This column may appear to be a baseball story, but it really isn’t. It discusses one of the greatest “can’t miss” phenoms to ever appear in a major league uniform. On the surface it sounds like the tale of a future Hall of Famer whose success on the field could only be matched by his popularity. Instead it’s the account of an alcoholic and drug addict who saw his career and personal life go down the tubes. It may also be a story of redemption, but the jury is still out on that one.
Dwight Gooden was one of the best pitchers to ever don a New York Mets’ uniform. Nicknamed “Doc” at an early age, Gooden was as close to a sure thing as a professional athlete could be. He made his major league debut in 1984 at the age of 19 and immediately won 17 games and the National League Rookie of the Year award.
In 1985 he posted an astounding record of 24-4 and won the Cy Young award, rewarded to the best pitcher in the league. The following year, he was an integral part of the last Mets’ team to win a World Series, beating the Boston Red Sox in a series best remembered for Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner letting a ground ball slip between his legs.
By the age of 21, Gooden was being compared to Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller and already ticketed for induction in Cooperstown. Fans loved him and his fabulous fast ball. They called him Dr. K and hung Ks on the outfield wall at Shea Stadium every time he recorded a strikeout. He was the best pitcher in baseball and nothing but fame and fortune awaited him.
Instead, his career careened out of control. Gooden made the mistake of hanging out with the wrong crowd. He smoked pot and drank too much, and when he tried cocaine he was hooked. He missed the 1986 World Series victory parade because he was in a fleabag apartment hung over from a night of drug use. It was a sign of things to come.