Originally posted on The Outside Corner  |  Last updated 7/15/13
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.  Amanda Rykoff:  What’s been your favorite part so far of having your former team host the All-Star Game? Dwight Gooden: I’ve been at the FanFest this morning, you know signing for the fans and reminiscing with the fans and taking pictures. That is always fun because as a player, everything is quick, just a quick picture, a quick signature and gone. At least at the FanFest you can reminisce, talk baseball, talk about what’s going on. And then you come out here [for the Champions-Challengers Game], it’s close to my heart because I have an adopted brother in a similar situation, I can understand and relate to. And I know the joy it brings to him just being in a game and playing catch. So when I was approached about coming here, I had to come here, just working with these kids and see that they have a good time. Amanda Rykoff: Speaking of reminiscing, what is your best memory with the New York Mets? Dwight Gooden: The best memory with the New York Mets -- the ’86 World Series by far. I mean that was like the ultimate because doing it here in New York, and then came so close in ’84 but we had a young team, ’85 we had Gary Carter who was the missing piece in my mind for the young staff, missing out by three games to the Cardinals. And then I remember in Spring Training in ’86 when Davey Johnson had a players meeting and everybody was there. And all he said was, “Hey this year, we want to win it all and we want to dominate, we are going to get loose.” And everybody just had the same goal and Davey knew how to deal with 25 different personalities. And to go out there and accomplish what we were going to do, and to do it with a packed house every night, there is no greater feeling. Amanda Rykoff: What’s your best memory with the Yankees? Dwight Gooden: There are a couple good ones, but if I have to say, I would probably say the no-hitter. Just because my dad was ill at the time and I was supposed to fly home that day to be with him, because he was having open-heart surgery the next day. And I got up that morning and I thought he would probably want me to pitch, so I called Joe Torre and said I am coming in to pitch, he said no, go home, take as much time as you need. I said no, I will be there tonight. Then I had to call my mom and she did not take it as well, I had to end up hanging the phone up. And the first three innings I was in the runway that goes from the dugout to the clubhouse wondering if I made the right decision or not, and then not until like the sixth inning, when I realized I had the no-hitter. And at the point, the heart starts racing faster and you start sweating more, and I just throw as hard as I can for as long as you can. And once I got the no-hitter, the next day I flew home, gave my dad the ball, he had the surgery and life support. And the doctors said he saw the game and had tears in his eye watching the game. He never made it home, he passed away, but the last game he saw me pitch was that no-hitter. So that is what made that one stick out more than anything. Amanda Rykoff: Let’s talk Mets pitching. What impresses you most about Matt Harvey? Dwight Gooden: I think with Matt Harvey, obviously he has talent and he has all the stuff not only a big league pitcher but a great big league pitcher if he stays healthy. But I am more impressed with his mound presence, the way he handles himself like a veteran. And when I hear stuff from the players, the media, and when they say that he does not want to just settle for having stuff now, he wants to get better, wants to becomes more of student of the game. And then he starts – if it is a good start or not, he puts it behind him and it is a new thing. That is very impressive to me from a young pitcher because I can see where a guy can say “I’m happy with what I’m doing now and it is going to be like this the rest of my career.” But he wants to keep improving, that says a lot about him. Amanda Rykoff:  Zack Wheeler is another highly touted pitching prospect. As a player, how do you manage those expectations coming up in New York? Dwight Gooden:  That is a great question. It is pretty tough, especially in Wheeler’s case because it’s double the dynamite because now he is going to be compared to not only to coming up to expectations but he is going to be compared to Matt Harvey, I am pretty sure. And I think, watching his last start, I know it is only one start, but I have been seeing improvement from each start. I have been following him as well. I remember the first game in Atlanta. I thought he did okay in his situation, first big league start, he has all his family and friends there, your high school coach and all that there is added pressure, he did okay. His second start, I still think that him flying back to Vegas and