Top 100 Yankees of All-Time...#96, Dwight Gooden

It is difficult to look at Dwight Gooden's final career statistics and see a bloated 3.51 lifetime ERA and "only" 194 wins. After all, this was a pitcher who had won 100 games by the time he was 25. He was on the fast track for 300 wins, but hit major obstacles on the road of life. He only posted a Yankee mark of 24-14 for a little over two seasons in pinstripes, but I selected him as Greatest Yankee #96, on the strength of two games. And those two games were for the ages.

Dwight Gooden became the mythical "Doctor K'' before his 20th birthday. He won the National League Rookie of the Year, the National League Cy Young Award and a World Championship in his first three seasons. He was definitely a man blessed with God-given talent. Did God then forsake Dwight Gooden sometime thereafter? Without getting philosophical, or religious, it is hard not to question what went wrong in Dwight's life.

Some blame perhaps one of the great pitching coaches of our time, Mel Stottlemyre, for tampering with Gooden's natural talent and changing him from flamethrower to ground ball pitcher to preserve his young arm. Dwight's strikeouts did take a dramatic fall following 1984 and 1985, two seasons in which Gooden was indeed a baseball God. He broke Herb Score's rookie mark of 245 strikeouts, while posting a 17-9 record in 1984. In 1985, he had perhaps the greatest season by a pitcher since Bob Gibson posted his record ERA of 1.12 in 1968. Gooden's ERA was just shade higher at 1.53 and broke the great Tom Seaver's club record of 1.76, set in 1971. Gooden won 24 games, lost but four, and led the league in strikeouts for the second straight year. He thereby won the Pitcher's Triple Crown, while also leading the NL in complete games.

But there was a precipitous dropoff in 1986. While a record of 17-6 with 200 strikeouts and 2.84 ERA is one fantastic season for mere mortals, Gooden was already being prepared for canonization as the second coming of Cy Young. Everyone seemed to have forgotten that was still a very, very young man, and young men are easy prey for temptation.

While the Mets had one glorious season in 1986, winning an unbelievable 108 regular season games and then polishing off the Houston Astros in perhaps the greatest NLCS in history, they were one strike away from losing the World Series. But divine intervention once again saved them from defeat and they managed to pull out the series in seven games, and were World Champions. Gooden, however, had come up empty in the postseason. Despite all his accomplishments up to that point, he had yet to prove that he was a money pitcher.

Other rumors began circulating: those linking Gooden to drug abuse. When the 1987 season began, Gooden was not with the team but in Smithers Institute getting clean. Cocaine had indeed played a role in his 1986 fall from Baseball's Mount Olympus. And no matter how he tried, he would never scale those heights again.

He still had his moments as a Met. The 1987 Mets came up just short against a much less talented St. Louis Cardinals team. And since the Mets missed Gooden for over a month and perhaps five additional victories, at least part of the blame had to be placed on his absence.

In 1988, Gooden had his final very good season as a major league pitcher. He went 19-9 for the NL East champions, but he surrendered a two-run, game-tying homerun to Punch-n-Judy hitter Mike Scioscia in the NLCS that completely turned the series around, as the Mets fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games.

Following the 1988 season, Dwight Gooden was transformed into an ordinary .500 pitcher. He was also either battling injuries or drug problems, or both. The final fall from grace came during the 1994 season, when a positive drug test forced his being banned from baseball for the remainder of 1994 and the entire 1995 campaign. The Mets let him go after that, but Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, obviously respecting the Gooden from those seemingly long ago seasons, made him a New York Yankee.

And Dwight responded, and posted a 11-7 record in 1996, as he won his second World Championship, this time wearing Yankees pinstripes.

Year

Team

W-L

SV

IP

H

BB

SO ERA

1996

Yankees

11-7

0

170.2

169

88

126

5.01

1997

Yankees

9-5

0

106.1

116

53

66

4.91

2000

Yankees

4-2

2

64.1

66

21

31

3.36

It was on May 14, 1996 that Gooden achieved his highlight as a Yankee. Struggling to remain in the New York rotation, Gooden fired a no-hitter against the Seattle Mariners, a team possessing one of the most potent offensive lineups of the time. In fact, Dwight walked two men leading off the ninth inning of the game. He then proceeded to retire Ken Griffey, Jr., Jay Buhner and finally Paul Sorrento, to ice the no-no. Ironically, Gooden's former team, the Mets, have never had a no-hitter pitched in their history. Gooden joined Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan and Mike Scott as Mets exiles who would record no-hitters for other teams. Later, David Cone would also turn the trick.

In 1997, despite posting a 9-5 mark for the Yankees, Gooden battled through most of the season, and was not resigned by New York. He wound up in Cleveland, as he signed a two year pact with the Indians. From then on, Dwight's career was in freefall. He bounced around for the better part of two seasons.

Finally after failed attempts with the Houston Astros and his hometown Tampa Bay Devil Rays, George Steinbrenner gave Gooden one last shot at resurrecting his major league career. The comeback was short-lived but was not without one final moment of glory for the Bombers. On July 8, 2000, the Mets and Yankees played an unusual doubleheader. The first game was played in Shea Stadium and the nightcap was played at Yankee Stadium. The Yanks prevailed in both games by identical 4-2 scores. Gooden, obviously nearing the end of his career even though he was only 35, tossed six strong innings in a triumphant return to Shea Stadium, and won the opener.

Gooden finished the New York portion of his 2000 season with a mark of 4-2 and the Yankees went on to notch yet another World Championship, when they took care of the cross town Mets in five contests.

Dwight tried one more time as he joined the Yankees for spring training in 2001. But the magic was no longer there. So at the age of 36, on March 30, 2001, Dwight Gooden formally bid the game of baseball as an active player farewell.

It's been almost two decades since Dwight Gooden won his first major league game, and he was a man blessed with greatness. The Hall of Fame should have been added to his final line, with Gooden joining contemporary Roger Clemens in the coming years in Cooperstown. But it won't come to pass.

George Steinbrenner has to be given credit for trying to save a man's career which, for all intents and purposes, was already finished. As he did with Gooden's former teammate Darryl Strawberry, Steinbrenner gave both fallen players every chance to regain their former glory.

Gooden is our Greatest Yankee #96 essentially for two great games he pitched in pinstripes, and of course, for what might have been, had outside forces not intervened, and left his fans shaking their heads in bewilderment.


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