If you tell me that when Dwight Gooden took the mound on May 14, 1996, there were ten people in the announced crowd of 20,786 fans assembled at Yankee Stadium who believed they were about to witness a no-hitter, I’d say that you were reaching for straws. Or just plain unaware of who Gooden was a full twelve years after his spectacular rookie season with the New York Mets.
And I’d say that it was even more unlikely that he could toss a complete game at this stage in his career, let alone quiet the bats of the powerful Seattle Mariners, not allowing them a base hit while striking out only five batters.
And yet, Dwight Gooden somehow rose to the occasion, pitching what might be described as the game of his life, surrendering six bases on balls, but no hits and no runs, with a fastball and curve that hardly mirrored the ones he was blowing hitters away with a mere decade before.
Gooden himself would wander into the drug of the eighties and be swept away, as would Strawberry.
The rise and fall of Dwight Gooden are well documented. Together with teammate Darryl Strawberry, Gooden took New York City, as well as baseball, by storm. Every night he pitched became an event that no one could miss, whether in attendance at the old Shea Stadium or watching and listening to Ralph Kiner describe the action; you had to “be there.”
But despite their success in capturing a World Championship in 1986, the character of the team was flawed. In later years, two members of the team would face serious criminal charges resulting in a jail sentence for one (Lenny Dykstra) and a permanent scarlet letter etched in the other (Wally Backman).
Gooden himself would wander into the drug of the eighties and be swept away, as would Strawberry. First baseman Keith Hernandez would later go on record admitting that he did “massive amounts” of cocaine during his time with the Mets.
Predictably, Gooden’s career ground to a slow death and final halt. On October 24, 1994, Gooden was granted free agency by the Mets, only to find that there no takers. With most teams presuming that he’s a washed up drug addict, so why bother.
There was one man, however, who decided that he wanted to be “bothered.” George Steinbrenner, the larger than life owner of the Yankees at the time, stepped in “recommending” that his team sign Gooden to a contract. On February 20, 1996, his underlings complied, and suddenly, Doc Gooden was a New York Yankee.
Steinbrenner, in fact, did this not once but twice, resigning Gooden again in 2000 when it appeared that his personal life was falling apart, yet again.
The no-hitter tossed by Gooden had a significant effect on his Yankees teammates as reported by the New York Daily News:
"“This is my best moment in baseball,” said battery mate Joe Girardi, who hugged Gooden as the pitcher stood with his arms above his head while Paul Sorrento’s popup landed in shortstop Derek Jeter’s glove. “I’ve been to the playoffs, but this is better.”
“I can’t feel much better than I do right now, said Mel Stottlemyre, who supported Gooden through his early-season struggles. “This makes it all worthwhile.”"
And for Gooden himself, he could hardly fight back the tears, telling the Daily News:
"“This is the greatest feeling of my life,” said a misty-eyed Gooden, who will head to Florida this morning. “To be through what I’ve been through and now this, I can’t describe it. In my wildest dreams I could never imagine this.
“I was thinking about where I was a year-and-a-half ago at this time. It was a situation where I didn’t know if I’d ever be in this position again.”"
For one shining night, baseball transcended life and all of the problems that usually come with doing the things that we do. Enjoy the video that follows which captured those magical moments in the Bronx.
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