Dwight Gooden Could Have Been the Equal of Any Pitcher in History

Harold FriendChief Writer IMay 23, 2011

Dwight Gooden
Dwight GoodenJim McIsaac/Getty Images

This is not about Dwight Gooden's problems. It is about the fact that after his first two major-league seasons, he had the chance to become the equal of the greatest pitchers in the game's history.

Gooden had an outstanding rookie season in 1984, winning 17 games at the age of 19. He worked 218 innings, which would not be allowed to happen today, struck out 276 batters and had a 137 ERA+. The best was yet to come.

In 1985, Gooden became the youngest pitcher to win the Cy Young Award. He received all 24 first-place votes.

The New York Mets hurler led the majors in wins (24-4), strikeouts (268), ERA (1.53) and ERA+ (229). It was the first time a pitcher led the majors in wins, strikeouts and ERA since Sandy Koufax did it in 1963, 1965 and 1966.

Looking back, his 16 complete games seem like an impossibility in 2011. Imagine the flak a team would get from the media if it allowed a 20-year-old to complete so many games.

After May 25, Gooden won 14 consecutive decisions and lost only one game during the last four months of the season. He was virtually unhittable. It was an event when the opposition scored.

Gooden's 21st win of the season on Sept. 17 at Shea Stadium was a template for what he could have been.

Facing the Philadelphia Phillies, Gooden struck out 11, walked two and allowed two hits in pitching his seventh shutout of the season. It was a dominating performance that was typical for Gooden.

Amazingly, it was the first time he won a game in three weeks despite the fact he had pitched shutout ball in his last two starts.

In Los Angeles, he shut out the Dodgers for nine innings, but Fernando Valenzuela shut out the Mets for 11 innings in a game the Mets won in 13 innings. Young Jesse Orosco was credited with the win.

Five days later, Gooden held the St. Louis Cardinals scoreless for nine innings, but John Tudor hurled a 10-inning shutout. This time, young Jesse Orosco was charged with the loss.

After Gooden finally got the win after pitching nine shutout innings against the Phillies, his catcher, Gary Carter, spoke to the media.

"It always bothers the players when Dwight goes out there and puts zeroes on the board, and you don't win for him. He'd like to win 30, and he's capable of it."

Gooden had a slightly different view.

"You pitch nine shutout innings and tell yourself you did your part, even if you don't win. The one goal every pitcher has when he walks out there is to pitch a shutout. The stat sheet may not show it, but in my book I have three in a row."

Dave Johnson, the manager of New York's most beloved team, who had been a second baseman for the Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves, wished that he had played behind Gooden.

"I would love to have played behind Gooden. You don't get many ground balls, he doesn't walk anybody, and he gets the job done quickly."

There have been many explanations with respect to why Gooden didn't fulfill his potential.

Some "experts" believe that hitters learned to lay off his fastball, which they claimed rose out of the strike zone and would be called a ball if the batter took it. Others thought that Mets pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre changed Gooden's delivery in an effort to avoid injury and that actually caused shoulder problems.

Gooden was arrested in Dec. 1986 in Tampa after fighting with police. A few months later, he tested positive for cocaine and entered a rehabilitation center on Apr. 1.

During the middle of the 1989 season, he suffered a sore shoulder and missed most of the rest of the season. He was never again the dominating force he had been.


By, J. D. (1985, Nov 14). Gooden is winner unanimously: Youngest to get award award to Gooden. New York Times (1923-Current File), pp. B19. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/111148601?accountid=46260

By, J. D. (1985, Sep 17). Gooden masterful again, fanning 11 in two-hitter: Mets 9 Phillies 0 Gooden is masterful. New York Times (1923-Current File), pp. B7. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/111303903?accountid=46260

Dwight Gooden at Baseball Library