Others pointed to the two-run homer he gave up to Lou Whitaker in the 1986 All-Star game and the loss he took. Some said it was the fact that he had he finished the season with only 200 strikeouts in 250 innings. Even with a 17-6 record and a 2.58 ERA in 1986, others pointed to the fact that he went without a post-season win.
If the magic of Dwight Gooden did indeed disappear during 1986, then many of the memorable moments that came afterwards were nothing but mirages. Having witnessed more than a few of those moments myself, I would argue that the magic did not disappear. Yes, the average number of wins and strikeouts over the next seven years declined by almost six wins and more than 90 strikeouts. They waned even more than that over the last six years of his career. Instead, though, like a magician who replaces a number of tricks in his act, I'd like to think that Dwight Gooden found new ways and new stages to pitch his magic after 1986.
Gooden averaged more than 16 wins over his next two years. He suffered his first injury, however, in 1989, going down with a sore shoulder in the middle of the year. He was 9-4 with a 2.99 ERA, and he was the only consistently good starter on the Mets' staff. His loss sunk the team's pennant hopes. The magic, though, would be back.
In 1990 Gooden went 19-7 with 223 strikeouts in 223 innings, and he demonstrated the kind of brilliance that was associated with his early career. It would be the last time he'd win more than 13 games in a season. Still, the magic was not dead.
Even after serving a suspension for the last month of the 1994 season and all of the 1995 season for a series of off-season problems, most notably drug and alcohol abuse, Gooden surfaced again with the New York Yankees. For one particularly shining moment during 1996, Dwight Gooden weaved a special kind of magic and fired his only career no-hitter against the then mighty Seattle Mariners. His fastball again reached 95 mph on the radar gun, and his career seemed back on track.
A misdiagnosed hernia in 1997, however, cost Gooden much of the season. The flame that burned so bright during the first three years of a career was, at this point, disappearing. Dwight Gooden would win only 26 games over his last four years.
Dwight Gooden's career will undoubtedly go down in the annals of ‘what could have been'. He was the youngest All-Star ever. He had won 100 games at the age of 25, and people were asking not how soon he'd reach the magical 300-win mark, but perhaps 400 wins. His series of off-season problems most likely, though, cost him a career that could have landed him Cooperstown.
Dwight Gooden burst on the scene in 1984 with a rising fastball and sharp curveball that dominated almost a generation of ballplayers. In a game where curveballs are referred to as "Uncle Charley," Gooden's was called "Lord Charles."
Lord Charles was his pitch and his strikeouts pure magic. On the baseball field, Dr. K was a magician.
John C. Sinclair writes a New York Mets historical column every Wednesday on NYMFansOnly.com