(Bumped from FanPosts. --Eric)
Generally speaking, when you think of 1980s baseball in New York, there were no Yankees. The 1980s was the decade of the Mets- that team in the Bronx, they stopped mattering at the end of the 1970s, and wouldn't matter again until the mid-1990s. There were a lot of fan favorites and larger-than-life figures on the Mets teams of the mid-to-late 1980s, but one player personifies the zeitgeist of the team, in my mind: Dwight "Doc" Gooden.
As Mets fans know, the decade wasn't all fun and games. The teams of the late 1970s weren't very good, and as the ‘70s transitioned into the ‘80s, not much changed. All of that would soon come to an end, though. In 1980, Mookie Wilson debuted for the Major League club. Also in 1980, a young Californian outfielder by the name of Darryl Strawberry was drafted first overall in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. In 1981, "star" outfielder Lee Mazzilli was traded for a young right-handed pitching prospect, Ron Darling. In 1982, a certain 17-year-old right-handed pitching prospect from Tampa, Florida was drafted with the 5th pick in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft- behind Shawon Dunston (SS, Chicago Cubs, 8.9 career WAR in 18 seasons), Augie Schmidt (SS, Toronto Blue Jays, Never debuted in the Major Leagues), Jimmy Jones (RHP, San Diego Padres, 5.6 career WAR in 8 seasons), and Bryan Oelkers (LHP, Minnesota Twins, -1.3 career WAR in 2 seasons).
Gooden spent very little time in the Minor Leagues. In his first season in the organization, as a 17-year-old in 1982, he threw 78.2 innings split between the Kingsport Mets of the Appalachian League (Rookie Ball) and the Little Falls Mets of the NY-Penn League (Short-Season Single-A Ball). The results were encouraging: 5-5, with a 2.75 ERA, 7.3 hits per nine innings pitched, a K/9 rate of 9.6, a BB/9 rate of 3.2, and a HR/9 rate of 0.3. He threw four complete games that year, and of those four, two were shutouts. In 1983, with the Lynchburg Mets of the Carolina League (Single-A Ball), Doc had an even more eye-popping season: 19-4, with a 2.50 ERA, 5.7 hits per nine innings pitched, a K/9 rate of 14.1, a BB/9 rate of 5.3, and a HR/9 rate of 0.5. He threw ten complete games that year, and of those ten, six were shutouts. His impressive numbers caught the attention of then-Tidewater Tides manager Davey Johnson, who convinced general manager Frank Cashen that Gooden was ready for the Major Leagues, despite too young to legally drink alcohol, and never having played professional baseball above the Single-A level. As fate would have it, Johnson was promoted to Mets manager the same year Gooden was promoted to the team, in 1984. The 19-year-old Gooden would go on to prove Johnson right.
Fresh off the heels of Darryl Strawberry winning the 1983 National League Rookie of the Year Award, Doc Gooden would put together a season that would not only win him that same award, but would go down in history as the most dominant season by a rookie pitcher in modern-era baseball. Gooden went 17-9, with a 2.60 ERA/1.69 FIP in 218 innings pitched. He struck out 276 batters, the record for a rookie pitcher, which translated into an 11.39 K/9 rate. He walked 3.01 batters every nine innings. Opponents had a .200 batting average against him. His ERA+ for the season was 137. He threw seven complete games, and of those seven, three were shutouts. All of that was good for an 8.6 WAR. He was elected an All-Star, the youngest ever elected, in fact. He placed in 15th for the NL Most Valuable Player Award. In addition to his NL Rookie of the Year blowout (he got 23/24 first place votes), Gooden should have won the NL Cy Young Award. The award would go controversially to Rick Sutcliffe instead, who pitched only about half of his season in the National League, having been traded from the Cleveland Indians to the Chicago Cubs in the middle of the season. "Dr. K" went on to correct the mistake the BBWAA made by not giving him the award by pitching one of the best seasons in baseball history by a pitcher in the modern era of baseball.
No matter how you look at his stats, whether you look at them as a casual observer would, using standard statistics, or with the careful eye of a sabermetrician, using advanced statistics, Doc Gooden was outright dominant. For the season, he went 24-4, with a 1.53 ERA/2.13 FIP in 276.2 innings. He struck out 268 batters, which translated into an 8.7 K/9 rate. He walked 2.2 batters every nine innings. Opponents had a .199 batting average against him. His ERA+ for the season was 229. He threw sixteen complete games, and of those sixteen, eight were shutouts. All of that was good for a 9.0 WAR. He was once more an All-Star, and came in 4th place for the NL Most Valuable Player Award. More impressively, he won the Triple Crown. This time, no one could deny his greatness, and he unanimously won the National League Cy Young Award. Gooden would continue to be a highly effective pitcher for the Mets, but he would never again in his career be so dominant. In a span of 50 starts, from August 11, 1984, to May 6, 1986, he pitched 404.2 innings. He had a 37-5 record, with a 1.40 ERA, 90 walks, and 412 strikeouts- a 4.58 K/BB ratio.
