A few weeks into the 1987 MLB season, I decided it was time to write a sports article. I was 13.
The evidence either still exists somewhere unbeknownst to me or has been lost forever. I’m not sure which is true.
But I do remember sitting down on the sofa to watch the New York Mets-Pittsburgh Pirates game on June 5, 1987, at Shea Stadium on TV.
It was Mets starter Dwight “Doc” Gooden’s first game of the ’87 season for the defending World Series champions. I was a Yankees fan, but also a big Gooden fan. So it always seemed like a worthwhile way to spend a few hours when he was scheduled to pitch.
It was the Mets’ 51st game of the season. Gooden began the season in a rehabilitation clinic to treat his addiction to cocaine. He had been with the team when spring training began, then left to seek help at the Smithers Alcoholism and Drug Treatment Center.
Peter Ueberroth, the MLB commissioner, forced Gooden to confront his drug use.
As noted in the Chicago Tribune on April 3, 1987: “Gooden, who has tested positive for cocaine, must submit to immediate evaluation, and, if necessary, enter a rehabilitation clinic–or he is suspended from baseball for one year.”
There was a big buildup in the press to Gooden’s 1987 debut on the hill.
I remember hearing about it on every sports talk show for days before the game, including updates about his rehab starts in the minors. Some callers were skeptical if Doctor K would dominate when he returned to the rotation. Others said he would quickly show his best stuff.
Which he did at times against the Pirates.
Gooden began the show by striking out leadoff hitter Barry Bonds. My memory was a bit off; I thought Bonds whiffed on a high fastball. The Los Angeles Times reported that Gooden got out No. 1 on a curveball.
““I was trying to relax, but I had butterflies all day,” Gooden was quoted as saying by the newspaper. “Getting that first out was the biggest part, and the crowd was tremendous.”
I kept score and took detailed notes of each batter that Gooden faced, and summed up what I saw in a dozen or so paragraphs, while succinctly saying something like this if it were downsized to a snapshot: He’s back. He’s very good. He’s hungry to win. He’s going to get better as the season progresses.
Gooden lasted 6 2/3 innings in the first Friday night of June 1987. He earned the win in the Mets’ 5-1 victory, allowing four hits and one earned run, walking four and striking out five. Jesse Orosco pitched the final 2 1/3 innings for his 11th save of the season.
Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Darryl Strawberry, Mookie Wilson and Lee Mazzilli each had an RBI for the Metropolitans. Hernandez smacked a triple. Nobody hit a home run in the game.
An announced crowd of 51,402 was at Shea Stadium, and I was on the couch in my family’s living room in New Jersey.
After the high-profile game, I decided that I had written a decent news report. And I remember glancing at the weekend newspapers to see how some of the Big Apple-based scribes had described the game. It was a good learning experience.
Of course at the time I didn’t have editors nor an audience to critique what I had written about Dwight Gooden’s first game back.
Nevertheless, it was good practice.