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DOC-U-MEMORIES (NY Sportsday Exclusive)

by Ohio Digital News

This Sunday, the Mets will honor Dwight “Doc” Gooden by retiring his #16. Before his big day, I spoke with Gooden by phone to get his thoughts on some of his memorable games. 

Gooden burst on the scene in 1984 and had Shea Stadium rocking every time he took the mound.

Armed with an electric fastball and a curveball that was coined with a nickname of “Uncle Charlie,” Gooden earned 1984 Rookie of the Year honors behind one of the most incredible debut seasons by a pitcher (17-9, 2.60 ERA, 218 IP, 276 Ks). In 1985, he won the National League Cy Young Award with one of the best individual seasons ever (24-4, 1.53 ERA, 276 2/3 IP, 268 Ks, 16 complete games). The right-hander was putting together a Hall of Fame resume, but unfortunately his career was derailed by drug problems.

In an exclusive interview with nysportsday.com, Gooden recalled some of the memorable moments of his career.

April 7th, 1984: Doc’s Major League debut at the Houston Astrodome where he earned his first win vs the Astros (5 IP, 1 ER, 5 Ks)

As an 18-year old, Gooden dominated the Class-A Carolina league (19-4, 2.50 ERA, 300 Ks in 191 IP) while pitching for the Lynchburg Mets. Davey Johnson was in his first season as the manager of the Mets in 1984 and he pushed to have the 19-year old phenom go north with the big club.

It was obviously a big day for Gooden and his family.

The Mets were kind enough to fly my parents in the night before. We had dinner. The day I was pitching, it was a night game. I had lunch with my parents. I was so nervous, being my first game and having my parents there,” said Gooden.

Doc was anxious to get to the ballpark early, but a lack of recognition nearly kept him from pitching his first game.

I went to the concierge and asked the guy, how far is the Astrodome? He said, about three miles. 2:30 p.m. central, I walked to the Astrodome,” Gooden said. “Once I get there, I didn’t know how to get in so I had to climb an eight-foot fence. I climbed the fence and there’s a security guard there who came running over. They’re like, what are you doin? How’d you get here? I said, ‘I’m Dwight Gooden, I’m pitching tonight.’ Show some ID. I show my ID, luckily, the trainers were there, so they called down to the clubhouse so the trainers came out to get me.”

So, a 19-year old kid took the mound at the Houston Astrodome to face a veteran Astros team who had not seen anything like what they were about to experience.

I remember pitching the game, going five innings. I was nervous, very nervous, obviously and I was sweating bullets. My parents are in the front row. I just remember looking at my parents’ face, especially my dad, who was a baseball fan that taught me baseball. He was so happy because it was like his dream that became my dream and my mom was sitting next to him. She enjoyed little league more than big leagues because of the pressure that comes with that,” Gooden said.

I get the win, my first strikeout was Dickie Thon. In the first inning, [leadoff batter] Bill Doran helped me out, he swung at the first pitch I think (it was actually the second pitch), ground out to second base. Terry Puhl was the next batter, I think he went 2-2, he grounded out to second base and I struck out Dickie Thon, my third batter, and it was just like a relief I got through that first inning. I went five innings, I got the win and I remember talking to my dad after the game. He said, ‘Son what do you think?’ I said, ‘I should be okay, I should win a lot of games.’ The next start, I got knocked out in the third inning.”

A family reunion after the game became a memory that would last a lifetime.

I saw my parents after the game, they were very excited for me,” Gooden said. “I remember having a conversation with my dad and he said, ‘I’m very proud of you.’ That’s probably, maybe the first time I saw my dad tear up, beside being at his mom’s funeral in 1985. That’s the first time I’d seen him tear up and that’s out of joy and that brought joy to me, see my parents living a dream. We grew up in Tampa and we didn’t have much but that was the joy for my family and myself.”

May 11th, 1984 vs. Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Gooden’s first complete game shutout (4H, 11Ks)

Gooden’s recall for these games was remarkable, so, of course, he would remember his first shutout.

