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K-Mets helped launch Gooden's career

Tanner Cook • Apr 30, 2020 at 10:15 AM

KINGSPORT — Diehard New York Mets fans could argue until the cows came home that Dwight Gooden was the best pitcher in franchise history.

But Gooden’s road to Cy Young glory in 1985 and a World Series championship in 1986 was not a smooth one.

In fact, you could say the 17-year-old out of Tampa had a rather pedestrian start in the Appalachian League for Kingsport. 

“(Gooden) looks like a gilded-edge prospect,” former New York Mets Executive Vice President and General Manager Frank Cashen said in 1982 after watching Gooden one night in Kingsport. “But we don’t want to rush him. We want to give him a few years and have him make all the regular stops. If he’s ever to realize his full potential, he has to play at every level. There are no shortcuts to the majors.”

STRAIGHT OUT OF TAMPA

Gooden was the fifth overall pick by the Mets in the 1982 amateur draft out of Hillsborough High School in Tampa.

He was a highly touted prospect with a 90-95 mph fastball and a devastating curveball. He later proved those reports to be accurate.

When he got to the National League during his age 19 season, he had one of the best fastballs with movement and a curveball that dropped off the table. That helped him win Rookie of the Year honors in 1984.

“Before going to the newspaper office, I’d been on the telephone with my buddy (former teammate Floyd Youmans) in California. We’d talked about the possibility of landing on the same team but agreed the odds would be against it happening,” he said in a 1982 Times News interview with Bill Lane. “I called back and told him that the Mets had picked us 1-2. He couldn’t believe it.”

Gooden was estimated to get $80,000 just for signing.

DR. K IN KINGSPORT

Gooden cruised through his first 20 innings of Appy League ball without allowing an earned run, but then he hit a speed bump and lost three straight.

The K-Mets were not good when Gooden first got to Kingsport, and they were 9-19 on July 22, when Gooden snapped his losing streak. 

Kingsport took a 3-2 decision over the Pikeville Brewers at J. Fred Johnson Stadium thanks to the heroics of Carl Hollis and Jerry Young. 

“They came through for me,” Gooden said in a postgame interview with Executive Sports Director Ron Bliss. “They told me not to worry, we’ll come through, and I’m glad they did.”

In Gooden’s only season in the Appy League, he compiled a 5-4 record over nine games started and had an ERA of 2.47.

“Doc” completed four of those games while striking out 66 in 65.2 innings of work.

The young right-handed pitcher was voted to the All-Appalachian League team and was later called up to Class A short-season Little Falls Mets. 

But unfortunately for K-Mets fans, Gooden would not return to the Appalachian League the next season. He was on to bigger and better things.

1983 IN LYNCHBURG

Gooden’s 1983 campaign for the Class A Lynchburg Mets was nothing short of astounding.

Doc put together a 19-4 record with 10 complete games and six shutouts. Lynchburg went 91-48 to win the Carolina League title.

In 191 innings pitched, he struck out a minor league-leading 300 batters for an average of 14.1 per outing.

That total is the second-highest in minor league history, only trailing Nolan Ryan’s 307 in 1966. It is the highest since the pitcher’s mound was lowered in 1968.

Surprisingly, he was not chosen as the league’s Most Valuable Player. That honor went to teammate Lenny Dykstra, who stole a league-record 105 bases and batted .358. 

CALLED UP TO TIDEWATER

At the close of the Carolina League season, Class AAA Tidewater called Gooden up for the International League playoffs. The Tides won the best-of-five series over the Richmond Braves (3-1) and earned a spot in the Class AAA Little World Series.  

Gooden started the series-clinching Game 4, giving up five hits, walking two and striking out eight as Tidewater won 6-1. 

Tidewater ended up winning 3-1 over the Pacific Coast League’s Portland Beavers and the American Association’s Denver Bears in the round-robin event. 

FOR COMPARISON PURPOSES

Having 300 strikeouts in a single season is a rare feat in professional baseball.

The modern baseball record is Ryan’s 1973 season with the California Angels in which he mowed down 383 hitters.

The all-time single-season strikeout leader is Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn in 1884, when he piled up 441 strikeouts while compiling a 59-12 record.

Only 66 times has a pitcher recorded 300-plus strikeouts in a season. Randy Johnson and Ryan both accomplished the feat six times.

Gooden’s highest season total of strikeouts in the majors came in 1984, when he recorded 276.

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