Between 1986 and 1994, Gooden averaged around 200 innings pitched each year. His record during that span was 116-72. A shoulder injury in 1989 and drug suspensions in 1994 limited Gooden to 118.1 and 41.1 innings pitched, respectively, as well as his effectiveness in both years. Excluding those two shortened years, he averaged an ERA of 3.39, and a FIP of 2.96. He averaged 3.9 WAR during that span. He would average 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings, and 2.7 walks per nine innings. His ERA+ was 106.
During postseason play, Gooden threw four games in the 1986 playoffs, and three in the 1988 playoffs. Though he never actually won a postseason game with the Mets, and actually lost three, Doc pitched admirably. In 44.1 total innings, he had an ERA of 3.25, walking 17 while striking out 38. It must be noted, against the Boston Red Sox, in the 1986 World Series, Gooden pitched poorly, giving up eight earned runs in nine innings, good for an 8.00 ERA.
After sitting out all of 1995 because of his cocaine habit, Gooden left the Mets bounced around the league before eventually retiring, at age 35, in 2000. Highlights during those years included pitching a no-hitter against the powerful Seattle Mariners in 1996, and winning two World Series titles with the Yankees in 1996 and 2000. Doc was conspicuously absent from being involved with the Mets in any way, shape, or form until September 28, 2008, during the on-field ceremonies closing out Shea Stadium. Gooden received a thunderous applause. That next April, when Citi Field was opened, Gooden received another thunderous applause. On August 1st, 2010, along with fellow teammate Darryl Strawberry, former manager Davey Johnson, and former GM Frank Cashen, Doc was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame.
One cannot ignore all of the legal troubles, and off-the-field problem that plagued Doc almost at the start of his career. Coming from a relatively modest background, the young Gooden was suddenly thrust onto the grandest baseball scale of them all, and dominated mightily. He could almost literally have anything (or anyone) he wanted, and, sadly, was exposed to the seedy underbelly of society. According to the Mets at the time, young ace missed the 1986 World Series victory parade because he "overslept". In reality, Gooden had been drinking and using cocaine all throughout that night, and decided he was in no condition to be seen in public. A few months later, he was arrested in Tampa Bay, and entered drug rehabilitation program in 1987, to avoid being suspended. He would continue his on-again, off-again drug habit until 1995, when he was suspended by Major League Baseball for the entire season for failing it's anti-drug policy too many times. Shortly afterwards, Dwight's wife discovered him with a loaded gun to his head, ready and willing to end it all. Thankfully, he didn't, and he rose from that low point in his life.
Doc seemed to get his life back together following his suspension event, but the legal problems continued a few years later. In February 2002, he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, and driving with a suspended license. Almost a year later, in January 2003, he was arrested once more, for the same exact thing. In March 2005, Gooden was charged with misdemeanor battery, when he punched his girlfriend after being provoked by her. A few months later, in August, he fled from the police after being pulled over during a traffic stop, because he was driving erratically. The police officer pulling him over commented that his eyes were glassy and bloodshot, his speech was slurred, and he strongly smelled of alcohol. After three days, Gooden turned himself in to the police, was sentenced to probation. A few months later, in March 2006, he appeared high on cocaine when meeting with his probation officer. Surprisingly, perhaps realizing that his behavior was killing himself, Dwight elected to go to prison, instead of extended probation, hoping that being locked up would separate him from the drugs that were ruining his life. "I can't come back here", Gooden said, referring to prison, and the behavior that landed him there. "I'd rather get shot than come back here...If I don't get the message this time, I never will." After nearly seven months, he was released, and it seemed that he might have actually have learned his lesson. Sadly, on March 24th, 2010, he was arrested once more, this time after leaving the scene of a traffic accident, abandoning a child passenger, while under the influence of an undisclosed controlled substance. He was ordered to, among other things, undergo outpatient drug treatment. Whether that treatment worked or not, I do not know, though it is likely that it did not, since Doc is one of the guests on VH1's ‘Celebrity Rehab'.
For a few years, Doc Gooden was a special, special player. After just two seasons, at the age of 21, there was already talk that he was Hall of Fame bound, and perhaps might turn out to be one of the best pitchers in history; perhaps the best. Injury, overuse, and, most disappointingly, poor personal choices dimmed his once vibrant career. Though people will certainly remember Dwight Gooden's career for how good it was, people will always wonder what it could have been.RetireMet?: Jerry Koosman