As a kid, the Dodgers are on [TV] a lot in the ‘70s, I just remember Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Steve Yeager, all these guys, Ron Cey. My best friend was living across the street from me, the Dodgers were his team. Cincinnati Reds was my team growing up in Tampa. When I faced the Dodgers and got the shutout, I couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel to call my friend. I’m 19 years old and I’m living a dream, all of it still didn’t really sink in yet. At Dodger Stadium, playing in all these big league stadiums, a dream come true and facing like a Ron Cey, Steve Garvey. I never met Steve Garvey at that time but I knew he was from Tampa, same hometown I’m from, all those great things going through my mind,” Doc said.

May 25th, 1984 vs. Dodgers at Shea (8 IP, 1R, 14 Ks)

Exactly two weeks after his first shutout vs. LA, he faced them again at Shea and set a then season high with 14 strikeouts. Gooden’s stuff was so good that even though the Dodgers had already faced him, it became a futile effort the second time around.

Facing the Dodgers in that game, at Shea Stadium, they didn’t have analytics like they do now but facing the team that [had] seen you, they might have your number now. I remember Mike Fitzgerald, my catcher, and Mel Stottlemyre, my pitching coach, said attack them until they show you they can make the adjustment, then you make the adjustment. I didn’t change a thing, I just used the experience that I had against them at Dodger Stadium when I faced them this time around,” said Doc.

September 7th, 1984. Complete game, 1-hit shutout vs Cubs (Keith Moreland single to lead off the fifth. 9 IP, 1H, 11 Ks)

Gooden came oh so close to pitching the first Mets no-hitter. In the top of the fifth inning, Moreland hit a slow grounder to Mets third baseman Ray Knight who booted the ball that was ruled a hit by official scorer Maury Allen. The call became a topic of conversation the next day at the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament. John McEnroe had just won a memorable semi-final match against Jimmy Connors and met the media afterwards. Allen was part of the media contingent and was spotted by McEnroe, who was a huge Mets fan. McEnroe saw Allen and interrupted his media session to question why Allen would call a hit instead of an error.

That sticks out more than anything because in my eyes, and still today, that should’ve been a no hitter. Not to blow smoke, I remember like it happened yesterday,” Gooden said. “He [Moreland] hit a slow roller to Ray Knight at third base. Ray went to pick up the ball but he couldn’t get a grip on the ball out of his glove. I think that was the only baserunner that day and they ended up giving him a hit. What made it even worse, a couple of days later, Maury Allen was the scorekeeper [he] told me, ‘Doc, I’m sorry, I made a mistake.’ That made it even worse, I remember him saying, No that was a hit. I’m sticking to it. He found a tape and when he said he made a mistake, that should’ve been an error, that was just like rubbing salt in the wound for me. That hurt even more by him saying that. I’ve seen that play over and over and over and even Ray Knight said that should’ve been an error. 99 out of 100 times he makes that play in his sleep.”

September 12th, 1984: Sets rookie record for Ks in a season vs Pirates at Shea Stadium (9 IP, 0 runs, 5H, 16 Ks, struck out Marvell Wynne to break Herb Score’s record, 246 Ks)

In 1955, Cleveland Indians pitcher Herb Score set the rookie record for strikeouts in a season with 245 Ks. During Gooden’s remarkable rookie season, the fans had established the “K Korner” by hanging a “K” placard to mark each strikeout. On this night, it took 16 placards with the final one being the record-setter.

In the top of the 8th, Gooden tied the record by striking out Pittsburgh’s Denny Gonzalez. The record setter came when Gooden struck out Marvell Wynne for the final out of the eighth. (Wynne was a Mets minor leaguer at Double-A Jackson in 1981 and Triple-A Tidewater in 1982 and 1983)

I remember getting the strikeout with a high fastball. Just overmatched him,” Gooden said. “I was kinda happy but it was in, like the middle of the game. The game kinda stopped and all the infielders and Mike Fitzgerald the catcher, they all came to the pitching mound, congratulated me. Inside, I wanted to smile, the happiest guy ever but I didn’t want to show any emotion. I wanted to keep my game face on and stay in the moment but everybody congratulated me on the mound at that time. I remember shaking everybody’s hand, kinda waving my cap to the crowd. I was ready to get on with the game.

