Monday, January 23, 2006

Birth of the Gooden Legacy

ed note: What follows is a sample of the narrative I've written about the 1986 Mets. Its insightful to cover the 1985 season and the pennant race with the St. Louis Cardinals and this exerpt recalls the events of a game with the Montreal Expos at Shea Stadium. Special attention is given to the emergence of Doc Gooden during this season.

July 30, 1985

The Toronto Blue Jays AAA affiliate was in Syracuse when Davey Johnson managed the Tidewater Tides in 1983. Johnson recommended to Frank Cashen a lefthander that they had named Jimmy Key. At the winter meetings that year, he spoke to Pat Gillick
about acquiring Key.
Gillick said that he would trade Key - "for Gooding."
Cashen said, "I'll bet you would."
Not feeling it necessary to correct Gillick on the name,
Cashen ended the inquiry on Key.
In 1983 Davey managed a melting pot of players at Tidewater to the AAA World Series Title. It was a big deal to us as we got $1000 by winning. Wally Backman, Kelvin Chapman, Clint Hurdle, Herm Winningham, and Gary Rasjich were major contributors in the series.
Alot of our pitchers were recalled to the big club by September that year and a young righthander just one year removed from high school and in just his second year of pro ball was called up from Lynchburg to help us out at the end. He'd won 19 games and struck out an astonishing 300 batters in just 27 starts. Dwight Gooden wouldn't turn 19 until after the season had ended.
A writer covering the AAA World Series was in our Louisville, Kentucky dugout before Gooden's start and asked us to describe him.
For some reason I blurted out," A young Bob Gibson."
The writer responded, "That's quite a mouthful."
But Davey and Al Jackson, seated within earshot, nodded and agreed together that it was a pretty good comparison.
Gooden had thrown batting practice in spring training to the Tides so Davey had seen him pitch, but he called Lynchburg Mets manager Sam Perlozzo to get an update. Perlozzo, who later would become thirdbase coach for the Mets, was fervent in his
evaluation of Gooden. He saw a killer instinct found in very few young pitchers. Perlozzo felt that when Gooden got two strikes on a hitter, he smelled blood, and actually added something more to an already overwhelming fastball.
During spring training in 1982, Joe McIlvaine and a group went across the bay from our minor league camp in St. Petersburg to see Gooden pitch as a high school senior in his native Tampa.
Veteran scout, Eddie Toledo, who always came to camp to help with the young Latino players, joined the group that made the trip. Eddie arrived the next morning, arms flailing
demonstratively and kept repeating that Gooden had been the best pitcher he'd ever seen.
McIlvaine drafted Gooden with the fifth pick in the June Free Agent Draft, grateful that he was still there. The first pick that year was Shawon Dunston.
Davey was named manager of the Mets during the 1983 World Series, replacing interim manager Frank Howard. Hondo replaced George Bamberger who had resigned during the season. Bamby was reported to tell the players in his good-bye speech, "Gentlemen, I'm going fishing."
Davey knew Gooden was special and wanted him to go north in 1984. He worked on Frank all spring and, but Cashen always changed the subject when Davey brought it up. Doc nursed a blister and back spasms in the spring, but still impressed.
Davey detailed in "Bats", the book he collaborated on with Peter Golenbock, that his converstions with Cashen over beers during spring training about Gooden usually elicited this response: "Here's to the ladies."
Cashen relented at the end and the legend of Dwight Gooden was born.
Gooden didn't disappoint. He set a then rookie record for strikeouts in route to the 1984 Rookie of the Year Award. In fact, Doc set all sorts of records that year. He set the major league record for strikeouts for rookies with 276 and he was the first
teen-aged rookie ever to lead either league in strikeouts. He also set a major league record for strikeouts per nine innings with an 11.39 average shattering the old record of 10.71 held by Cleveland’s Sam McDowell in 1965. He finished the year 17-9 with a
2.60 ERA.

* * * * * *

After a few days of rain in March of 1985, Whitey Herzog dropped by our clubhouse to arrange a "B game". Everyone had to get their pitchers ready, so one of these games was hastily scheduled later in the day at the small Huggins-Stengall Field off
Fourth Street. The Cards trained not far from us at Al Lange Stadium in downtown St. Petersburg. Gooden pitched in the casual contest later that morning.
The dugouts were small at Huggins-Stengall as Davey, myself and Al Jackson sat together again watching Gooden pitch. Al was now the lead minor league pitching coach for the Mets.
As I was watched Doc pitch, I sort of thought out loud, "Doc looks bigger this year."
Davey replied evenly, "Maybe in his legs."
A slowly maturing Gooden had gained ten pounds in the off-season. He was still just twenty years old and already had a full year in the majors.

