|TOPPS BEGAN CALLING DWIGHT ''DOC'' IN '89.|
|MOST CALLED HIM "DISAPPOINTING.''|
DEFINING THE PLAYER
- Dwight Gooden had it all. A million-dollar arm, a franchise on the cusp of a dynasty and all of New York bowed at his feet. And he pissed it all away. "Cocaine's a helluva drug.'' Before the crash, though, there was a helluva high. Hitters weren't prepared for this 19-year-old rookie when he debuted in 1984. His 98-mph heater and wicked curve were a 1-2 punch that KO'd a rookie record 276 batters. Dr. K was born. All the NL Rookie of the Year did as a follow up was win the Cy Young Award in '85, when he compiled the second lowest ERA of the live ball era with a 1.53. While the Mets won the World Series the next year and Gooden won 17 more games, he and the team were unraveling. Gooden succumbed to drugs and alcohol and injuries mounted. A career seemingly destined for Cooperstown instead became a lesson in how not to handle success.
- His no-hitter for the Yankees in '96 deserves mention, but his All-Star Game debut in '84 was his national coming out party. On July 10, Gooden took the mound in the fifth inning at Candlestick Park as the youngest All-Star ever. Nervous? Hardly. Gooden struck out the side: Lance Parrish, Chet Lemon and Alvin Davis. He pitched the sixth and allowed a hit in his two innings of work.
- Gooden's '85 season was one for the books. He won the pitching Triple Crown by leading the NL and baseball in wins (24), ERA and strikeouts (268). From his second start until his final one, 35 in all, his ERA never went above 2. He led the NL in innings with 276.2 and baseball in ERA+ with 229. And to think with all those strikeouts he walked only 69. That's combining the pinpoint touch of a scalpel with the brute force of a jackhammer.
FIVE FINAL FACTS
- Being from Tampa, Gooden's hometown, I knew of this kid since high school, when he quickly became one of the game's best prospects and was drafted fifth overall by the Mets in '82.
- Spent one full season in the minors in '83 with Class-A Lynchburg, leading the league in wins (19), strikeouts (300) and ERA (2.50). There was a freight train headed to the Big Apple.
- His peak was short but awe-inspiring: In 406 innings in 50 starts from '84-'86, Gooden was 37-5, with a 1.38 ERA, 412 strikeouts and 90 walks.
- The veneer on Gooden's image began to peel on April 1, 1987, when baseball announced he tested positive for cocaine in spring training and entered rehab.
- Substance abuse and legal troubles dogged Gooden for the rest of his 16-year career. He finished with a record of 194-112, 3.51 ERA and an ERA+ of 111, which means he was only 11 percent above league average. ''Cocaine's a helluva drug.''
|LINED OUT AGAINST DOC IN A CHARITY SOFTBALL GAME|
IN TAMPA IN THE LATE '80s. AFTER STARING ME DOWN,
HE GRACIOUSLY AUTOGRAPHED THIS BALL.