After the game, Gooden was able to appreciate what he had just done.

When the game was over, I got to celebrate in the clubhouse with my teammates. Honestly, it was embarrassing because I had no idea who Herb Score was, I was only a year and a half out of high school. As I was getting close to breaking his record, I learned a little bit about him,” said Gooden. “It was something I was very proud of because everything that happens your first year, you only get to be a rookie one time. To accomplish what I did at that time, it was a tremendous feat for myself and Marvell Wynne was a good friend of mine at that time, so to get him out, I always had bragging rights.”

September 21st, 1985 at Shea Stadium. Gooden hit his first career home run. It came in the 1st inning off of Pirates pitcher Rick Rhoden, a three-run shot that capped off a 7-run inning. Gooden pitched 8 innings of 1-run ball and had 3 hits, 4 RBIs at the plate

That was a wall scraper,” Gooden said. “Some days we didn’t have batting practice, I think the field was wet. I took batting practice in the [indoor] cage. Rhoden, first pitch he threw me, I think was a hanging breaking ball and I hit it out of the park. It barely got over but to me, it went 500 feet. The toughest thing to do was run around the bases and try not to smile. As a kid, I always wanted to be a hitter and even when I got to the big leagues, I always talking about hitting and telling my teammates how good a hitter I was in high school and little league. Everybody was like, ‘Yeah, Doc, whatever.’ Up until that point, that was one of the highlights of my career beside winning Rookie of the Year. For the next 4 or 5 starts, I didn’t take BP [batting practice] because, as ballplayers, we’re all superstitious, especially pitchers, so didn’t take BP for five starts thinking that was the deal. No BP, I could hit some home runs but, unfortunately, that didn’t happen.”

October 14th, 1986 at Shea Stadium: Game 5 of the National League Championship Series vs. Houston Astros. Gooden opposed Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, who just happened to be his idol. Doc’s line: 10 IP, 9H, 1R, 5Ks

This was Gooden’s best playoff performance and the Mets needed every bit of it because Ryan was on top of his game. Bill Doran’s ground out scored Alan Ashby with the only run given up by Gooden.

I faced Nolan. That was like my childhood hero, Nolan Ryan and Pete Rose, those were my guys, because I was a pitcher in little league, Nolan was my guy and growing up in Tampa and watching Pete Rose, that was my first autograph that I got. They trained in Tampa and he was my hitter,” Gooden said. “Most pitchers, at least myself, very superstitious where every three innings, normally I go in the clubhouse and change my jersey, kinda dry up a little bit and kinda watch the half inning from the TV, but Nolan was pitching that game, I was pitching. It’s kinda like being a fan, you’re rooting for him to do well. Obviously, I want to win but you want to see him do well. You’re watching him pitch and how he performed and set up hitters and watching his fastball blow people away. That’s the only time I didn’t go in the clubhouse to change my jersey. I changed my jersey at the end of the tunnel, right underneath the dugout ‘cause I wanted to watch Nolan pitch. That was one of my highlights because when a pitcher is facing Nolan Ryan. To me, I couldn’t sleep the night before knowing I was going against Nolan ‘cause I get to watch first hand, watch him pitch and I’m pitching against Nolan. To battle with him and go ten innings, I didn’t get the win but to go ten innings, that was definitely, even though I didn’t get a lot of strikeouts, but, to me, I made the pitches when I had to make the pitches. One of the best games I ever pitched, going against my childhood hero.”

New York Mets Pitcher Dwight Gooden delivers a pitch against the Houston Astros in the first inning of Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, Tuesday, Oct. 14, 1986, New York. (AP Photo/Susan Ragan)

May 14th, 1996 at Yankee Stadium: No-hitter vs Seattle

Gooden took the mound at Yankee Stadium with a heavy heart and tossed the first no-hitter of his career while pitching for the Yankees.

