Twenty-nine years after 19-year-old Dwight Gooden became the youngest player to appear in an All-Star Game, the 1985 Cy Young Award winner is taking part in the festivities surrounding the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field. We caught up with Doc for a question-and-answer session this week.
FOX Sports: What do you remember from your first All-Star Game appearance?
Gooden: Making the All-Star Game as a 19-year-old rookie was surreal. Before the game started, I remember being in the bullpen at the old Candlestick Park and being told I might get into the game but that it wasn’t certain. I was told to just be ready. I was so excited to be there that I didn’t even care if I got in or not. I got the call to warm up in the bullpen and was put into the game. My knees were shaking. My catcher, ironically enough, was Gary Carter. Gary said, “Come out. Have fun. Just let it fly.” He was with the Expos at the time and said, “Pitch to these guys like you’ve been pitching against us all season.” I don’t remember the order, but I struck out the first three guys I faced. Chet Lemon, Alvin Davis and Lance Parrish. After the third strikeout, I was walking on air. On the way to the dugout, Gary said to me, “Wouldn’t it be nice to do this every fifth day?” Little did we know that the Mets would trade for him that following off-season.
FOX Sports: Is it weird seeing the Mets play in a different ballpark than the one you starred in?
Gooden: The new ballpark is tremendous. With Shea Stadium, there’s obviously all that history there. That’s where I played. That’s where we won the ’86 World Series. But Citi Field is amazing. It was time to upgrade to a new stadium, and they did a fantastic job with it.
FOX Sports: Los Angeles Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig is catching a bit of heat for his attitude. He’s been described as “brash” and even “cocky.” As a member of one of the brashest, cockiest teams in baseball history, what are your thoughts on the game’s newest sensation?
Gooden: I’ve mostly seen him on ESPN or on the FOX games on Saturdays. I haven’t seen every one of his games, but I know he’s a special player. It’s a situation where you don’t want that rap as a rookie, especially if you’ve only been in the league for a couple of months. But he has a tremendous amount of talent. Our ’86 team, we had a bunch of characters, but we also had veteran guys like Ray Knight, Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez. For us, it wasn’t about one individual, either. We were a collection of guys — a team. We had gotten so close in ’84 and ’85, and the fans were lifting us to new heights in ’86. The curtain calls, all that — we fed off of it. I actually wouldn’t say our team was “cocky.” I’d say that we were very confident.
FOX Sports: There are far fewer African-American All-Stars today than when you played in your first All-Star Game in 1984. Across the board, there are far fewer African-Americans playing the sport. Is Major League Baseball doing a good enough job with encouraging young African-Americans to play the sport?
Gooden: Major League Baseball is doing a great job with presenting baseball in the inner cities. The RBI program is tremendous. I think myself, as well as other African-American players — both former and current ones — need to do more. It’s great to make donations and talk about it, but we’ve got to physically get out there and actually go into the inner cities and the parks we grew up in. Whether it’s talking to the kids directly, running clinics, whatever it is — we need to get involved and be hands-on. It starts with Little League baseball and makes its way up the ranks. As African-American players, we need to actually get involved physically, opposed to just sending donations. Until these kids see us and know what baseball can do for them, they won’t know. Baseball makes you a better, more complete person. Even in the corporate world, your co-workers are basically like teammates. We, the players, have to get out there and stay involved. That’s the only way things will ever change.
FOX Sports: Why have those numbers dipped so much?
Gooden: A lot of this stuff goes in cycles, but now I think we’re really losing these young African-American kids. It’s a lot easier for a kid to grab a basketball and two or three guys and shoot some baskets than it is grabbing six or seven guys and hitting ground balls. I have an 18-year-old son. He was a good baseball player growing up as a kid. In 2007, he said he didn’t want to play baseball anymore and that he wanted to focus on basketball. I asked him, “Why?” He was a great player and had good size at 6-foot-5. He said, “Baseball’s boring.” I tried not to push him too much, but he thought it was boring. I had to explain to him about the game, the competition and the history. Basketball is promoted differently than baseball, too. Those guys — as you saw on all the commercials throughout the NBA playoffs — are actually out there and in the inner city doing stuff. That’s a big part of it.
