By Jason Keidel
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Maybe you had to be alive and lucid to understand.
Stroll down the decades, to 1985, when Miami Vice owned the television, Ghostbusters owned the box office, Prince and Peter Gabriel owned the music, and Dwight Gooden owned the mound.
For those under 30, it’s nearly impossible for you to know – and equally hard to believe – that Manhattan was a Met island. They commandeered the front, back and sixth page of the Post. They were cocky, violent, vitriolic, and unrepentant.
And they were great. And this is from a frothing Yankees fan who detested the Metropolitans. Even I watched when the good doctor made his weekly house call, sound twisted off the TV set, lest my old man get wind of my sporting mutiny.
As someone who pumps pinstriped blood, it was agony to read the newspapers and see the latest superlative heaped upon the hearty ball club. And the smooth, sweaty face of the franchise at its best was also the youngest.
Dwight Gooden literally took New York by storm, virtual lightning hurled from his divine right arm. We dangled at the end of his long, strong fingers. His visage soared from the side of skyscrapers, 40 floors of paint and pitcher burned into brick, the emblem of a new world order in baseball, his right arm lashing down while the ball spun from his fist.
Now New Yorkers seem simpatico on the next pitching savant. And. coincidentally, he’s pitching tonight. Matt Harvey has Mets devotees drooling with a hint of the lust felt toward Gooden.
Harvey seems to flood the checklist. Big. Strong. Tough. Calm. Confident. Arrogant. Throws harder every inning. Throws inside. Has the gaping pit in his belly that never fills with complacency.
For all of Harvey’s talent – and it seems almost limitless – he’s not Doc Gooden. At least not yet.
in 1985, Gooden went 24-4, with a 1,53 ERA with 268 strikeouts and 16 complete games. Sixteen. All of those numbers led the National League, of course, and Gooden, whose main moniker was Dr.K, spawned the nouveaux scoreboard, contoured to his colossal arsenal of pitches.
And he was 20. Twenty. Four years younger than Harvey is. Speaking of four, Harvey has just four starts into the Magical Mystery Tour that New Yorkers seem so quick to embark on without a little more empirical proof that Harvey is indeed the real item.
The year prior, 1984, Gooden had 276 strikeouts in just 218 innings, Playstation stats. His 17-9 record and 2.60 ERA wasn’t so bad, either. He wasn’t even old enough to drink.
But he did drink. And then he drank some more. And by the time the crown slid snugly around his head and the world was his it was already slipping through his blessed palms. The 1986 juggernaut had just won the World Series and Gooden missed the parade thanks to a cocaine binge in some Long Island slum. Doc and Darryl became the twin faces of fragile stardom, a cultural buoy for future generations.
No need to discuss the entirety of his galling collapse, and to hear the collective, public ignorance vis-a-vis addiction. (“He’s an idiot!” “What a scumbag!” “He’s a punk!” “He’s a weakling” are among the more enlightened perspectives. I’d love to hear those same pseudo-doctors tell Lawrence Taylor and Mike Tyson that they’re weak.) Let’s just say it was sad. And the five boroughs and beyond had a front-row seat for the tragedy, as it unraveled with Dante Alighieri-ian brevity.
We watched first because he was so beautiful and ethereal, and then perhaps because it was too good to be true, that something baleful had to befall him. It’s a curse to be that good that early. No wonder F. Scott Fitzgerald drank himself to death, after writing Gatsby at 29. And right behind Gooden, Mike Tyson was bludgeoning the heavyweight champ at 21, and then Robin Givens and Don King did the rest.
And Gooden’s starts showed at Shea, where the masses poured into the ballpark as if the Pope were pitching; whereas Harvey’s starts are startlingly unattended, a freckling of fans dotting the ballpark. That will change as Harvey mesmerizes the masses. And it won’t hurt if his team keeps its collective nostrils above the .500 waters.
But he’s got the stuff. Four starts. Four wins. Microscopic ERA. Massive strikeouts. The aura of an ace.
His only flaw seems to be having two first names, which isn’t really a flaw or under his control. Everything he can control he has done with numbing alacrity. There’s a throwback bent to the young man, an old soul in a young body. He’s supremely gifted. But it’s too early to say how much. And that’s fine. Four starts aren’t a career make. Tonight is five. And we will be watching.
Let Harvey be Harvey. Which is good enough, even if not Gooden enough.
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