He decided to get himself cleaned up—for good—and to pitch again. "That," he said, "is really when the comeback started."
Steinbrenner called Gooden in the clubhouse after the no-hitter. So did New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. Yankees catcher Joe Girardi said the game was the highlight of his seven-year career, better even than having played in the postseason with the Colorado Rockies last year. Gooden returned to his Long Island home about midnight. After calling his wife, Monica, and his mother, both of whom were in St. Petersburg, he tried to sleep but found it impossible. How can you rest after pitching the game of your life and thinking that your father might die the next day?
Every time he replayed in his head the pitches from the game, he kept coming back to his father. Does he know about it? This went on all night, until he heard birds singing and saw the first faint light of day. Maybe he slept an hour. Maybe he didn't.
New York, known for a heart colder than last winter, melted for Gooden. Fans flocked to him at LaGuardia Airport and swarmed him as he sat in his first-class seat on the flight to Tampa. "Crazy," he said. "I've never seen it like that before, not in '85, not when we won the World Series [with the New York Mets] in '86."
The ball from the last out of the no-hitter was tucked inside his travel bag. He brought the New York papers too. In Tampa, just as orderlies wheeled Dan Gooden into the operating room, the father announced from his gurney, "He did it! My son did it! My son pitched a no-hitter!"
Always likable, Gooden now added a dimension that the public found irresistibly heroic. Everybody wanted him. CBS This Morning, BET, ESPN, CNN, Inside Edition, David Letterman, Conan O'Brien ("Who's he?" Gooden asked), Regis & Kathie Lee ("Never heard of them," he said) and others called the Yankees asking for him. When Gooden looked over the two-page list of requests, he shook his head and said, "It does make you wonder where everybody was before, when things weren't this good for me."
On the flight to Tampa, after an attendant ended the parade of autograph seekers, Gooden pulled out one of the Narcotics Anonymous manuals he always carries. The man seated next to him smiled. "I'm an addict too," he said. They talked at length. "It was just like having an NA meeting," Gooden said. "Two people is a meeting. It was great. He told me, 'Thanks. What you did keeps me clean another day.' "
His father was still in surgery when Gooden arrived at the hospital with Monica, who is six months pregnant with his fifth child, and Devin, their youngest son. They waited in a private conference room with 13 family members, including Gooden's nephew, Florida Marlins outfielder Gary Sheffield (page 68).
An hour later a doctor entered to tell them that Dan had made it through the most critical part of the surgery. Not until the next day was Dan alert enough to recognize his family. Gooden held out the baseball from his no-hitter. "This is for you, Dad," he said. Dan, still too weak to speak, smiled. His eyes moistened.
"I don't know whether it was from all the pain he was in," Gooden said later, "or from the joy."