What May Have Been.. Dwight Gooden28th January, 2008 - 6:51 pm
By Adam Sarson
Every year in every professional sport, players come along that seem destined for greatness. There is always a hotshot young pitcher, a running back that will torch defenses, an unstoppable big man in the post, and the next dominant young goalie. However, these players do not always pan out the way the fans and certainly the organizations hope. Whether it is an injury, drug addictions, or any other factors, careers often get derailed. While we often see flashes of greatness, and in some cases, prolonged greatness, many times we are left thinking about the possibilities.
How would he have stacked up against the all-time greats?
How great would he have been?
These are the questions that plague sports fans on a daily basis. In this series of articles, several players will be examined. Maybe we won?t find a true answer to all of our questions, but it is always interesting to look back at what may have been.
First up, Dwight ?Doc? Gooden.
It is often said that what makes a team notorious is their fans. A rabid fan base is often a major key to success. This is certainly why you have to admire the fans of the New York Mets, at least the fans of the team in its infancy. Known as the ?Lovable Losers? in their early days, the Mets didn?t exactly tear things up on the scoreboard. The team lost at least 89 games in each of their first seven seasons in the league, five times cracking the century mark.
The team received some much-deserved good fortune in 1969. The ?Amazin? Mets? would win 100 games en route to the franchise?s first World Series championship. Several decent seasons would follow with another World Series appearance happening in 1976 when the team lost to the Oakland A?s in seven games.
The Mets would struggle for the most part throughout the rest of the decade when new ownership took over before the start of the 1980 season.
New club President Fred Wilpon would hire Baltimore Orioles' executive Frank Cashen and assign him with the responsibility of rebuilding the club. He would select Darryl Strawberry with the 1st overall pick in the 1980 and the young fireballer Dwight Gooden with the 5th overall pick in 1982.
Gooden?s meteoric rise to the majors is the stuff of legends.
At the age of 18, Gooden dominated the Class-A Carolina League, leading in wins, ERA's, and strikeouts. He finished with 300 strikeouts in 191 innings. The Mets had high expectations for the young right-hander so much so that Manager Davey Johnson wanted him on the roster the following year at only 19 years old.
Gooden would make his debut on April 7th, 1984, with a victory against the Houston Astros. He would go on to win 17 games that season, making an All-Star appearance and winning the National League Rookie of the Year.
Gooden combined a high 90?s fastball with a lethal curveball to become one of baseball?s best arms. For a modern example, think of combining Barry Zito?s curveball with Joel Zumaya?s fastball; he was that good. Things would actually get better for the native of Tampa, Florida in 1985. He would win the Triple Crown in the National League for being the tops in wins (24), strikeouts, (268) and a sparkling ERA of 1.53. For his efforts, he became the youngest ever recipient of the Cy Young Award at 20 years old. 1985 would prove to be the height of Gooden?s career.
Although Gooden posted very good numbers in following seasons, he would never again win 20 games. The Mets would go on to win the World Series once again in 1986, defeating the Boston Red Sox in seven games. Despite two good starts in the ?86 NLCS, Gooden would not be rewarded in either, the toughest being a 1-0 loss to Mike Scott in which Gooden pitched 10 innings. He would then go on to lose both starts against Boston in the World Series, not being able to get past the 5th inning in either game. New York would seemingly not need Gooden in the series, getting past the Red Sox. This was where the real trouble for Gooden began.
Gooden was nowhere to be found at the parade celebrating the Series' victory. The team covered up for their star, saying he overslept. It was later revealed that Gooden was a little too heavy into cocaine and was not able to show up. Gooden would be arrested in December of 1986 after getting into a fight with police and would test positive for cocaine in Spring Training a few months later. To avoid suspension, Gooden entered a rehabilitation clinic and did not make a start for the Mets until June 5th against the Pittsburgh Pirates, picking up the victory. He would finish the season 15-7.
Gooden would go on to post an 18-7 record in 1988, and after a shoulder injury reduced him to just 17 starts in 1989, he would rebound to post a 19-7 record in 1990. He would succumb again to the injury bug in 1991 and was simply never the same pitcher again. Heavy workload was a major factor in the decline of Gooden, with an estimate of almost 11,000 in-game pitches thrown from 1983-1985.
The troubles would continue to escalate off the field for Gooden. In 1991, he and two other teammates were accused of rape although he was never formally charged. He would have his first losing season in 1992, following it with another in 1993. The once great young arm was profiled in Sports Illustrated with the cover title, ?From Phenom To Phantom.? During the 1994 season, Gooden tested positive for cocaine and was suspended for 60 days. He would fail once again while still under suspension and would not be allowed to pitch for the entire 1995 season. After his most recent failed test, Gooden was found by his wife Monica with a loaded gun to his head.
Gooden would be signed by the baseball?s other New York team the Yankees for the 1996 season. He would throw a no-hitter that season amongst an up and down year that culminated with being left off the Yankee postseason roster. Gooden would go on to play for the Cleveland Indians, Houston Astros, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and briefly for the Yankees again in 2000 before calling it a career.
In his eight career postseason starts, Gooden never recorded a victory, posting a 0-4 record. Since his retirement, Gooden has been arrested several times for various offenses. He was released from prison in November 2006 and has been a model citizen since.
The story of Dwight ?Doc? Gooden is certainly an unfortunate one. While many players would love to have a 16-year career, Gooden?s career was definitely derailed along the way. The hype around Gooden was legitimate, with many people predicting a Hall of Fame ending. It is certainly no exaggeration when people compared him early on to Roger Clemens. Here was a guy who had all the tools and unfortunately, could not put it together for long enough to realize his full potential.
Dwight Gooden?s New York Mets' teams were supposed to become a dynasty. We can?t say for sure what may have happened, but having ?Doc? at 100% sure would have made things more interesting.
We are now left to wonder what may have been?