An interview with Dwight Gooden

Mike Coppola

Last Wednesday I was able to catch up with Doc Gooden at the MLB Fan Cave and ask him some questions about his own experiences and the upcoming season.

Q: It's Derek Jeter's final season. He's dealt with some injuries in the past. How do you think the season's going to play out for him?

A: Hopefully he's healthy so he can go out with a bang. Obviously I hope he can get a ring to retire with. They definitely have the guys to do that. I got to know Derek in 1996 at a minicamp before spring training started and he was a great guy then. When I went back to the Yankees in 2000, he was the same guy, he hadn't changed. The way he goes about his business, the way he works out, the way he treats people is still the same. So I think he's going to have a good year. I know people are making a big deal out of his numbers in spring training, but spring training is spring training. It doesn't mean anything once the season starts. He's a professional. It's his 20th year. I'm sure he knows what he's doing. It's just about getting comfortable. It might not be like the '96 or '97 Derek but I'm sure he'll have a good year. Plus with Derek, you never know what to expect from him.

Q: And if you could just talk about his presence in the clubhouse and what he brings to the team off the field.

A: He's one of those guys that's a quiet leader. Even at a young age, he was one of those guys, even after a loss, he was always tellings jokes. Always in good spirits whether he went 0-for-4 or 4-for-4. As he got older, when the young guys would come up, he would take them under his wings. Just a good personality.

Q: What were some of your best moments from your final season?

A: I hate to say it because I'm a Met at heart but winning the World Series and also beating the Mets. In 2000, I went to spring training with the Astros. Pitched one game and was traded to Tampa. Of course Tampa sucked in 2000. Pitched eight games and got released. Was sent home for a month and then got a call from the Yankees. George Steinbrenner asked if I still wanted to play and I said "Yes." He said show up at the complex tomorrow. I've got no guarantees if it's going to be happen but if it doesn't work out you can just come work for me. So I went there, got to pitch in two rookie games and didn't do much. I get called into the office the next day in the park, I'm thinking I'm going to get released. Instead I'm told they need me up in New York to pitch against the Mets. I know I'm not ready but I can't say no. Then I was thinking, at least I get to go back to Shea Stadium one last time. I went there and I actually won. Somehow I pitched five innings and gave up two runs, stayed with the team the rest of the year and won the World Series. So that made it special, just the way I went out.

Q: Aside from winning the World Series, what were some of your best moments from your career?

A: Obviously when I found out I made the team. Rookie of the Year. Cy Young. Winning my first World Series with the Mets in 1986 after we came so close in '84 and '85. Obviously my favorite moment in my career was pitching a no-hitter. Unfortunately it was with the Yankees but with everything that went on behind the scenes with my dad who was sick and it turned out that the day I pitched I was supposed to go see him to be with my father as his health was deteriorating. I decided I'd pitch, even though I thought I wouldn't so the last game he saw me pitch was the no-hitter before he passed away.

Q: And some of your worst moments?

A: Worst moment in baseball by far was missing the parade in '86. Giving up the home run to Mike Scioscia in the '88 playoffs to tie the game, I think that changed the whole series. Not being able to play my whole career with the Mets. That's something I always thought I was going to be able to do. And one I'll tell you off the record (chuckling). But those were probably the toughest ones.

Q: So the Mets finally spent some money, but they still have a lot of holes. What do you think of the team's overall outlook?

A: Like you said, I think they improved. They are taking baby steps in my eyes. And in New York you don't really rebuild, so the last three or four years have been tough but I like the pitching. The starting pitching, I like it a lot. I think Colon coming over is great. If he stays healthy, he can lead by example. The bullpen I'm not sold on. If this is a winning team, I think he's [Bobby Parnell] more of a setup guy than a closer. I could be wrong and I hope I'm wrong. But in my opinion, I think the Mets' weakness is going to be the bullpen and I think with the team now, he fits the closer role, but I think if you have a quality playoff team, he's more of an eighth-inning guy. Again, I could be wrong. I also think we need one more bat. I'd like to see one more hitter. In that ballpark, Citi Field, I'd like to see them build a team around the stadium. What I mean by that is if you've got a great young pitching staff, you've got to build a team around defense. Get guys that fit like [Juan] Lagares in center field, I hope they leave him there. The outfield now I love. Second base I think there's a hole there. [Daniel] Murphy obviously is a great hitter but I don't think he's a second baseman.

Q: You don't think he can field?

A: No. I mean he's a good fielder for an average team. Defense is very important to a good young staff because number one, if you're making errors behind the guys on balls that are hit that you can't get to, it's going to kill their confidence as pitchers. They are going to think they have to do too much and are going to start trying to strike guys out. But if a young guy knows he has a good defense behind him, he won't be afraid to throw to contact because he knows his guys will make the plays. But up the middle is very important. I like the catcher. I think he's great. A good team is always strong up the middle. What I mean by that is catcher, shortstop, second base, center field. I think we have the catcher and center fielder. Shortstop and second base I'm not too sure of.

Q: And what about your partnership with Oxi Clean and Arm and Hammer?

A: I thought it was a great deal. It brought back memories for me. It took me back to when I was in little league and it was tough to get the grass out of your pants and it pissed off your mom because you couldn't get it off. It's great that they are doing this. And I think joining forces with Major League Baseball, a lot of kids and families see that and it goes down to the kids. You know, if you look good, you feel good, you play good. It will be very helpful and I'm happy to be a part of it.

Q: So you're doing the partnership with Tino Martinez. If you guys faced each other today, who would win?

A: Oh Tino would take me. I saw him a couple of years ago in the the Old-Timers' game hitting balls out of the park and plus now all I can throw are a lot of changeups with a little arc on them. I'm sure he'd take me.

Q: Last question. What do you think of Matt Harvey trying to pitch this year?

A: It's tough on both ends. I'll play both ends. If I'm Matt Harvey, I want to pitch if I'm healthy at the end of the year. If I'm the pitching coach, manager, or general manager I only let him pitch if we have a chance to win and get to the playoffs. If not, see you in spring training.

Q: So if they have a chance at the playoffs, let him loose?

A: If they have a chance at the playoffs and he's healthy, feeling good, passing all the tests, let him go.

Dwight Gooden joined Church & Dwight to announce a multi-year, multi-category sponsorship agreement with Major League Baseball Properties making ARM & HAMMERTM and OxiCleanTM "The Official Laundry Detergent and Stain Remover of MLB." Fans can get involved by participating in the "Cover The Bases" sweepstakes for chances to win MLB merchandise and game tickets, including All-Star Game and World Series tickets, and the grand prize of a Chevy Equinox. For more information, fans can visit CoverTheBases.com – everyone who participates is entered for a chance to win the grand prize.

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