Link: Gooden remembers Stottlemyre

In an interview with the New York Post, Dwight Gooden shared his memories of the late Mets pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre.

From Dynasty to Disappointment

Leading companies are adding new talent to support a digital operating model. To develop sharp insights using digital tools, procurement teams will need data science and analytics expertise.

A Franchise Tipping Point

Leading companies are adding new talent to support a digital operating model. To develop sharp insights using digital tools, procurement teams will need data science and analytics expertise.

The Bad Guys Won

Leading companies are adding new talent to support a digital operating model. To develop sharp insights using digital tools, procurement teams will need data science and analytics expertise.

Mets Hall Falls Short

The New York Mets 55-year history has more than 100 years worth of memories. The people (owners, managers and players), the games and the legendary success (and failure) are enough to fill an enormous amount of space and time.

Recently, I walked through the gates of Citi Field for the first time. I intentionally wanted to experience what a fan experiences, not a member of the media, so I bought my tickets online and planned my visit ever so carefully.

The Mets had just returned home from a nine-game road trip. The team had won seven straight and, to some surprise, held a six-and-one-half game lead in the National League East.

The game itself offered a handful of intriguing storylines itself: Matt Harvey was making his first start after an 11-day rest; David Wright was playing his first home game since April 14; and, the Boston Red Sox were in town. Hello, 1986.

When the gates opened to fans at 5:30 p.m. I passed through the gates into the rotunda. I had seen it in photos, but now, I could witness the expansive Ebbets Field-style entrance. Since its inception in 2009, the design has remained wholly intact.

The Jackie Robinson rotunda was a location of great debate when Citi Field opened to the public; it’s where awe and disappointment collided. The recognition of Jackie Robinson, his baseball legacy and his cultural significance are captured exquisitely in a panaromic tribute of videos, words, classic photos and the over-sized No. 42 beaming over fans criss-crossing the space.

Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow, said:

“Our history is linked to the Mets and to New York. For me, the tribute being paid to Jackie actually acknowledges his historic career in baseball and, just as important, his impact on our society. So it’s the man, not just the ballplayer, that is being celebrated there.”

The wrinkle, at least among fans, is in the fact that the Citi Field rotunda is more a tribute to the Brooklyn Dodgers than its team, the New York Mets. Team owner Fred Wilpon has publicly shared his friendship with Sandy Koufax and love for the Brooklyn Dodgers as a child.

No debate there.

But what about recognizing the current tenants — the Mets?

Once inside Citi Field, you clearly see and feel the presence of the home team by way of the fans, its massive video and graphics boards and big red home run apple. But there is a feeling, a sense, that what happened at Shea Stadium is being left behind.

Let’s start at the core and that very apple. The home run apple that once was a centerpiece of so many magical Mets moments over the years, is now retired and on display outside the ballpark. It has become a gathering place where fans meet before the game, some climb through the flower bed and take a selfie in front as a memory. Lifelong fans reminisce about Darryl Strawberry’s and Mike Piazza’s moon shots that set off the apple. Good times. Understandably, the old apple was replaced by modern technology and a new, polished red apple that creates new memories every home team home run.

Remember the painted championship flags — 1969 World Series Champions, 1973 National League Champions, 1986 World Series Champions, 1999 Wild Card, 2000 National League Champions, 2006 National League East Champions — on the outfield walls at Shea Stadium? They are now static signs along the third base line. They appear much smaller and insignificant in relation to the eye-popping high tech motion graphics flashing between every pitch.

Championships, and winning, are a symbol of success. They should be prominently displayed. At Citi Field, and maybe by no intent, they’re accomplishments are diminished.

The most disturbing display of disrespect at Citi Field is the franchise Hall of Fame. I have always believed that the New York Mets are a team that has one of professional sports richest and deepest histories. Since Casey Stengel, the Mets have fielded teams (and players) and played in some of the most historic games in baseball history. That’s a lot of years and millions of games.

In response, the Mets have managed to create a small corner off the team store that the team calls the Mets Hall of Fame where maybe a half dozen jerseys, a handful of baseball, a wall of plaques, two World Series trophies and a pair of kiosks loop a short documentary of Mets memories.

Really?

From Casey Stengel to Marv Thronberry, Jimmy Piersall, Gil Hodges, Joan Payson, William Shea, Tom Seaver, 1969, the shoe polish game, Tommie Agee, 1973, Yogi Berra, Willie Mays, the Rose-Harrelson fight, Dave Kingman, the Seaver trade, new owners, Frank Cashen, Darryl Strawberry Dwight Gooden, Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, 1986, Game 6 of the NLCS and World Series, Bill Buckner, Bobby Valentine, 1999, Robin Ventura’s walk-off, Mike Piazza, 2000, Subway Series, 9/11, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Endy Chavez, The Catch, 2006, David Wright Jose Reyes … and so many memorable highs and lows in between. There are so many pieces of memorabilia missing, it’s shocking.

