The New York mets
came into muggy St. Louis last month in all their glory, leading everybody else
in the National League East. The Mets are known as Kid and Mex, HoJo and
Mookie, Nails, Mac, El Sid, and by some names that aren't so innocent. They're
also known as a brash and arrogant collection of accused bat corkers, camera
hogs and huge egos. The Mets inspire such name-calling largely because they can
lay claim to being the best baseball club on the planet, and there are at least
two reasons that they probably will be able to make that claim well into the
1990s. They are Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, who are known as Straw and
Doc, among other things.
Here are four
ways to look at Straw and Doc:
The first is
through the eyes of a former player. "Most guys have talent, but not that
extraordinary talent, so people can't understand what those two have had to go
through," says Tim McCarver, a Mets TV announcer and a major league catcher
for 21 years. "Darryl and Dwight have had to mature under so many eyes. Yet
they seem to have done it. Without them, the Mets are a good team. With them,
it's not stretching it to say that the Mets are a great team."
The second way to
look at Straw and Doc is through the eyes of an artist. "The similarities
between them are amazing, aren't they?" says LeRoy Neiman, the popular
painter and an unregenerate Mets fan. "They are the two I've drawn the most
of all the Mets. The first time I saw Gooden, I didn't know who he was, but I
knew he was somebody. Darryl has that, too. They both have a grace you can't
express in words. I think they're the most extraordinary pair in baseball, in
The third view is
through the eyes of baseball's best handler of pitchers. "If I could have
one player off the Mets' roster, it would have to be Gooden," says San
Francisco Giants manager Roger Craig. "A guy who will go get you 20 wins [a
year] for 12 years. He's got the perfect delivery for the split-finger. I'd
talk to him about throwing it, but, believe me, I wouldn't insist.
The fourth is
through the eyes of the best manager in baseball. "If I could pick one guy
in all of baseball to start an expansion team with, it'd have to be
Strawberry," says Whitey Herzog of the St. Louis Cardinals. "I'd put
him at cleanup, get me six jackrabbits and a plumber to hit behind him, and I'd
have myself a——team. Strawberry's the guy."
Straw and Doc
dress side by side in the visitors' clubhouse at Busch Stadium and then walk
out into the sun and the gaze of curious fans. The previous evening, the
lefthanded-hitting Strawberry, even though he was playing with a sore thumb, a
strained groin muscle and a tender hamstring, had driven in four runs, two on a
monstrous home run off Cardinals lefthander Larry McWilliams, to lead the Mets
to a 6-2 victory. The day before that, Gooden had won the game against the
Chicago Cubs. In the bottom of the seventh, after having thrown a no-hitter to
that point, he blasted a two-run homer to the back row of the bleachers at Shea
Stadium and then ducked his head and sped around the bases, unable to suppress
a childlike smile. In the next inning, Gooden lost his no-hitter and his
shutout, but not the game, as the Mets won 11-3.
Who could have
guessed a year ago that this is how things would be going at midseason of 1988?
Back then, Gooden had recently been activated following a four-week stay at the
Smithers Alcoholism and Drug Treatment Center in Manhattan, for rehabilitation
from cocaine abuse, and a month in the minors. Strawberry was in the throes of
a separation from his wife, Lisa, who had charged that he had beaten her. He
was also at odds with his teammates, some of whom had lambasted him publicly
for missing two games in a key series with the Cards because, he said, he was
ill. However, on one of those days he spent several hours publicizing a rap
number he had recorded the day before. Both Doc and Straw were victims of their
own bad decisions.
In 1988, with the
aid of each other and the passing of time, they have re-assumed their star
status as if they had simply taken a long coffee break. Each has changed—for
the better. Gooden is now a precision pitcher in a power pitcher's body, while
Strawberry, thanks to having developed more discipline at the plate, has
finally begun to come fully into his own.
In his seven
no-hit innings against the Cubs, Gooden threw only 74 pitches. "Better that
way," he says. "I had good velocity. I was 96 to 97 [mph] on most of my
fastballs, even though I didn't have my good stuff. Only threw one fastball
that wasn't in the 90s, but the curve wasn't as hard as I'd like."