For a look back at the time when Dwight Gooden was a phenom, here’s some excerpts from a profile of him in August 1983:
Who has struck out more batters than anybody else in the year of the strikeout? Dwight Gooden of Tampa, Fla. He is 18 years old, and he pitches for Lynchburg, Va., the Mets’ farm team in the Carolina League. He has struck out 267 batters in 172 innings. Nobody in the minors is close to him. The only pitcher in the big leagues with more than 200 strikeouts is Carlton, who is 20 years older.
“He’s a baby,” says John Cumberland, the onetime major league pitcher who is now Gooden’s coach. “But he also isn’t a baby. At 18, he’s got 10 times the poise that Ryan had at that age. And 10 times the control.”
“I could always throw fast,” he says. “My father used to coach in the amateur leagues around Tampa when I was 7 or 8 years old, and I’d follow him around. 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 his senior year, he struck out 130 batters in 74 innings.
“I’m low-keyed, but not lonely in the minor leagues,” he says. “After I pitch, I always telephone my folks. Every couple of weeks, I call my married sisters.
“They clock me at 93 miles an hour. But I don’t go out trying for strikeouts. I just let them come. I just want to get to the big leagues and see what happens.”
Bob Feller, now 65, saw Gooden pitch in Tidewater, and said he was impressed.
“He pitched like a veteran then,” Feller said. “I think he has more control than I did when I was his age.” As a 19-year-old, Feller struck out 240 batters but walked 208.
“I never got tired, but I was careless,” Feller said. “I always had a good curve, but I just walked a lot of batters. It took me four years to learn how to pace myself, to find out what hitters I didn’t have to strike out.”
“This kid seems to be ahead of the game,” Feller added. “He’s patient, he has poise to know that sometimes your good stuff leaves early, sometimes it comes late.”
Dan Gooden recalled taking Dwight to Lakeland, Fla., near Tampa, to watch the Detroit Tigers in spring training.
“Al Kaline was his idol. Boy, you couldn’t tell him nothin’ about Al Kaline,” Dan Gooden recalled. “First time Dwight saw him play, Kaline hit two balls out the park. Dwight said after that, he wanted to be a major league ballplayer and play the outfield.”
Gooden started out as an outfielder in the Belmar Heights Little League at age 10, but quickly moved to third base, where his unusually strong arm was a greater asset.
“At 10, he was so good he could have played with the 14- 15-year-old team and started at third when our junior team played Taiwan in the Little World Series,” said Reed, Gooden’s Little League and high school coach.
“Funny thing is, he didn’t want to pitch. He liked to play the outfield and he loved third base.”
Gooden began pitching at 12, and by 14, according to Reed and his father, he had one of the best young arms in Tampa. His only rival was 15-year- old Vance Lovelace, who is now a pitcher in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ organization.
“Everyone, including me, thought Vance would be the first one to make it,” said Dwight Gooden, who added that he began seriously considering a major league career at 15.
Gooden did not play at Hillsborough High School in Tampa as a freshman. He intended to go out for the team as a sophomore, but his father had to leave his job as a security guard because of his worsening arthritis condition.
“I had to stay around the house more,” Dwight said. “No time for practice.”
He joined the school team in his junior year and was on a staff that included Lovelace and Floyd Yeoman. Yeoman is now with the Mets’ Class AA farm team at Jackson, Miss.
“No matter what the situation, Dwight always kept his head,” [Billy] Reed said. “Never argued, never lost temper. Vance was a little more excitable.”
There are a few more things on the mid-’80s Mets here, including a written-out play-by-play for game 6 of the ’86 NLCS and a look at Lenny Dykstra in the ’90s. Elsewhere, there’s also a detailed look at the dominance of the ’83 Lynchburg Mets.