The Mets Hall hasn’t evolved or expanded since it opened in 2010. Sure, some items have been rotated in and out, but no expansion. The Mets public relations team, and team historian, need to take a lesson from its colleagues in Cincinnati, who provide the model for team-centric Hall of Fames.

Of course, the Reds have a baseball history that begins in the 1880s. But like I said, the Mets have ample history — and a wealth of memories. It’s time to get to work.

New York Mets

It’s All Good-en

Dwight Gooden arrived at the Houston Astrodome long before his scheduled start — so early that he had to jump a fence to get into the ballpark. That’s what happens when you’re a teenager (19) on the day of your MLB debut.

Gooden wasn’t the only one excited about his first start. Davey Johnson was anxious too. From the first time he laid eyes on Gooden, at age 17 in Kingsport, Johnson was struck by his control and poise.

“I worked with Doc for about three weeks when he first broke in at Kingsport,” Johnson told Peter Golenbeck in Amazin. “He was firing bullets, his curve broke about three feet, and every pitch was a strike or close to it … I had to have him. You didn’t have to be a genius to see that this kid was going to be a star in the big leagues.”

The Mets had selected Gooden from Hillsborough High School in Tampa, Fla. as their No. 1 pick, and fifth overall pick, in the June 1982 amateur draft. In his first summer as a professional, he struck out 84 batters in 79 innings. The following year, 1983, Gooden pitched in the Carolina League and recorded 19 wins (including 15 consecutive wins). He struck out 300 batters in 191 innings. The Mets promoted Gooden to Triple-A Tidewater where he helped pitch the team to a minor league title.

From the moment he first took the mound as a professional, Gooden wowed everyone in sight. His fastball was explosive and it didn’t take long for the comparisons to start: Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, Bob FellerSteve Dalkowski. Wait, who?

Steve Dalkowski, that’s D-A-L-K-O-W-S-K-I.

Hall of Famer and Mets broadcaster Ralph Kiner called Dalkowski the hardest thrower he ever saw (who never made it to the big leagues).

Dalkowski pitched in the Baltimore Orioles system and, according to the late Earl Weaver, he could throw hard and wild.

”He struck out 10 of the first 12 batters he faced,” Weaver told the New York Times in 1983. “He walked the other two, and then picked them off. He once threw three wild pitches that went through the screen behind home plate. One night, he threw 280 pitches in a game, and lost no velocity on his fastball. He struck out 16 and walked 17. In the final 57 innings he pitched in 1962, he struck out 110 batters, walked only 11 and gave up one earned run. The following spring, he hurt his arm.”

Not Gooden. He was in complete control from the beginning.

“I was his first manager in the Rookie League,” Johnson told the Times. “One day I asked him: ‘How do you throw your fastball?’ He said: ‘I hold the ball across the seams when I want it to rise, and along the seams when I want it to sink or break.’ He was 17 then. Most guys that age don’t even know how to grip the ball. But here he was, going into a 15-minute lecture on the different ways he throws his hard one.”

Gooden can’t remember a time when he didn’t throw hard.

“I could always throw fast,” he told Golenbeck. “I grew up around older guys and was always playing against older guys. I guess I was 12 when I realized I could throw really hard. I was in the Little League and was overpowering them, striking out 12 or 13 guys in a six-inning game. In high school, I was still striking out guys.”

In 1984, Gooden arrived in St. Petersburg, Florida for spring camp. He had a flair for drawing attention on and off the field.

“The first time I saw Dwight Gooden he drove up in his Camaro with “Dr. D” stenciled on the door. It was classic,” said former Mets pitcher Craig Swan. “When Doc threw I noticed his great fastball but a better curveball … I thought, ‘God, if I could have that curveball I could have really won some games.’ He was awesome.”

“Doc was awesome,” added Wally Backman. “That’s the only word you could use for Dwight when he first came up. He was flat-out awesome.”

Johnson had spent most of spring training trying to convince general manager Frank Cashen to keep an open mind. He pitched well throughout spring despite injuries including back spasms and a torn fingernail. Gooden was still hanging around as camp was about to close when Johnson asked Cashen, well, what do you think?

“I’ll leave it up to you,” said Cashen.

Johnson answered that question two years earlier when he first saw Gooden throw a baseball.

 

Gooden made his major league debut on April 7, 1984 against the Houston Astros. The date and location are not a coincidence, but a strategy designed by Johnson and the Mets brass. The Mets chose the Astrodome because of its controlled environment. Gooden would not be exposed to the elements that often accompany April baseball: no heat, wind or rain. The Dome was a perfect 72 degrees.

The move paid off. Gooden pitched five strong innings (81 pitches) in his debut, allowing one run, three hits and striking out five batters.  The Mets defeated Houston, 3-2, and Gooden recorded his first major league win.

“He’s got the most live arm I’ve seen in a long time,” said Astros third baseman Ray Knight after the game. “His fastball explodes just like Nolan Ryan’s.”

Gooden finished his rookie season with a 17-9 record, a 2.60 ERA and led the league in strikeouts (276). He made the 1984 National League All-Star team and went on to win the Rookie of the Year Award.