Before Matt Harvey. Before Stephen Strasburg. Before Clayton Kershaw. Before Kerry Wood. Before all the pitching phenoms in the past 25 years, there was Dwight “Doc” Gooden. The flamethrower who burst onto the New York baseball scene with the Mets in 1984 at the preposterously young age of 19 was more than a phenom -- he was a transcendent talent, blessed with a 98 MPH fastball and a devastating curveball to match.
Nicknamed “Dr. K,” Gooden was named an All-Star in his rookie season, won 17 games, led the league in strikeouts (276) and had a ridiculous K/9 of 11.39 (the major league record at the time). He finished second in the NL Cy Young Award voting. He followed up his stunning debut season with an even more impressive sophomore season, a Cy Young Award campaign which saw him win the pitching Triple Crown -- a league-leading 24 wins, 268 strikeouts and 1.53 ERA. He also had an NL-best 16 complete games, a number which seems unbelievable compared with today’s pitchers.
In 1986, Gooden helped lead the Mets to their first World Series title since 1969 and it seemed that he was heading for a surefire Hall of Fame career. Unfortunately, Gooden’s career which had so much promise was famously derailed by substance abuse and off-the-field issues, a struggle he shares in his candid new book, “Doc: A Memoir.”
Gooden did have a comeback with the Yankees where he pitched a no-hitter in 1996 and won two more World Series rings in 1996 and 2000 with the Bronx Bombers. Retired since 2001 and two years sober after several well-documented instances of addiction and relapse, the Mets have brought Gooden back into the team fold in anticipation of Tuesday’s All-Star Game at Citi Field. Gooden has made appearances at a number of All-Star Week events, including conducting a pitching clinic at the 2013 T-Mobile All-Star FanFest and greeting runners at Saturday’s All-Star Game 5K to benefit Superstorm Sandy.
On Friday, Gooden and Mets mascot Mr. Met threw out the ceremonial first pitches at the Champions-Challenger Game at Citi Field. This unique game organized by Major League Baseball brought special needs children representing Little League’s Challenger Division and PONY Baseball/Softball Championship Division together for a one-inning baseball game on the outfield grass at the Mets’ ballpark.
I caught up with Gooden at the Champions-Challenger Game to talk about the All-Star Game, his best New York memories, the young pitchers in the majors, and who should start the Midsummer Classic at Citi Field. Spoiler alert: he thinks it should be Matt Harvey.