The no-hitter was very, very special. I’m a Met at heart but tell you how God works. My dad was on dialysis for 15 years and his health was deteriorating. I had my plane ticket to go home the day that I pitched to be with him. He was having open heart surgery the next day. If he didn’t have the surgery, doctor said he wouldn’t last a week,” Gooden said. “That morning I woke up, I called Joe Torre, who was the [Yankee] manager and I said, ‘I think my dad would want me to pitch.’ He said ‘Are you kidding me. Just go home, be with your dad, come back whenever you’re ready. Take as much time as you need.’ I said, ‘No, I’ll see you tonight, I’m pitching.’ I had to call my mom, who didn’t take it as well. She said, ‘You really have to be here, your dad needs your support. Everybody’s gonna be here, you have to come,’ and I actually hung up on my mom because I was feeling guilty about the situation. When I got to the ballpark, I spoke to Mel Stottlemyre, my pitching coach who had known me for a long time. He was my first pitching coach with the Mets. He said ‘You all right.’ I said, ‘I’m fine, I don’t want to talk.’ The first inning, whatever Joe Girardi, who was the catcher that night, put down, I was just going with it.”

Despite having his dad on his mind, Gooden was somehow able to navigate his way through the game against a Seattle lineup that featured Hall of Famers Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez, not to mention Alex Rodriguez.

Sometime, I’d sit in the walkway between the dugout and the clubhouse, tear up a little bit, wondering if my dad’s gonna be okay. It was not until the sixth inning, I looked at the scoreboard to see who Seattle had coming up and you see no runs, no hits, no errors. At that time, the anxiety kicks in, the heart starts beating faster. I was able to put my dad’s situation aside and concentrate on the game,” he said.

Every pitch, it was a big pitch for me. What was amazing was, I think I had six walks that day. I didn’t have my best stuff. I’ve had a lot better stuff many games but I was able to make pitches when I needed to that game to get out of situations. I walked [Darren] Bragg, I walked him to lead off the game and Gerald Williams made that catch. Nothing against Bernie Williams but I don’t think Bernie Williams makes that catch. He [Gerald] makes that catch and doubles Bragg off first and I’m thinking, there’s always turning points in games. If he don’t make that catch, they get a run in and Rodriguez is on third and you got [Ken] Griffey and [Edgar] Martinez coming up, so I went from pitching a no hitter to almost getting knocked out in the first,” Gooden said.

Gooden admitted he was on fumes late in the game, but he wasn’t coming out.

I remember the seventh inning, I was gassed, I was done. Mel Stottlemyre asked [how he was doing], ‘I’m okay, I’m good.’ We get to the ninth inning, we’re up 2-0 still. I walked two guys (Rodriguez, Martinez). Mel Stottlemyre comes to the mound and I got nothing left, I’m done. ‘How do you feel?’ I said, ‘Doesn’t matter, I’m not coming out,’ because once you get that close, you gotta go for it. Earlier in that season, I started 0-3 and they took me out of the rotation. They were trying to decide whether to release me or send me down to the minors because I had been out the previous year. I stayed in the game and the worst pitch all night that I could’ve thrown was a hanging curveball to Paul Sorrento, the last hitter of the game. It was one of those where you throw it and it’s like, ‘Ugh,’ and he popped it up. Oh, my God. Seemed like the ball was up there for an hour and [Derek] Jeter makes the catch. I’m pumping my hands, everything is going through my mind. Teammates carried me off the field. I’m thinking about my dad, I’m thinking about the previous year suspended from baseball. I’m thinking about earlier in the season, I was basically benched as a pitcher, about to be released and to have this happen at Yankee Stadium, all the history.”

Then came the emotional reunion.

I fly home the next day, went straight to the hospital. I have a ball from the game to give to my dad. I give it to him, he hadn’t had the surgery until he watched the game. He never made it home but the last game he saw me pitch was that no hitter.”

