get yourself ready to watch today’s game between the Mets and Red Sox, just remember that there are just 26 Dave Arthur Kingman Days to go until the Mets open the 2011 season against the Florida Marlins in Miami and just 33 more until the Mets 2011 home opener against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field.
Mo Vaughn strives to be just like Charlie Sheen – except with elephants blood !!!