then meeting the team in Chicago was a bit much, so I kind of understand that. And then the third start was his first game at Citi Field in front of your home crowd, home media, which is tough. So the last game in San Francisco he was back out there – miles and miles away. So hopefully that will be a good confidence builder, because he definitely has the stuff, and I think he is going to be okay. Amanda Rykoff:  What other young pitchers do you enjoy watching? Dwight Gooden:  Obviously, Kershaw – I mean he is still young but he has been around for a while. I like watching him. I am a little biased because I’m a pitcher. I like 2-1 ball games. So Kershaw, I am a fan. Latos with the Reds is very good, the guy Cole they just called up from the Pirates. It is good to see all these young arms coming back up again. So those guys right there are definitely, and obviously Matt and Zack Wheeler. I love watching young pitchers. Amanda Rykoff: What advice do you have today for 19-year-old Dwight Gooden? Dwight Gooden:  For me, I would say understanding that everyone that approaches you does not have the best interest. Understanding to say no when you want to say no. Not so much being a people pleaser. If I can turn back the clock, those are the main three things that caused me to self-destruct. Amanda Rykoff: What achievement are you most proud of in your life, baseball or otherwise? Dwight Gooden: Fulfilling my dad’s dream and seeing the look that he had on his face when I made the major league roster. That was more because he came from the sticks, he had a third grade education, baseball was his thing, and all the time he spent with me, we would get home from work, work on my pitching and mechanics and all of that. When I made the team, just the look he had on his face. My dad was the type of guy that men do not hug, men do not say I love you, men do not show emotions, but that day I told him I made the team, I saw the tears. That was by far the biggest of my achievements. Amanda Rykoff: Toughest batter that you faced in your career? Dwight Gooden: Chili Davis, that is an easy one. Chili Davis was with the San Francisco Giants, I mean he was the guy that just had my number, he just wore me out. It did not matter if I had my best stuff that night, he was going to get one or two hits. If I did not have my best stuff, some fan in the bleachers was going to get a souvenir. I remember trying to intimidate Chili and throw tight on him, and it did not matter. A lot of times we would try to get the guys out in front of him because you know there is nothing you are going to do with him. Amanda Rykoff: You have a new book out. It is a memoir and you are honest about your struggles with addiction. Why did you want to write this book and put it out there in such a public way? Dwight Gooden:  I thought the time was right. Where I am comfortable in my own skin now. And once I got the okay from my mom and my older kids -- we are going to have to share some dark moments. And they were all supportive and said go for it. And being okay with myself -- it is almost like removing that mask because obviously, being in in recovery, part of me is in denial, and that kept me sick, and I thought that you’re only as sick as your secrets. I thought being a public figure, I am going to tell my story and it is going to help me, why not do it where it can help others that might be going through similar situations or have a family member or friend. That is why I did it, and once I did it, not knowing how it was going to be taken, it was a big burden off of me to come clean and get rid all of that stuff. Amanda Rykoff:  How has the All-Star experience changed since you were an All-Star? Dwight Gooden: Oh, it has definitely changed. I do not think we had the FanFest. We definitely didn’t have a parade. But it has changed for the best I think. They really keep it going. They had the Home Run Derby, and the game was big but the way it is now, you have like a week to get it going and to have all the stuff going on. They do a great job. Major League Baseball has parties and galas. And they also have a lot of stuff for kids to do, which I think is very important. So it definitely goes the right way now. Amanda Rykoff: Who should start for the National League on Tuesday night here at Citi Field? Dwight Gooden: I think you answered that one. Matt Harvey, I think. You’re at home. Obviously, it is an All-Star Game, I know it means something for the World Series, but still it’s a showcase game, and he is having a great year. It’s at home, he will be well rested, he is not pitching Saturday, so I almost think you have to give him the ball. Plus he deserved it.  All photos courtesy of Amanda Rykoff [follow]

This article first appeared on The Outside Corner and was syndicated with permission.

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