July 8th, 2000 vs. Mets at Shea Stadium. It was an emotional return to Shea for Gooden who pitched against his old team for the first time as a member of the Yankees.

Gooden was in his second go round with the Yankees. He went five innings, giving up two runs and got the win in the first of an unusual day-night doubleheader that was played at two ballparks

In ‘94, the Mets wanted to cut ties with me. I had tested positive for drugs again. I understood it but I always wanted to make it right with the fans. In ‘95, I tested positive and got suspended for the entire year. In ‘96, I signed with the Yankees. After ‘97, I called Steve Phillips, the [Mets] General Manager. He said, unfortunately we got no room, so I go to Cleveland, ‘98, ‘99. After ‘99, I called the Mets again, tried to come back but they said, ‘Unfortunately, we wish you the best.’ I signed with Houston, pitched one game, got traded to Tampa, pitched eight games, get released. Called the Mets again, said I’d go to Triple-A, I’ll do whatever it takes. I just want to sign with you guys. They said, unfortunately we got nothing for you,” said Gooden.

Gooden got a fateful call from someone who had given him a chance before.

Mr. [George] Steinbrenner called me himself and said, ‘Do you still wanna play?’ I was living in Tampa at the time and the Yankees had spring training in Tampa, the A-ball team was there. George Steinbrenner said do you still wanna play. I said yes. He said, ‘Show up tomorrow at the complex. He said, ‘Work with Billy [Connors], if it doesn’t work out, you come work for me.’ I throw two rookie ball games and the next morning they call me in the office. They’re probably going to release me and Billy goes, ‘Doc, they need you to pitch in New York.’ There’s a doubleheader, the day game’s at Shea Stadium, the night game at Yankee Stadium. They want you to pitch the day game against the Mets at Shea Stadium. I said, you gotta be kidding me. Even though I wasn’t ready, I couldn’t say that, because all I really wanted was that opportunity to pitch at Shea,” Gooden said.

It was Gooden’s first time back at Shea, but he had to make sure he didn’t head to the Mets clubhouse.

It didn’t seem right ‘cause I’m going in, the bus let me out on the other side, you warm up in the other bullpen. You’re on the other side dugout at Shea but the fans were great and it didn’t seem real,” he said. “In my mind, I had confidence but not a lot of confidence. I wasn’t 100% confident that I could pitch well. I kinda like accepted that whatever happens, happens, but I get to go back to Shea Stadium, but to pitch the way I did, to get the outs and to get through five innings, I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

Whether it was nerves or whatever, Gooden did not feel comfortable warming up in the bullpen.

I wasn’t ready and then I get there, I think the next day or the day after and I’m warming up in the bullpen and Mel Stottlemyre said, try this and nothing’s working. I had no velocity, no spin on my breaking ball. It was like the worst warm up you could have before the game and Mel’s like, try this, try that. The last five minutes, Mel didn’t say anything and I’m like, oh, this is not good. Normally, there’s one long reliever goes to the bullpen just in case something happens, injury or something happens. I walked down and I passed all the relievers, beside [Mariano] Rivera. The whole bullpen was going down so I’m sure Mel called down and said, hey, you guys get here because this is not gonna last long,” he said.

It was like ol’ times for Gooden, who took the mound at Shea, but this time as a 35-year old.

Once I got on the mound at Shea Stadium, everything fell into place. I found my curveball, I found location. I didn’t have velocity at that time, but fastball started to jump a little bit. It’s like being home again at the Shea Stadium mound and everything fell into place and I’m going five innings and getting a win. After the fifth inning, Joe Torre’s like, ‘How ya doin?’ I probably could’ve went one or two more innings but I didn’t want to push it. I said, ‘I’m good’ and I came out and I got the win. That’s all I really wanted, going back to Shea.”

Doc will be going back to Flushing this weekend for the ultimate honor. Back to where it all started, back to where he felt he let the fans down. All these years later, it’s the fans who will lift him up on what promises to be a very special day.

The post DOC-U-MEMORIES (NY Sportsday Exclusive) appeared first on NY Sports Day.

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