At 31, Dwight Gooden was on a downward drug-infested spiral from the top of the world. A savior appeared, but the only question was, could he save himself?
When Dwight Gooden took the mound on May 14, 1996, to face the Seattle Mariners at the old Yankee Stadium, he could not have imagined that two-hours and forty-three minutes later, he would be carried off the field by his Yankee teammates.
And just before stepping on the rubber to face his first batter Darren Bragg, Gooden might have recalled the words spoken to him only three months earlier – ‘Stay out of trouble, pitch hard, and everything will work out.’ (Magic on the Mound,” MLB.com, May 13, 2016)
Dwight Gooden: A Product Of The 1980s
Dwight Gooden once was guaranteed to sell out Shea Stadium every time he was listed in New York newspapers as the starter for the Mets. Day or night, it didn’t matter.
But this was the mid-1980s, and cocaine was the new Budweiser. The stories go that it was Keith Hernandez who introduced the powder to the Mets clubhouse following his trade from the St. Louis Cardinals.
Hernandez never denied the tale, and soon, any number of Mets were partying hearty.
Dwight Gooden never missed a party, and for that, he received two suspensions from MLB, including one that put him out of commission for the entire 1995 season.
Not All Of Us Have An Angel
The Mets had already released Gooden, and across town, George Steinbrenner’s Yankees were on the cusp of launching one of the greatest championship runs in baseball history.
In 1996 Gene Michael, the Yankees underrated GM, was putting the finishing touches on a team that would make winning its trademark into the next decade. The Core Five of Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, and Derek Jeter was set.
The 1996 team did, however, have an area of concern. No surprise to Yankee fans – it was starting pitching. Pettitte (30 starts) led the staff, and he was followed by Jimmy Key (34 starts), and Kenny Rogers (30 starts) – but that was it.
Thirty-four years later, you’d have to wonder if George Steinbrenner was alive today, would he be first in line to take a chance on another troubled and generally considered “washed up” pitcher – Matt Harvey.
But it was The Boss who took it upon himself to interview Dwight Gooden for a job with the Yankees personally.
Gooden would later say he didn’t think he made much of an impression on Steinbrenner, but a call and a one-year deal with options for a second and third year followed. A new day – a new opportunity.
Dwight Gooden’s Last But Magnificent Hurrah
Dwight Gooden’s page in Baseball Almanac shows he made 29 starts covering 170 innings while winning eleven against seven losses.
Most telling though, are the 126 strikeouts registered. It was hard to miss, way less than one per inning. Dwight Gooden had spent the early years of his career beating himself and body up to the point where he almost unrecognizable.
It took Godden 134 pitches, six walks, and two wild pitches – but he did it – a no-hitter.
That was the pinnacle, though, and the rest became a repeat of everything Dwight Gooden so willingly and openly confessed to the world.
Gooden’s baseball journey took him to Cleveland (Indians), Houston (Astros), Florida (Tampa Bay Rays), and finally, an encore return to the Bronx in 2000. But it was over long before then.
It’s not a pretty story. They never are.
He was arrested twice in the summer of 2019, on drug-related charges Dwight Gooden’s right arm could not and apparently cannot carry the weight of his right nostril.
We have our opinions and our judgments about the life chosen by “Doc” Gooden. Many of us would like to see him tarred and feathered on Columbus Square in Manhattan for that precious talent he wasted.
But just the same, how many of us can lay claim to having pitched a no-hitter at Yankee Stadium wearing the pinstripes of the New York Yankees?
A moment in time…a miracle in the Bronx.