A Day for Doc – No. 16 Forever!

AP Photo/Noah K. Murray

Bobby Gene Smith was the first.  Travis Jankowski was the last.  Over two dozen Mets have worn the number 16 over the years.  But that big disc bearing the number 16 now hanging from the left field rafters at Citi Field will forever be retired in honor of the Man of the Hour, Mr. Dwight Eugene Gooden, forever affectionately known as “Doc.”

A light rain fell during the ceremony on Sunday when Doc was officially honored, but that didn’t dampen the spirits of the fans and guests who attended.

Gooden was gifted with a framed version of his jersey and a golden covered pitcher’s mound that was inscribed that commemorated the occasion.

For his brief acceptance speech, Gooden chose to checklist the many times he actually tried to return to the Mets after his career at Shea ended but was rebuffed by Mets management each time.

Gooden has long since come to terms on a personal level with the addiction troubles that obviously kept him from having a true baseball Hall of Fame career.

“I’ve had breakfast with the devil,” Gooden has acknowledged.  “I know what pain looks like.  I know what pain feels like.”

He made the call to ask about coming back to the Mets after his suspension in 1994.  No dice.

In 1996 and ’97, George Steinbrenner, who tended to employ former Mets like a memorabilia collector, then first brought Doc to the Bronx, where he wore number 11.  He thanked The Boss for his faith in him with a no-hitter on May 14, 1996, against Seattle.  Doc picked up five Ks with six walks on his way to his second win of the year, 2-0.

After ’97, he knocked on the Mets door again.  No thanks!

He bounced to Cleveland for two years in ’98 and ’99.   After ’99, again a call to  then-Mets GM Steve Phillips.  Basically, it was, “Sorry, Doc, our staff is set.  We wish you the best.”

While Gooden and Phillips maintain a steady friendly relationship all these years, there is no animosity, this was getting to be a broken record.  The vinyl kind, not the stat book kind.

For the 2000 season, Doc signed with Houston, where he lasted one game.  The Astros traded him to Tampa Bay, where he made eight starts, but was released on May 25.

Another call to Flushing.  Once more, it was to no avail.

“I said I would go to Triple-A,” Gooden admits.  “I just wanted to finish my career as a Met.”

The Boss called Gooden.  He asked, “Can you still pitch?”  Gooden answered affirmatively.  Doc was then living in the Tampa area where the Yankees train.  Steinbrenner told him to report to the minor league camp and work with Billy Connors, their pitching guru.

“And if it doesn’t work out, you can work directly for me,” offered Steinbrenner.

Workers reveal a No. 16 during former New York Mets player Dwight Gooden’s number retirement ceremony at Citi Field before a baseball game between the Mets and the Kansas City Royals, Sunday, April 14, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)

“I threw two minor league games,” Gooden recalls, “nothing special.  The next morning Billy calls me into his office.  I thought they were going to release me.  But he said they need a pitcher in New York.  They want you to throw the day game at Shea Stadium.”

Boy, Steinbrenner really knew how to stick it to the Mets, didn’t he?

In one of those crazy baseball irony moments, his return to Shea arrived as a member of the NY Yankees, where Doc beat the Mets, 4-2, in one of the most unique double headers in New York baseball history.

A previous rainout caused the Mets and Yankees to split a pair of games on the same day.  Game 1 was at Shea Stadium, and then everybody journeyed over the Triborough Bridge for Game 2 at Yankee Stadium that night.

Gooden was cheered by Yankee and many Mets fans in his return to the mound where he enjoyed so much success.  He survived five innings, gave up six hits, two earned runs, and got the W.

“That’s all I really wanted was to go back to Shea Stadium and pitch.  I wasn’t really ready, but I can’t tell them that because I’m just trying to make the team, but I beat the Mets and again in the World Series.”

Don’t remind us, Doc.

Gooden’s ceremony was attended by a host of former teammates, and it was fun watching at a pre-game presser as many of them wanted to have individual photos taken with Doc like they were a photo booth at a wedding.

On hand were:  Darryl Strawberry (“That was special,” said Doc, “I didn’t know he was going to be here until I got here today.”), Howard Johnson, Tim Teufel, Rafael Santana, Barry Lyons, Lee Mazzilli, Jesse Orosco, Mookie Wilson, Roger McDowell, and Mike Torrez – who took Gooden under his wing as a young pitcher and Doc has never forgotten that tutorship.

Also attending was a huge contingent of Gooden’s family, a busload of kids and grandkids, and his nephew, former Met Gary Sheffield.

Gooden threw the ceremonial first pitch to his 11-year-old grandson, Kaden.

