In 1984...two young pitchers broke into the Major Leagues together. In 1986...they met on baseball’s biggest stage. Today, one of them is trying for yet another Cy Young Award while the other is just turned himself in to police after 3 days on the run.
Dwight "Doc" Gooden and Roger Clemens were the best pitchers when I was growing up. There was one in each league...dominating.
Doc Gooden won his first Cy Young Award in 1985...at the age of 20. He went 24-4 with an era of 1.53 and 268 strikeouts...giving him the nickname "Dr. K". He had an unreal 16 complete games...including 8 shutouts and won the NL pitching Triple Crown. He even hit a home run that season.
The very next year , 23 year old Roger Clemens won his first Cy Young Award. He had the same 24-4 record as Gooden did a year earlier. He ended the year with a 2.48 ERA and 238 strikeouts. He also helped lead his Red Sox to their first World Series berth since 1975 and hoping for their first title since 1918.
In that 1986 World Series, I was rooting for the Mets. As an 11 year old kid...I always pulled for the National League in such events, as back in those days there was actually a difference in the two leagues aside from just the DH. Both Gooden and Clemens were on the mound for Game 2 in New York. Boston already had a 1-0 series lead. Oddly enough, neither pitcher won the game. Gooden was shelled for 6 runs while Clemens left in the 5th inning and not getting a decision. Both pitched again in the series....Gooden lost Game 5 and Clemens started, but didn’t finish, the immortal Game 6. In that entire postseason...neither pitcher won a game.
The next 5 years....both players kept their groove going. Gooden went 74-34. Clemens went 94-48....including two more Cy Young Awards. After that...both players started wearing out their welcome.
Gooden tested positive for cocaine in 1987 and continued to have issues with the drug. In 1992 Gooden posted a 10-13 mark. He followed that up with a 12-15 record in 1993. Both years he struck out just 294 hitters. The next year, Gooden pitched in just 7 games...won 3 of the them...and had an ERA over 6.00. In September 1994...Bud Selig suspended Gooden for the rest of that season [which wasn’t long since the strike occured] and all of 1995. That was the end of his Mets career.
The wheels came off for Clemens in 1993. He posted an 11-14 mark and had the largest ERA of his career. The next two seasons, Clemens did win 19 of 31 decisions...but stints on the DL, friction with the front office and a 10-13 campaign in 1996 [he oddly tied his record 20 strikeouts in a game late that year] meant he was out the door in Boston.
In 1996, Gooden resurfaced as a new man with the cross-town Yankees. Though unspectacular, Gooden did go 20-12 in his two seasons in pinstripes...which included another World Series ring [though he was left off the postseason roster] and a no-hitter. From there, he spent two seasons in Cleveland and spent the 2000 season with Houston and Tampa.
Clemens didn’t go out like that. In 1997, he signed a huge deal to go to, of all places, Toronto. He won his first 11 games as a Blue Jay.....and won the Cy Young in both 1997 and 1998, becoming the first player to win 5 Cy Youngs. In 1997, Clemens won the AL Triple Crown...something that had not been done since 1945. He did it again in 1998. After demanding a trade...he ended up in pinstripes with the Yankees.
In 1999, he had a very subpar 14-10 record....but did win the World Series clinching game to win his first ever ring. In 2000, pretty much the same thing happened. A mediocre 13-8 record...and another ring. Late that season....a player signed a minor league contract to join the Yankees and be Clemens teammate. Dwight Gooden. Gooden did pitch in and performed okay...even winning another ring. After performing poorly in spring training....the Doc retired. Clemens pressed on.
Oh, but in 2001, Clemens blew back up. A 20-3 record netted him his 6th Cy Young. After "retiring" after the 2003 World Series....Clemens stepped back on the bump for the Houston Astros in 2004. He went on to win another Cy Young award....his 7th.
As I write this...Clemens is just 11-6 but has an unreal 1.56 ERA. A few more wins with an ERA like that could get him yet another Cy Young award. Gooden just turned himself into police after fleeing a traffic stop in which he was suspected of drunken driving. He has a domestic violence charge pending and has a DUI on his record already.
His family is screwed up too. While Clemens’ son was just drafted by the Astros, but is pursuing his college career at Texas...Gooden’s son, Dwight Jr., was jailed earlier this month for probation violation stemming from a crack cocaine conviction. He was found with a gun and some of the hippie lettuce.
What happened?? Cocaine.
The sad truth is that the fast life of 1980s New York swallowed Gooden. It cost him his prime. I cost him a lot of trust. In a day and age where Doc’s former teammate Jesse Orosco recently pitched....it isn’t out of the realm of thought that Gooden could have still been around. Heck, his rival Clemens is still punching guys out now. It cost many of his teammates their prime. Darryl Strawberry also fell to the same fate.
It is really a shame. Gooden put in one of the most majestic seasons a pitcher could have. And he didn’t really burst then flame out like a firecracker....he just burned away like a candle. One minute, he’s lighting everything up....the next, it just goes away.
And that is what makes this recent news about Doc even more saddening. I really forgot about him. I see Clemens highlights on ESPN every few days. He’s interviewed on Sports Bloggers Live and other outlets. I have to hear about Gooden on Cracksmoker.com or on the news blotter.
But, to be honest....when I heard his name...it did make me think about the mid-1980s. When road jerseys were blue. When "interleague play" meant the World Series and All Star game. When 36 home runs could win the HR Crown. The cookie cutter stadiums. The two divisions in each league. Being in my "tween-age" years. And Doc Gooden mowing down the rest of the National League.
Please find help, Doc.