I was a rookie reporter on the Mets beat when Darryl Strawberry and Dwight “Doc” Gooden electrified Shea Stadium. I can still hear the epic roars from fans in the upper deck to the lower bowels of the ballpark. The press box shook when Strawberry hit another home run, and when Gooden with an electric fastball recorded double digit strikeouts.
Shea Stadium was special for a Mets fan. It was unique and had an aroma of a losing team, that is until rookies Darryl and Doc arrived and changed the complexion of Mets baseball which culminated with a memorable World Series championship over the Red Sox in 1986.
I remember Darryl and Doc sitting in the confines of what is not a modern clubhouse today, both sharing their rookie years in New York. Both were immense with knowledge from veterans of Mets teams, including Mookie Wilson and Ray Knight. And in that championship year with Keith Hernandez, they relied on his wisdom and guidance.
We know the rest is history. We are aware of the adversity both faced as young and upcoming baseball stars, playing in the spotlight of New York City and a fan base that was always in their corner. The “K” corner in particular when Gooden recorded his record number of strikeouts.
I, too, also identified what was happening here as Strawberry and Gooden continued to grow as homegrown New York Met, something more important in their hopeful quest to sign Pete Alonso to a long-term contract, which remains in the balance.
They are a major part of New York Mets history and will have their uniform numbers retired to the rafters on separate game days this coming season at Citi Field. Gooden’s (#16) April 14 and Strawberry’s (#18) on June 1. The Mets said both deserved separate honors rather than doing it at the same time, further indicating the significance of their roles in franchise history.
And with the ownership of Steve Cohen, a long time Mets fan, retiring of numbers above the rafters at Citi Field is increasingly growing. The Mets are honoring their history and the impact of players who made Shea Stadium a special place to be.
Last year it was Keith Hernandez (#17) and pitcher Jerry Koosman (#36) who joined the late Tom Seaver (#41) as they were teammates from their first World Series championship team of the 1969 Miracle Mets. Overall, seven numbers have been retired including two managers Casey Stengel (#37) and Gil Hodges (#14).
Strawberry and Gooden are not enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame up in Cooperstown, New York. They had deserving numbers but not to those who are privileged to put their name on the ballot, perhaps the adversity that both confronted off the field played a role, regardless that should not matter in the voting process.
But during a Wednesday afternoon Mets Zoom media call, Darryl and Doc said retiring their numbers at Citi Field was their Hall of Fame honor. Fans of their generation and this new fan base will be with them to take in their separate moments.
Together they were teammates and became friends. Strawberry and Gooden both battled demons off the field and it is well chronicled. In the end, though, as Gooden continued to battle with adversity, it was Strawberry providing support. They will always be identified as two legends in Mets franchise history, both also playing across town for the Yankees when the late owner George Steinbrenner gave them another chance.
“When you start with a team you build relationships,” Gooden commented about his role that led to the ‘86 championship. “Their [Mets] fans will always be special to me to believe in myself, to go on. I want the fans to feel special. It’s a celebration. Fans were a part of my success. I want them to feel a part of it. I want them to feel they are part of it because they were a part of it.”
“They cared about me and believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself and gave me hope to go on,” he said. “That’s something you don’t forget.”
Gooden, a four-time All Star, was 157-85 with a 3.10 ERA with 1,875 strikeouts with the Mets. Strawberry hit .263 with 252 homers. 733 RBI and 101 steals during his time wearing orange and blue.
As colleague Howie Karpin wrote in his book “Imagine a Mets Perfect Season” (Triumph Books), on September 12, 1984, Gooden would set a new rookie record for strikeouts when he fanned former Met and the Pirates Marvell Wynne for his 246th strikeout to top Cleveland Indians’ pitcher Herb Score, who set the mark in 1955. Gooden went on to post a new rookie record of 276 strikeouts in 1984 and missed by one vote of being the unanimous National League Rookie of the Year.
Strawberry, an eight-time All Star, had many accomplishments at Shea Stadium and during his career, remembered as Karpin has chronicled in his book, a record-setting game of two home runs, a grand slam, and he also drove in a career-high seven runs to lead the Mets to a 16-4 annihilation of the Atlanta Braves (July, 20, 1985).
Strawberry, then was dealing with a thumb injury in a game that Gooden pitched. and said afterwards, “My thumb still hurts and it will for the rest of the season.” Gooden pitched six innings giving up a run on two hits for the win.
I also covered that game as that rookie reporter and remember entering the Mets clubhouse. As always, the two showed their continuation of bonding together and forever being etched in Mets history.
“My heart and soul bleed blue and orange,” Strawberry said. Always have, always will. To be able to play in a city that is very tough to play in and in the National League at Shea Stadium, I couldn’t trade it in for anything. It was all a learning lesson in life. [Getting a] Number retired is bigger than being in the Hall of Fame. “
He added “We had a lot of highs playing at Shea Stadium and it was because of the fans. When Doc was pitching the ballpark was on fire and all the other guys we played with. It was about the fans and also about our teammates. It was about the group of us playing together and becoming great for the fans.”
Truly, it’s about Darryl and Doc. Together and their uniform numbers will also be together, hanging from the rafters at Citi Field.
Rich Mancuso: X (Formerly Twitter @Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso