“Dr. K All the Way…” & Other Fall Classics

September 28, 2011

Dwight Gooden, aka, "Dr. K," Shea Stadium, 1986. (Source/http://itsonbroadway.wordpress.com/2011/05/16/dwight-gooden-aka-dr-k/).

While the country waits to see whether Congress and the President will find a way to entertain us with political gridlock and endless compromises and capitulation, I realized this week that I have a twenty-fifth anniversary this month. It’s been a bit more than a quarter century since my New York Mets won the NL East division title (their first since ’73), one more brick in their World Series wall that year.

Those not-so-Amazing Mets were a juggernaut that year, having won 108 games and run away with the division lead by the end of June. Gooden was Dr. K., and, along with Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Bob Ojeda, and Jesse Orozco, led the pitching staff. While Darryl Strawberry was the straw that stirred the drink on offense, along with Lenny Dykstra, Gary Carter, Howard Jones and Keith Hernandez. God, I really loved that team!

Darryl Strawberry home run, Shea Stadium, July 2, 1988. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan).

I really did. I imbued the Mets with all of my hopes and dreams, and saw their wins as a way to see myself as a winner. And whenever they lost a game or a series, I saw myself as having lost as well. I was aware of all of this on some level, that making my life circumstances a parallel story to that of a major league baseball team was, well, a bit childish.

But given my life since the age of eleven, I needed that outlet, that room to be a child, if only for two or three hours a day. In between watching my four younger siblings, washing clothes at the laundromat in Pelham, dealing with my alcohol father and my idiot stepfather, running back and forth to the store, applying to colleges, and facing the hell that was my senior year at Mount Vernon High School. Especially with three AP courses, a touch of senioritis, and a number of classmates at each other’s throats. Including my own.

As the season took forever to wind down (the Mets clinched the NL East division on September 17, more than two weeks before the end of the season), the pre-WFAN station for the Mets (WHN-AM, a country oldies station until the 24-hour group took it over in ’87 and renamed it WFAN) started playing their World Series-or-bust promo, “Dr. K All the Way! — Let’s Go Mets!” So silly, so goofy, so geared toward long-suffering Mets fans. “Is that the best you can do?,” I thought every time I heard the ten-second spot. Apparently it was, and it didn’t matter either way, because fans are usually too fanatic to sweat the goofy stuff.

I became even more involved in rooting for my team as they moved into the playoffs. I’d listen to games in class, between classes, even in between questions, it seemed, in my AP Physics class. To say the least, my grades suffered, and more than a few of my non-Mets-fan classmates berated me in the process. But how could I explain to them the psychic bond I felt to this team? A feeling that somehow, if they, the downtrodden Mets, could pull off the ultimate victory and win a World Series, that I, a nobody, could make my life a victorious one as well. My more affluent and too-busy-being-cool classmates wouldn’t have understood that. As it was, I barely understood it myself.

Fast-forward twenty-five years. I’m no longer a baseball fan, and have no intent to fall back in love with a game I find boring, and with an institution that represents culture and race in America that is so pre-Civil Rights Movement and twentieth century. Most of my Mets still have their rings, even if key players on that team have been or are in prison, recovering drug addicts, and have made and lost hundreds of millions of dollars speculating in the snuff and stock markets (see Lenny Dykstra ’09 HBO Real Sports interview excerpt via The Young Turks).

But I still have that child-like sense of hope and yearning. I just don’t place it in anonymous others anymore. I haven’t lived or died with a team since my Knicks came within a missed 3-pointer by John Starks of winning the ’94 NBA Finals in Game Six. But I do place it in myself, because between God and me, and the others I’ve met and befriended in my life, I’ve been able to move mountains.

Which is why it does and doesn’t matter if the job stimulus passes in whole, in part or even not at all. I need to take that same optimism, that same hope, convert it to more hard work, and find a way to infuse it in my son, so that he can run the race, even if and when I can’t. In the process, I hope he find heroes he can look up to in the fall, even if they are fleeting ones.

In Memoriam – “Dr. K” at 50

November 16, 2010

Dwight Gooden on SI Cover (September 2, 1985), November 16, 2010. Source: http://www.inewscatcher.com/2010/03/dwight-gooden.html. Though this image is subject to copyright, its use is covered by the U.S. fair use laws because of the historical significance of the person and the cover, the subject of this blog post.

Before there was Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, Kerry Wood or Mark Prior, he had come and gone. Before folks like Tim McCarver and Joe Buck drooled over Roger Clemens, David Cone and Greg Maddox, he was the headliner that caused spittle to fly out of commentators’ mouths. A full quarter-century ago, he was the king of MLB pitching. Who am I talking about? What baseball player could I possibly be referring to? The former Boy Wonder, ’84 NL Rookie of the Year, and ’85 NL Cy Young Winner “Dr. K.,” Dwight Gooden.

He turns fifty years old today. I don’t watch baseball anymore, but thirty years ago, Gooden was the reason I watched. Between a great fastball, sweeping curve and more than average change-up, the nineteen and twenty-year-old Gooden was impossible for most major-leaguers to hit for three years — when’s the last time a pitcher threw for 276 innings but had an ERA of 1.53? — and hard to hit for six of his first seven years. All while on his way to 194 total wins in his career.

Dwight Gooden being honored by Mets at final game at Shea Stadium, Flushing, NY, September 28, 2008. (Kanesue via Wikipedia, Flickr.com). Released to public domain via CC-SA-3.0.

Dwight Gooden being honored by Mets at final game at Shea Stadium, Flushing, NY, September 28, 2008. (Kanesue via Wikipedia, Flickr.com). Released to public domain via CC-SA-3.0.

But no one talks about what could’ve been with Gooden anymore. The mistakes Davey Johnson, Mel Stottlemyre and the Mets leadership made with his arm were not worth mentioning when describing the lessons unlearned with Kerry Wood, Mark Prior or Stephen Strasburg. I guess wearing out a twenty-year-old arm isn’t comparable to, well, wearing out a twenty-year-old arm. Especially when one arm is Black and the other ones are White.

No one mentions Gooden in the same breath with Clemens or Maddox or Cone or any other dominant pitcher of the ’80s or even early ’90s. His drinking and drug problems, his run-ins with law enforcement. All obviously hurt his productivity as his career progressed. But I guess winning 100 games in just over five years as a major-league pitcher made someone like Gooden about as dominant a pitcher as a piñata about to be beaten by a White lynch mob. Someone baseball writers and commentators everywhere could toss aside as easily as they would throw away a donut wrapper.

This is the major reason why I don’t watch MLB baseball anymore. For all of his substance abuse and psychological problems, the man was as dominant a pitcher as any in the history of the game for his first seven years, and was a serviceable shell of himself for another seven of eight years. Yeah, a shell of himself while pitching a no-hitter for the Yankees in ’96.

And yes, he wrecked his career and life — with a lot of help from teammates and coaches. It’s not like he died after killing everyone at a Hall-of-Fame game. But to not discuss Gooden at all shows that, like the ball, only the mindset is White.


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