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Indians: Will he be Gooden-ough?
Posted: Monday March 01, 1999 06:05 PM
By Jeff Pearlman, Sports Illustrated
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- Dwight Gooden , who I loved like strawberry cottage cheese in the `80s, has a gut. It's not Norm Peterson -esque, but the lump's pretty big. (As a Sports Illustrated writer, you get to see things like this: Wade Boggs 's used kleenex. Steve Avery 's toes. Kevin Appier 's empty Sprite bottle. Dwight Gooden's gut. It's that whole "Inside Game" mumbo-jumbo readers love so much. You want inside? Here's Dwight Gooden ... naked!)
I, for one, don't want to get too close. Dwight Gooden's gut -- plump, like a near-ripe melon -- makes me sad. I was a New York teen during Doc's prime, watching with amazement as he racked up K after K after K. People say the Yankees will always own the city. They don't remember a time -- about 15 years ago -- when the Big Apple was all Dwight. Everywhere you looked, everywhere you listened, there was Dwight Gooden, the phenom. On my door hung the unofficial "Dr. K" poster -- Gooden, in the vintage high leg kick. Pittsburgh's R.J. Reynolds , quivering like an ill duck, stood at the plate. You knew what was about to happen. It was a given. Farewell, silly R.J.
That was a long, long time ago. Gooden, pretty much a .500 pitcher for the past decade, is battling with Orel Hershiser for Cleveland's fifth spot in the rotation. He will probably get it, but -- in a way -- by default. Doc no longer hits faster than 93 on the speed gun (his nickname, Dr. K, no longer makes much sense). His curve, the gothic mother of all curves, doesn't quite break anymore.
"I'd say I'm a better pitcher now than I was with the Mets," he told me. Which, of course, leads to the obvious follow up -- are you crazy? ("Are you on drugs?" is just not P.C. in this case.)
"I know I don't have the consistent velocity," he said. "But back then I'd rely on athleticism. Now, I actually pitch. I'm smarter."
Smarter does not mean better.
On the bright side, Doc is sober. His just-released autobiography, Heat, chronicles both baseball and the demons of substance abuse. It is honest and straightforward and a worthy read. "I thought it could help people," he says. "It's a lesson that can warn people."
It does not, however, turn back time. Gooden still has a gut.
Admittedly, it ain't genius interviewing. But I didn't ask Hargrove's favorite color, either.
The sarcastic response: "I expect Manny to hit 50 home runs, 175 RBIs." Pause. "Jeez, what is that?"
Hargrove sort of apologized later. No harm. Welcome to Baseball '99.
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