Gooden and Strawberry Wasted Talent
Nothing is sadder than wasting God-given talent, but that’s exactly what Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry did.
Each was selected in the first round of baseball’s amateur draft, and after early success with the New York Mets, the pair revived their careers with other clubs.
A right-handed pitcher, Gooden was the fifth overall pick in 1982, and was in the major leagues as a 19-year-old in 1984.
Gooden made his debut by fanning five, allowing three hits over five innings, and earned the victory.
He would post a 17-9 record, with a rookie-record and National League-best 276 strikeouts, and a breathtaking 2.60 earned-run average.
The right-hander from Tampa, Florida would follow that season with one of the best in big-league history.
Gooden went 24-4, with a league-best 268 strikeouts, 69 walks, 16 complete games and eight shutouts. His ERA was a mind-numbing 1.53, which led the league. All of this culminated in a Cy Young Award.
Based on his first two seasons, and playing in New York City, the expectations were over-the-top.
Thinking back, this was hardly fair, even for a uniquely-gifted athlete like Gooden. The Mets clinched the NL East at the All-Star break in 1986, and coasted the rest of the way.
Gooden, who finished 194-112 with a 3.51 ERA, pitched well, going 17-6 with 200 strikeouts, 12 complete games, and a 2.84 ERA.
New York faced the Houston Astros in the NL Championship Series, and prevailed in six games.
Gooden started two games, secured an impressive 1.06 ERA, but had a loss and a no decision.
The seven-game World Series with the Boston Red Sox was a classic, and once again Gooden started two games. He finished with a horrible 8.00 ERA, and was saddled with a pair of defeats.
The Mets won their second Series crown, but it marked the end of Gooden’s dominance.
At play for Gooden and Strawberry during this time was a hedonistic lifestyle that included drugs, especially cocaine, drinking, and women.
Sure, over the next five seasons, Gooden would go 74-34, winning 18 games in 1988 and 19 games two years later. But he was never the same pitcher, and would suffer three straight losing seasons beginning in 1992.
A four-time All-Star, Gooden would sign as a free agent with the New York Yankees in 1996, and would have his final hurrah by going 11-7, even tossing a no-hitter.
Strawberry attended Crenshaw High and was the first selection in 1980. By the time he was 21, Strawberry would be in the majors.
At 6-foot-6 and 200 pounds, scouts called him the next Ted Williams, and he didn’t disappoint.
In his rookie season, Strawberry, a right fielder, mashed 26 homers with 74 runs batted in, and then drilled 26 home runs with 97 RBIs in 1984.
Strawberry would hit 30 or more homers three times, drive in 100 or more runs three times, and finish with 335 homers, 1,000 RBIs and a .259 batting average.
After an eight-year stay in New York, Strawberry would play three seasons with the Dodgers, but had limited success due to off-the-field problems.
An eight-time All-Star, Strawberry teamed with Gooden on the Yankees, and helped the club to three titles.
Oh, what might have been?
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a contributor to trufanboxing.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.