Good news, Mets fan. Dwight Gooden is warming up his arm.
What a fantasy that would be to go back in time and see “Doc” back on the Shea Stadium mound ready to dominate another overmatched chump with his electric right arm.
Just now that overmatched hitter could be you. And, just maybe, you might not be as overmatched as you might think.
Gooden will step back up on a mound in a few weeks at the Mets’ spring training complex in Port St. Lucie when he faces an All-Star lineup of super fans at the first of two Mets fantasy camps.
“Not good,” Gooden laughs when asked about the shape of his arm these days. “Two years ago I clocked at 65 (mph). I didn’t throw last year because I had to get cataract surgery. It’s a lot of fun, but after that you can’t get out of bed. Everything hurts because you’re not really working those muscles like you once did when you were a player. But it’s fun just to go out there and compete and let the guys hit off me.”
It’s still hard to imagine an average Joe getting a piece of a Gooden fastball – even throwing at 65 – but that’s the opportunity facing those willing to shell out the $4,995 to rub elbows with the likes of “Dr. K” for the 7-day baseball adventure.
“I just try to throw it right down the middle and hopefully they hit it at somebody,” Gooden says, erupting in laughter again.
The four-time All-Star who spent 11 seasons in Flushing, highlighted by championship highs and heartbreaking lows, will be pitching against the champion campers each week. He hopes to get in three or four innings of work as he freely admits his arm only has so many bullets left at 54.
“The key is to throw strikes,” the four-time All-Star says.
But then he quickly adds, “It seems like the older you get the mound gets further and further (away).”
The Daily News caught up with Gooden via phone on Thursday. Fans will be happy to hear that Doc is in a good place after celebrating the holidays with family and friends.
“Yeah, everything is great,” Gooden tells the News. “I couldn’t be any happier. Couldn’t be any healthier. Feeling good. This is the best I’ve felt in a long, long time. Definitely looking forward to get out there any having fun and looking forward to baseball season.
“Hopefully this year one of the New York teams can bring the trophy back to New York.”
Gooden talked to the News about a wide-range of topics, including Jacob deGrom’s Cy Young season, the direction of the Mets, his old-school mindset when it comes to analytics, and where he thinks top free-agent targets Manny Machado and Bryce Harper will end up.
WELCOME TO THE CLUB
Gooden, who won the NL Cy Young after his own magical season (24-4, 1.53 ERA and 276 strikeouts) in 1985, made it a point to watch deGrom go to work every time he took the mound last season.
“It was a great time watching him,” Gooden says. “I used to mark down every fifth day when he would pitch to make sure that I got those days open and available where I could watch him.
“Obviously, I’m a little biased, and a little old school, but I like the 2-1 ballgames. Watching him pitch every fifth day and what he did on a consistent basis was just truly amazing.”
And now the good Doctor will get to welcome the next great Mets hurler into the exclusive ranks of Cy Young winners as he has been asked to present deGrom his hardware at the annual baseball writer’s dinner in Midtown Manhattan on Jan. 26.
ALL THE RIGHT MOVES?
Gooden says he’s been actively watching the Hot Stove season play out – giving a shoutout to the MLB Network, SNY and the YES Network – and so far new GM Brodie Van Wagenen gets a big thumbs up from the franchise legend.
“At first I was a little curious to see how it was going to work out with the new general manager, but so far I like him being aggressive. … I don’t know how much of a leash he has – how much (The Wilpons) give him – but so far he’s been going great. He seems like a young guy that wants to win and isn’t afraid to take chances. He’s looking at guys that can help the team now.
“I always thought that in New York you have to win now, you can’t rebuild or try to look down the road, you go for it now. They have a pitching staff now – I don’t know how long you can keep these guys together – but you have to go for it now.”
He applauds the move to bring Robinson Cano back to New York (he worked with him while coaching with the Yankees when Cano – who he affectionately called “a good kid” – was first starting out), and likes the addition of veteran catcher Wilson Ramos, recalling what the addition of Gary Carter meant to the ’86 champs.
“That put us over the hump,” Gooden said of the 1984 trade that brought the perennial All-Star to Flushing.