* * * * * *

On July 30, 1985 the Expos were in town for a three game series. Rick Aguilera, emerging as a quality starter in Bruce Berenyi's absence had won his fourth game the night before, beating Bryn Smith 3-2. Doc would face Bill Gullickson on a Tuesday night before another large crowd.
Gullickson and Gary Carter didn't get along. There always had been some animosity toward Gary while he was with the Expos as many of his teammates felt he overly courted media attention. His problems with Gullickson, however, stemmed from a 1983 incident that occurred in an Expos game against Atlanta. Gary failed to catch a foul pop-up and Gullickson became angered when Carter was not charged with an error.
It was ruled "No play" by the official scorer and the Braves went on to score several runs, all of which were charged against Gullickson's ERA. A furious Gullickson called the press box later in the game demanding Carter be charged with an error which would
have protected his ERA from the runs that scored.
When Gullickson strode to the plate for his first time at bat in third, Carter noticing Gullickson's new beard said, "Well, if it isn't the bearded wonder." Gullickson had no response.
In the bottom half of the 4th in a scoreless game, Gullickson sailed an 0-2 pitch over Gary's head. He stepped out of the batter's box and glared at Gullickson and nodded his head at him.
After he grounded out, Gary screamed at Gullickson as he bounded into the dugout, "You wanna play hard ball, Gully?"
He kept screaming at Gullickson as he sat down next to Gooden and started putting on his gear. Frank Pulli was the homeplate umpire and while still in his crouch, looked over at our dugout and calmly said, "Gary."
Doc had his hat off and was toweling off his neck. He softly patted Gary on his leg and quietly said, "Don't worry, Homes. I'll get him."
The next inning, Gullickson batted with two outs, and Gooden sailed his first pitch over his head in similar fashion. He struck out the first two guys, probably just to make sure no one was on.
Gullickson sheepishly looked at Carter and said, "What's up, Kid ?"
Doc said, "It slipped." Of course nobody bought that.
The Expos dugout, especially Andre Dawson, erupted at Carter.
Our dugout went nuts, too. Danny Heep was notably livid. I thought he was going to charge their dugout as he bellowed at Dawson to shut up. Pulli fined Doc $50 and warned both benches and that was the end of it.
Doc went on to win his tenth straight. He struck out ten. It was a 5 hit shutout. Mets win 2-0.
In a June game earlier in the year at Dodger Stadium, Gooden got out of memorable jam in the bottom of the eighth when he loaded the bases with the game tied at 1-1. A lead-off hit by Steve Sax was followed by a perfect hit and run single by Ken
Landreaux and then an intentional walk to Pedro Guerrero.
Gooden remained calm and deliberate and struck an imposing figure on the mound-the same mound that belonged to legends like Koufax and Drysdale. He struck out Greg Brock, got Mike Soscia to pop straight up to Carter, and finished off the inning by striking out Terry Whitfield. Three outs. Nine pitches. All fastballs. We went on to win the game.
Countless quintessential performances as these vaulted Gooden's stature on the team and in baseball. His starts became big tickets in New York during the 1985 season and took on a spectacle of their own. Two nitwits would stake claim to the upper deck in
leftfield and put out"K's" with each Gooden strikeout. The pair became the collective consciousness of the crowd as they, too, would begin to smell blood each time Doc would get two strikes on a hitter.
When room allowed, the duo would start running around up there waving around their placard "K's” in Keystone Cops fashion anticipating another strikeout. The DiamiondVision screen would play out a comical cartoon accompanied by the haunting
melody of the theme from "Jaws" with Gooden, of course being played by a hungry shark. So it was with any Gooden start. An entire city would embrace him forever.
Gooden became the youngest pitcher ever to win the Cy Young Award, finishing with a 24-4 record and a 1.53 ERA. He also led the league in strikeouts with 268 and became the first pitcher since Sandy Koufax in 1966 to win the "Triple Crown" of pitching.
It turned out to be his only Cy Young award and his greatest season. Stardom and a certain trip to Cooperstown had been predicted, but Gooden's career was sadly abated by injuries and cocaine. Most will point to the cocaine, but the shoulder trouble that started a few years later made Gooden change pitching styles and could no longer dominate as he had. Ironically, he secured his place in history in 1996 when he pitched a no-hitter. But it was for the other team in New York: The Yankees.
Yet it is to 1985 that we turn to hear the legend. It was a summer of a great pennant race with the Cardinals that wasn't decided until the first weekend in October. Alas, no one ever remembers who finished second. But it will forever be the summer of 1985 for all of us to smile and remember Dwight Eugene Gooden.

* * * * * *

Doc's victory on July 30th helped spark a stretch where we won 19 of 23 and vaulted back into first place. Doc had five of those victories, including a 3-0 shutout of the Giants on August 20th.
The next night on August 21st, Ed Lynch took a 2-1 lead into the ninth and yielded to Roger McDowell. He gave up a one out single to Chris Brown and then faced the Giants catcher, Bob Brenly. The count reached 2-2, when McDowell slowly shook of Carter's signal for a sinker and opted to throw his second best pitch, a slider. McDowell hung it and Brenly smacked it into the leftfield bullpen, giving them a 3-2 victory. Two days later we were back in second, again chasing the Cardinals.


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