The year was 1996 and Dwight ‘Doc’ Gooden was in new surroundings. The former New York Mets pitcher missed the entire 1995 Major League Baseball season because he was suspended for testing positive for cocaine multiple times during the 1994 strike-shortened season. Gooden found a home with the New York Yankees and reached a personal milestone in the first year with his new team.
Dwight Gooden was a hot prospect
Dwight Gooden was a hard-throwing pitcher drafted by the New York Mets in the first round of the 1982 MLB draft. The highly touted pitcher made his Major League Baseball debut on April 7, 1984, and then had himself quite a rookie season.
Gooden was named the National League Rookie of the Year after going 17-9. He led the majors with 276 strikeouts in 208 innings pitched. He compiled a 2.60 ERA and finished second in the National League Cy Young Award voting. Gooden followed up his rookie season by leading the majors with 24 wins and a 1.53 ERA. He also led Major League Baseball with 16 complete games. Gooden captured the Cy Young that season.
Gooden was a star. He was everything the scouts said he was. He was a Major League Baseball All-Star in four of his first five seasons with the Mets. Gooden had 17, 15, and 18 wins after his Cy Young season, but a shoulder injury in 1989 limited him to 17 starts. He still went 9-4. In his first eight seasons in the big leagues, Gooden went 132-53.
Gooden’s substance abuse issues
During spring training in 1987, Doc Gooden tested positive for cocaine. He entered rehab in April and didn’t make his first start of the season until June. He still finished the season with a 15-7 record. In 1992, Gooden suffered his first losing season, going 10-13. It began a string of three straight losing seasons.
In 1994, Gooden was suspended for 60 days after testing positive for cocaine. At the time, his ERA was above 6 and his record stood at 3-4. During the strike, Gooden failed another drug test and was suspended for the entire 1995 season.
In 1996, Gooden hooked on with the New York Yankees. He made the most of his second chance. He clearly wasn’t the same pitcher he was with the Mets, but still went 11-7 in his first season with the Yankees.
Gooden’s unlikely no-hitter
On May 14, 1996, Dwight Gooden took the mound during a miserable season on and off the field. Gooden had been demoted to the bullpen, but when David Cone was sidelined with health issues, Gooden returned to the rotation. Gooden’s father was awaiting open-heart surgery. Gooden’s mother was trying to talk her son out of pitching against the Seattle Mariners.
“I had flight reservations already set to go home, but when I woke up that morning, I started to think that my dad would probably want me to pitch,” Gooden said in an MLB.com 2016 article. “I began to think about all the days we spent together at the park when I was a kid. He always talked to me about being a man and putting the job first. So I said, “You know what, I’m going to pitch, and then I’ll go home. I called my mom to tell her that I was going to stay in New York, and she didn’t take it that well. She was making me feel guilty, and when she started to say, ‘You know what could happen …’ I hung up the phone on her. After that, it felt like a dark cloud was over me all day, and I couldn’t really focus.”
Gooden struggled early and often. He walked six and struck out five. Gooden thought about his dad early, then focused on the no-hitter. “I thought about my dad a lot during those first few innings because I was supposed to be home with him that day,” he said. “But when I took the mound in the sixth inning and realized that I hadn’t given up a hit, I just said, “Wow, is this really happening?” From that point on, I forgot about my dad’s situation. That’s when it began to feel like 1985 again.”