FOX Sports: There are a lot of young, promising arms in the sport right now. Please give us your one- to two-sentence scouting report on the following players:
Matt Harvey, New York Mets
Gooden: “Honestly, the year he’s having is unbelievable. The thing with him is mound presence. To have such a young pitcher keep his composure is most important. He’s got it.”
Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
Gooden: “Total command. Every night he shows up and brings it. Complete pitcher. A lot of confidence, and he attacks the hitters’ weaknesses. He knows what he wants to do and he does it.”
Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers
Gooden: “It seems like he gets better and better every year. I know he’s a student of the game. He’s coming into his own. He has great command of his pitches. He can throw in the upper 90s, but he’s not trying to blow guys away every at bat. He relies more on location.”
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
Gooden: “I didn’t get to see Sandy Koufax pitch, but he looks like that. Power guy. Knows how to pitch and has four quality pitches that he can use anytime.”
Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants
Gooden: “Obviously, he’s off to a slow start this year, but he’s one of the big-game pitchers in the sport today. He gets better and better and doesn’t ever seem to be satisfied with what he’s accomplished already.”
Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
Gooden: “The no-hitter Saturday night was huge. I’m not sure if he lost confidence when they put him in the bullpen, but this is definitely a confidence builder. He reminds me of a mix of Pedro Martinez and Greg Maddux.”
Steven Strasburg, Washington Nationals
Gooden: “He’s fun to watch. He reminds me a lot of Nolan Ryan. The way he struts around the mound — such confidence. I just hope his arm problems are behind him.”
FOX Sports: Your career was wrapping up just as the so-called “Steroid Era” was really beginning. What do you think of the way guys like Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez and Barry Bonds’ careers ended up?
Gooden: It’s tough. Those guys put a lot of fans in the stands. Unless something changes, they’ll never get in the Hall of Fame now. It’s sad for the sport, it’s sad for them, and it’s sad for the fans. Clemens, Bonds, those guys — they were all Hall of Fame players before all the steroid stuff even came up. But if you break the rules, there’s a price you have to pay. Hopefully, it doesn’t take anything away from the guys who played the right way during that era. Those guys — the ones who did it the right way — they deserve all the credit and deserve to get into the Hall of Fame.
FOX Sports: Who’s the one hitter you feared the most when he stepped into the batter’s box?
Gooden: Chili Davis gave me the most trouble. When he was with the Giants, he was a guy I just couldn’t get out. If I had my good stuff working, he’d get a couple of hits off me, no problem. If I didn’t have my good stuff, he’d hit two home runs. I never wanted to see Chili Davis come up when there were men on base.
FOX Sports: What is something that you reveal in your recent book, Doc: A Memoir, that we wouldn’t have known already?
Gooden: That I was a people pleaser. I was a very shy guy. I also go into great detail about my relationship with my father. His passion for the game. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have chosen baseball. Basically, I was living out his dream first, and then my own dream.
FOX Sports: What’s your greatest regret from your career?
Gooden: I wish I didn’t put myself into positions where I was hurting myself. Too many times, I did things to please others.
FOX Sports: What was your favorite moment?
Gooden: I’d say the no-hitter I threw in 1996. My dad was very ill at the time. He had to have emergency heart surgery. The day that I pitched the no-hitter, I was supposed to fly home and be with my father to be by his side before the surgery. That morning, I decided that he’d want me to pitch. I threw the no-hitter that night, flew home the next day, and when I got there he was on life support. The doctors told me that he saw the entire game the night before. He ended up passing away and not making it back from the hospital, but the last game he ever saw me pitch was a no-hitter. The only no-hitter of my career.
Gooden’s recent book Doc: A Memoir is available online at Amazon.com.