Keidel: The Good In Doc Gooden

By Jason Keidel
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I cant speak for women, but men of middle age seem to become overwhelmed with an obscene sense of nostalgia. And as this is the first day of the year when there are no meaningful team sports in America, allow me this stroll down the decades…

Enter Dwight Gooden, who recently ran a theatrical round of rehab, Doc K meets Doc Drew, if you will.

To those not old enough to remember, there was indeed a desolate decade for the Yankees. It was called the 1980s, when the Mets were the apple of the Big Apple. But even as a Yankees fan I admired the good Doctor. As I was becoming a man (15) he was THE man in Manhattan and beyond. His image soared from the side of skyscrapers, his divine right arm ready to unleash lightning on a trembling .280 hitter.

I don’t mean to play the age card, but you have to be lucid and alive in 1985 (when he went 24-4, with a 1.53 ERA) to comprehend Gooden, his brilliance, buttressed against his savant’s humility and reticence to howl over his sublime talent. It started in 1984, when he was a kid (19) with a god’s gift. He took the mound in the fifth inning of that year’s All-Star Game and struck out the side. He was the youngest man ever to appear at the midsummer classic. Then the world took notice, even if it couldn’t fathom him. He threw a rising 98 mph fastball with a commensurate curve, given its own moniker, “Lord Charles.”

You know the rest, the tumble down the mountain of narcotics, years, innings, pitches, and memories wasted, the suspensions, the mounting rap sheet, including his arrest last year with his little son in the car. Yes, there was still enough power left in that battered arm to throw a no-hitter for the Yankees in 1996, but Doc was gone, his epitaph penned as the face of two New York dynasties a decade apart.

At 46, Gooden is in the sixth inning of life, far too early for a hurler of his heft to leave the game. I don’t know the man, yet I love the man. It’s just one of those things.

Maybe you were one of those anonymous kids with a K sprouting from your seat at Shea Stadium and can relate.

You’ve recently seen the portly pitcher in repose trot to the mound and bow for the fans. You wonder how he’s doing. And you can’t think of Gooden without pondering Darryl Strawberry, his de facto brother on the team, equally talented and similarly tormented. “Straw” seems to have turned the righteous corner. And we hope he stays there.

Remember Mickey Mantle and Billy Martin, among the phalanx of broken hearts who bled on stage for our pleasure, and didn’t ask for a damn thing in return. Like Gooden, they aren’t heroes for being human. It’s what they represent to us all: better times.

Many confuse an illness for weakness, though I dare anyone to call Lawrence Taylor weak to his face. You’ll just have to accept that with a certain talent comes a certain torture in many humans, whether you like it or not.

There are those of you who have no patience or pity for the addicted, no emotional balm for the self-induced scars from the drunk or junkie, that any man at the business end of a bottle, powder, pipe, or needle does so at his peril. Fair enough. But try to remember what Doc did for us. Remember that he was Rembrandt for a summer.

Then ask yourself what you’ve done for millions of people. Gooden gave you chills, thrills, and still might have another few innings left. Maybe we can make a new sign for him, while praying for his next curtain call.

Feel free to email me:

What are your memories of ‘Doc’?

  • brotherd

    Dear Jason,

    Thank you for putting into words just how captivating Dr. K was. And let’s not forget he was still a dominant pitcher from 1986-1990. If he had Mariano Rivera and Joe Torre in his corner in the fall of 1988, Gooden would have probably been NLCS and World Series MVP. For Mets fans, Gooden was everything you said, but also the soul of a perennial winner for 7 years.

  • Robert Richardson

    I remember those days very well as a lifelong Yankee! Doc and Straw exemplified those underachieving METS. Funny how they both were able to come to the Bronx and get into the Series in the twilight of their careers. But what could of been if they could of overcome their demons

  • Kurt Spitzner


  • Steamer

    Babysitting for a friend in Katonah, in their kitchen watching Doc K put up about 15 Ks against the Pirates. His talent was similar to early Tyson years- unparalleled and unreal. Never seen before and never since

    • JK

      A rather compelling comparison, Steamer, but I respectfully disagree. I made my bones as a boxing writer, and Tyson was Liston-Lite. Enormously talented, for sure, but Ali would have destroyed Iron Mike. Gooden was the best pitcher I’ve ever seen, though I wasn’t around for Koufax, to whom all our fathers bow.

  • Kurt Spitzner

    I wish him the strength to keep control of the demons that undermine his life,just as he did for all of us when he pitched as he did and made all of us Mets fans proud to be one and forget about everthing else.

    • JK

      Well said, Kurt. Frankly, I was in awe of him. I had to sneak to the old Channel 9 while my dad wasn’t looking because he hated the Mets. Gooden had to be seen to be understood.

  • JK

    Thanks for that, Pete. My room was similarly adorned, though with Franco Harris and other Steelers. Football was my first love.

  • pete

    my brother ( a yankee fan) had two posters above his bed in our bedroom, Michael Jordan and Dwight Gooden back in 1985. We were awed by both of these athletes during their first few years. They both dominated in their first few years and both were sensational.

  • JK

    Agreed, James. But we can hopefully cherish them, nonetheless.


    both could of been in the hall of fame if it was for drugs and alcohol abuse.
    What could of been.

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