Dwight Gooden spent 16 years in the major leagues, exploding onto the scene as a teenage phenom with the New York Mets, pitching a no-hitter for the New York Yankees and also saw time with the Cleveland Indians, Houston Astros and Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
He won 194 games–more than half of which came before his 25th birthday. Nicknamed “Dr. K,” he struck out 2,300 batters and finished with an ERA of 3.51.
Those borderline Hall of Fame numbers don’t begin to tell the story of how absolutely dominant Gooden was during the first five seasons of his career while suiting up for the Mets.
Gooden was a four time All Star, two time World Series champion, 1984 NL Rookie of the Year and the 1985 NL Cy Young Award winner.
As a 19-year-old rookie in 1984, Gooden won 17 games struck out 276 batters, breaking Herb Score’s 29-year-old rookie record.
His magical 1985 season will go down as one of the greatest ever recorded by a pitcher. He captured the MLB pitching Triple Crown, leading the MLB in wins (24), ERA (1.53) and strikeouts (268). To no one’s surprise, he was the runaway winner of the National League Cy Young Award.
Gooden spent a decade with the Mets but a second suspension for drug use sidelined him for 1995. He signed with the Yankees in 1996 where he struggled early, went to the minors and came back with a flourish. Gooden tossed his first career no-hitter against the Mariners in May and helped the Yankees to the postseason where they eventually captured a World Series title.
Off the field issues and injuries derailed what could have been a Hall of Fame career.
In this exclusive card back Q&A, Gooden talks about pitching a perfect game in high school growing up with Gary Sheffield in the house and a love for video games.
Tony Reid-Your 1985 Topps rookie card stated “ His greatest thrill before turning pro was pitching a perfect game in high school ball.” How special was that perfect game?
Dwight Gooden-I remember my sophomore year in high school, we had a guy Floyd Youmans, who was the number two pick by the Mets in 1982. We had a guy named Vance Lovelace, who was a senior that year, who was a number one pick by the Dodgers. We had another guy who was a picked by the Twins. We were all on the same pitching staff. I didn’t make the staff my sophomore year, so I quit. My junior year I go back to make the team. I was a reliever. We played Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. Unfortunately Youmans got kicked off the team half way through the season and he moved to California to live with his dad. I got into the rotation. My first start was in a tournament during spring break and I pitched a perfect game. That is where I made my mark and became one of the best pitchers on the team.
TR-Your 1986 Donruss Diamond Kings card stated, among other things, “Baseball should have one set of record books for the major leagues and another just for Dwight Gooden.” That’s an incredible statement and a testament to how insanely dominant you were early in your career. What was the most memorable moment from the early days of your career?
DG-I think being at Shea Stadium when I broke Herb Score’s record. I wasn’t even aware of it. They said over the PA ‘With that strikeout Dwight Gooden has set the rookie mark breaking Herb Score’s record.’ I got a standing ovation. That moment will always stand out to me. As a rookie you aren’t looking to break any records. You are looking to play a long time and stay healthy then all of these great things started coming along the way.
TR-1988 Topps Big card mentions your now famous nephew Gary Sheffield being a prospect in the Brewers organization. How special was it to have multiple baseball superstars in one household?
DG-Oh, man. It was unbelievable. We grew up in the same house. Even though he was my nephew he was like a brother. My sister had him at a young age. We even shared the same bed then we were both playing professional baseball. When he went to San Diego I would be up late at night listening to his games on the radio after my games were over.
TR-1989 Score Scoremasters back has a quote from Dale Murphy that reads “You have a sigh of relief when you don’t have to face him. You start thinking about having to bat against him two days before he pitches against you.”
Some of the most feared hitters in the game feared you. What was it like being Dwight Gooden in that timeframe?
DG– That’s unbelievable. Those things, you aren’t really aware of that at the time. I could have used it to my advantage. To hear that, those are professional hitters that I admired and guys I had to be careful facing at the time. To hear them say that is a tremendous honor. To hear that come from a guy like Dale Murphy, a two time MVP, should be a Hall of Famer, is an honor.
TR-The back of your 1991 Little Big Leaguers card shared that “Dwight felt so uncomfortable playing in front of his parents that once, when he was 8 years old, he walked off the field in the middle of the game when he spotted them in the stands.”
DG– Yeah that is true. I don’t know why or what it was but I was on deck waiting to hit and I saw my parent come up and sit down in the stands. It was my turn to hit. I wouldn’t go up to hit. I said I didn’t want to play anymore. I don’t know if I was that scared to fail in front of them or just that shy. Even when I made it to the major leagues, they were at my very first game and I was so nervous. I didn’t want to fail in front of them, not that it would have mattered. Later on in my career they would drive to Atlanta to see me play and I was still so nervous. Still even to this day I can’t figure out what it was.
TR-The back of your 1991 Studio card lists your hobbies as fishing and Nintendo. What Nintendo games were you playing back in the day?
DG-I used to love Nintendo. When they came out with Nintendo RBI Baseball, I would play that all day, nonstop. In Spring Training after practice we would go to somebody’s apartment and have tournaments. We would order chicken wings and beer and play nonstop until 12:00 or 1:00 the next morning. I loved it.