Somehow, all this time after that first bright summer of 1984 and then 1985 when he pitched like a right-handed Koufax, somehow nearly four decades after October of 1986 for him and the Mets, Dwight Gooden was laughing on Friday morning about turning 60. And for this old Met, one who will be honored next year at Citi Field for what he did when he was young, it was just one more Amazin’ thing.
“I kept thinking it was this year instead of next year,” he said. “I was telling people I was getting ready to turn 60 and then my 13-year old daughter said, ‘Dad, what’s your rush? You’re only 59.”
He was a teenager himself when he showed up at Shea Stadium with all that arm and all that fastball and all the promise in the world. He and Darryl Strawberry will be honored for that in 2024, when they each have their numbers retired by Steve Cohen’s Mets. These occasions will not be about what happened to both of them after they were Mets, drugs and jail and suspensions and cancer and even becoming New York Yankees. Those things are part of the story, too, for both of them, a big part, part of their permanent record, and always will be. The tales about the wonder of what they brought to those summers in the ‘80s are also cautionary tales as well.
But this is about what they were when Darryl was the most exciting home run hitter in New York City since Willie, Mickey and the Duke. This is about what Doc was like when he was 19 and 20 and 21, when the K’s were up there in The K Corner and every single start was an event and everybody who was around then, whether they were a Mets fan or not, knows what it was like. If Doc had the ball, you thought this might be the night when he struck out 20. This might be the night when he pitched the no-hitter he would ironically pitch later when he was a Yankee.
They would both win World Series rings with the Yankees later. Another irony. Doc was even a Yankee in ‘96, even if he didn’t make the playoff roster. But he still had enough the next year to get the ball in big October games for them, including Game 4 of that 1997 division series between the Yankees and the Indians.
That game is remembered for being the one where Sandy Alomar Jr. took Mariano Rivera deep when the defending champion Yankees were on the verge of closing out the Indians. What is largely forgotten is that Dwight Gooden pitched into the 6th inning that night in Cleveland, giving the Indians just five hits and a run and striking out five. He was mostly going on memory. He still had enough stuff and arm to give his team a chance.
But he and Darryl will not be honored next year, in the new ballpark across the parking lot from where old Shea stood, for what they did as Yankees. They will be honored for what they were at Shea when they were young and Mets and brought the kind of excitement to Shea that the great Tom Seaver had brought once when he was young; when they were a part of the ‘86 Mets, a team that owned the city as much in baseball as any team ever had.
It would become a heartbreak team after that, the way the Dodgers had been a heartbreak team around their own magical October of 1955. But for that one shining season, and then that October when Baseball New York was transfixed by them trying to win the Mets first World Series since 1969, they were something to see.
It was one of those teams and one of those times. You had to be there. You had to see what No. 16 and No. 18 were like when it was all ahead of them.
I asked Dwight Gooden on Friday if he had any inkling that the honor for him and for Darryl was coming.
“When they retired Keith’s number last year [July of 2022], I heard that something might be in the works,” he said. “But you’re never sure.”
So, by next year, there he will be and there Darryl will be, in formation with the team leader they knew and the whole city knew as Mex: Doc’s No. 16, Keith’s No. 17, Darry’s No. 18. And in that way, it will be October of ‘86 up there forever.
It will be that 16-inning Game 6 against the Astros in Houston, when the Mets were willing to play all day and all night if that’s how long it took to be back in the Series for the first time since ‘73. It will be the bottom of the 10th of another Game 6, in the World Series, when there were two outs and nobody on and the season was that close to being over, until it wasn’t, and then Mookie Wilson’s ball was rolling through Bill Buckner’s legs, and the Mets were still alive and Shea was as alive as it had ever been.
We never talk enough about Game 5, though. We never talk about what Doc and Darryl did in that one to keep the Mets from falling behind the Astros three games to two and facing elimination. The Mets needed them both to do something big in that one, to stand up, and they did, or maybe the Mets still haven’t won it all since ‘69.
It was Doc against Nolan Ryan that day at Shea, and the Mets didn’t win until the bottom of the 12th. But they wouldn’t have made it that far if it wasn’t for Doc and Darryl. Darryl was 24. Doc was still a month away from turning 22. Darryl hit a home run off Ryan in the fifth, the only run the old Met gave up that day.
Ryan pitched through the 9th. Dwight Gooden did him one inning better than that. He pitched 10 innings, ten in a game when Ryan pitched nine. Just one earned run. Jesse Orosco pitched the last two innings after that. He got the win for a game Gooden had won for the Mets.
We know what happened at the end of that October. He missed the Mets’ victory parade through the Canyon of Heroes and by the next spring he had failed a drug test and was in rehab at Smithers. By 1995 he was out of baseball for a year because of a drug suspension. But he came back from that, too, won 11 games for the ‘96 Yankees. One of them was his no-hitter in May.
I asked him Friday to describe his feelings about having his number retired.
“Crazy,” he said.
So much of it was, for him and Darryl. So much of it was bad crazy off the field. It doesn’t change what it was like to watch them when they were young on that field at Shea. You had to be there.
TOO MUCH HYPE FOR GANG GREEN, HOPE VOLPE DOESN’T GET HOMER HAPPY & CHEERING FOR AN ALCARAZ-NOVAK FINAL …
I asked Larry David about his expectations for his Jets in the coming season.
This was his response:
“Too much hype. I have that same sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that I had at my first wedding.”
Hey, if things don’t work out for the Jets, maybe they can join the ACC next year.
OK, who thinks the Giants really could get better and still lose more games than they did last season?
I’m kind of over the United States women’s national soccer team.
I hope Anthony Volpe isn’t making it his business to swing for the fences, because I don’t think that’s who he’s supposed to be as a hitter going forward.
The biggest move the Yankees made between last season and this was Carlos Rodon, a guy who just might end up joining the conga line of starting pitcher mistakes the Yankees have made over the past 20 years.
By the way?
Nobody is dismissing Brian Cashman’s body of work since he became general manager when Bill Clinton was president.
Nobody is dismissing all the winning seasons, or the three league championship series in which they’ve played in the last seven years.
But this isn’t about where they’ve been.
This is about where they are, with the dreariest Yankee team since Stump Merrill and Bucky Dent were the managers.
My pal Stanton says the news about Shohei’s elbow is the most dispiriting he can remember since the news about Bo Jackson’s hip, another extraordinary two-way guy.
That final Novak Djokovic and the kid, Carlos Alcaraz, played across nearly four hours in Cincinnati last Sunday is the greatest 3-set match I’ve ever seen.
And ought to make everybody hope that they can do it again in two weeks at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Where I very much hope Coco Gauff is going to win her first major.
Zach Johnson ought to take Brooks Koepka for his Ryder Cup team and then let the rest of the boys from the LIV/Member-Guest tour can watch on television.
By the way?
I’ll be Ryder Cup captain before Phil Mickelson ever will.
The guy still thinks the world is hanging on his every word, though, doesn’t he?
One of these years the United States Open tennis tournament ought to find a way to honor Jimmy Connors, who did more to grow this country’s national championship more than any men’s player we ever had.
Since I grew up playing golf with his aunt, the great Pat Bradley, I always root for her nephew Keegan.
Just to streamline things for my doctor, I really do plan to pre-report my height as 6-3 before my next physical.
Wait, another pro basketball team was trying to steal secrets from the Knicks?
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