Sheffield wore number 10 through much of his career in honor of his Uncle.  Gooden wore #10 in High School.  Unfortunately, the only Met ever hit his 500th home run in a Mets uniform did not garner enough support by the baseball writers in his bid for a Hall of Fame plaque this past winter, but he probably does deserve further scrutiny,

Ironically, in another bit of baseball irony, there was another connection by many of these former Mets at Citi Field.  Seven of them are also former Yankees – Sheffield, Mazzilii, Torrez, Santana, Orosco, Gooden and Strawberry.

And a special shout out to someone who made the return to the ballpark to congratulate Gooden, Sandy Carter, Gary’s widow.  Gooden’s relationship with the Hall of Famer Gary Carter, from the first time they linked up at the 1984 All Star Game (Carter was a Montreal Expo at the time), became an integral in ingredient in Doc’s career.  The two shared a brotherly bond.

“I never shook him off,” Gooden admitted.  That may be an exaggeration, but they truly were one mind in two bodies out on the field.

When Gooden was going through his physical and financial troubles, Carter called frequently and extolled, “You can beat this.”  And when Carter was going through the difficulty of a brain tumor (we lost Carter to the deadly cancer in 2012), it was Doc’s turn to offer constant calls of support.

So now 16 is forever shelved.  Only to be dusted off when Gooden makes any OldTimers Day appearances.

Doc shared the somewhat circuitous route he ended up with number 16 in the first place.

“In High School, I wore #5, then #9, and #10.  Those were my favorites.  When I got drafted, in Kingsport, Rookie ball, I couldn’t get #10, so I asked the equipment manager, ‘What do you have close to 10 other than 13. I thought 13 was an unlucky number.’  He gave me 16.

“In A ball, Lynchburg, 16 was available, so I took it again.

“In 1984, I was in spring training as a non-roster player, they gave me 64, with no expectations of making the club.  I made the team only because of Davey Johnson.  And when I made the team, Frank Cashen said if I have any problems with any member of the team to come and see him.

“So, I get to Shea Stadium to work out, and there’s a jersey hanging up with my name and number 35.  I go to Charlie Samuels’ office, the equipment manager, and I asked for 16.  His exact words were, “Get out of here, kid.  Just be happy you made the team.”

“So, I go up to Frank Cashen’s office and I say, ‘Frank, I wore number 16 in the minors and it’s available, but Charlie won’t give it to me.  I didn’t realize Charlie was good friends with Lee Mazzilli, who was the last one to wear 16 before I got there.  So, Frank made Charlie give me 16.

“In 1986, when Mazzilli came back, I offered 16 back to Lee, but he said, ‘No, that’s your number now.  Enjoy it.’

Gooden certainly enjoyed a wonderful career as a Met (157-85, 3.10 ERA, 305 games, 1,875 strikeouts, 23 shutouts, 67 complete games), and is still second in franchise history in wins and Ks to – guess who – Tom Seaver, of course.

His WAR for his special 1985 Cy Young season (24-4, 1,53 ERA) is the highest WAR for any pitcher post WWII.  He was then youngest Cy Young winner ever at 19 years old, and he achieved a Triple Crown of pitching stats that season – most wins, most strikeouts (268), and lowest ERA.  Whew!

They’re not kidding when they say, watching Doc pitch was an event.

Overall, Gooden retired with a 194-112 record for his 16-year career, with a 3.51 ERA, and 2,293 strikeouts in 2800.2 innings.

One last thing about the number 16.  A little-known fact is when Gooden first pitched for the Yankees, the great Whitey Ford, actually offered Doc the opportunity to “borrow” his retired number 16 while pitching for the Yankees.

The Yankee Hall of Famer, certainly at the head of any Mt. Rushmore of Yankee hurlers, one of the greatest pitchers of all time, made the very generous offer.

That’s like Thor offering to lend out his hammer, or Odin asking if he’d like to sit on the throne for a while.

Gooden politely refused, perhaps knowing what kind of furor that would have caused.

Mets fans are just delighted 16 did a heck of a job pitching for them.

Strawberry is next in the retirement on-deck circle.  His number 18 gets retired on Saturday, June 1.  Be there.



Bobby Gene Smith (1962), Sammy Taylor (1962-63), Jesse Gonder (!963), Dick Smith (1963-64), Danny Napoleon (1965-66), Tommy Reynolds (1967), Kevin Collins (1968), Mike Jorgensen (1969, ’71), Felix Millan (1973), Dave Schneck (1974), John Stearns (1975-76), Lee Mazzilli (1977-81), Dwight Gooden (1984-94), Hideo Nomo (1998), Derek Bell (2000), David Cone (2003), Doug Mientkiewicz (2005), Paul LoDuca (2006-07), Angel pagan (2008-11), Rob Johnson (2012), Rick Ankiel (2013), Daisuke Matsuzaka (2013-14), Dilson Herrera (2015), Danny Muno (2015), Alejandro De Aza (2016), Kevin Kaczmarski (2018), Austin Jackson (2018), Jake Marisnick (2020), Travis Jankowski (2022

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