“Gary Carter definitely played a big part of the success I’ve had.”
He’s also happy that despite the off-season trade rumblings, Noah Syndergaard is still a Met.
“This is just my opinion, but I think his stuff is just as good as deGrom. I think deGrom is a better pitcher, but Syndergaard probably has better stuff, but he’s still learning how to use his stuff. That’s a great 1-2 punch … I’m glad they kept Thor. … To me you’ve got one of the three best rotations in baseball if healthy.”
“It doesn’t matter how much hitting you have, if you don’t have pitching you don’t have a shot,” he adds.
But for Dr. K there is really just one key to the Mets’ chances of competing in the NL East this season. Staying healthy.
“I think the Mets’ biggest problem has been their health.”
START ‘EM UP
With 68 complete games on his 16-year major league resume, it’s safe to say Gooden isn’t a fan of the new trend of closers starting games, bullpen days and pitchers being yanked earlier than ever before.
“It’s too much crunching numbers,” Gooden says. “I mean the analytics, I think it’s OK to a certain degree, but I think probably some of the stuff is getting (to be) too much. It’s too much computers instead of the human eye. I always thought the best scout was still the human eye.”
Gooden blames “over thinking” for the current state of pitching.
“Pitchers, no matter what era it is, you’re taught to attack hitters. I think now with all the scouting reports, you’ve got them pitching too defensively, saying ‘You can’t throw a guy this, you can’t throw a guy that.’ All the things he can’t do. I’d rather get back to what (pitchers) can do. Make the hitters make the adjustment.”
What would he have said had Mets skipper Davey Johnson pulled him off the mound after just two trips through the opposing lineup?
“It wouldn’t have went over too well,” Gooden laughs.
“Let these guys go,” Gooden says. “I think it saves the bullpen in the long run, and me personally, even at a young age, about 20, I had 16 complete games that one year (1985), my whole thing was when I went out to pitch was to pitch a complete game. If I came out I would be pissed off whether I was winning, losing … The whole mentality once you start a game, you want to finish it.”
Last season in the majors, 11 pitchers tied for the big-league lead with two complete games. Yes, TWO. Times have changed.
FREE-AGENT SHOPPING SPREE
If you make Gooden predict landing spots for baseball two biggest free agents today, he thinks Bryce Harper is bound for either L.A. (Dodgers) or Philadelphia and Manny Machado is eventually going to call Yankee Stadium home.
If Machado does end up in pinstripes, Gooden offers up this bit of wisdom as a veteran of 14 seasons of the Big Apple (11 with the Mets, 3 with the Yankees) fishbowl.
“My only advice I’ll give him is to go out and play your game and understand if the fans are booing you, they are not really booing you as a person they are booing your playing. If your performance is not good that day that the fans are going to let you know it. … I think he’ll be fine. The main thing is if you can win in New York, he’ll love it. And I think he has the mindset to play in New York.
“Unfortunately, the stuff that he said (I’m not “Johnny Hustle”), and the stuff that went on during the postseason, wasn’t a good look for anybody whether it’s your free-agent year or not, but I think he’ll get over it quick and the fans will love this type of guy. He is a great guy.”
LET’S GO CAMPING
Gooden, no longer in any official role with the Mets, is planning a spring training visit with some of his buddies to catch a few games in March.
“Baseball is just in my blood,” Gooden says. “I just love it.”
But before that he is eager to throw on the uniform again and make sure fans get their money’s worth.
“I really enjoy the fans, to live out their fantasy, as well as see a lot of old teammates and guys I once played with. We enjoy it just as much.”
Gooden will be joined by the likes of Ron Swoboda, Duffy Dyer, Turk Wendell, Steve Trachsel, John Stearns and Todd Zeile for the fantasy camps.
The first week (Jan. 13-19) is sold out, but spots are still available for the Jan. 20-26 session.
“The two weeks are just a lot of fun and I recommend to any fans that have never been to maybe look into it and come down. They would love it.”
And Gooden still has lots of love for his fans.
“The fans have been great. I appreciate the fans. I want to wish them all happy holidays. Thanks for all the energy and support they gave me during my career, and they still give me with all the fan mail I still get. It’s been great.