Once upon a time in Flushing, Queens in the city of New York, there were two fresh faced 19 year old professional baseball players (Both with Eugene for a middle name), with the kind of prodigious talent that dwarfed any comparable players on our blue planet earth. Their combined Major League Baseball magic was on full display for the world to marvel as witnesses, from 1983 to 1987. For that fleeting moment in time, the historically hard luck New York Mets franchise became a sterling rendition of baseball’s version of the Cinderella fairytale classic.
Darryl Eugene Strawberry arrived in New York City in the late spring of 1983 as a 19 year old phenom from South Central Los Angeles. Strawberry had the kind of raw talent that was instantly recognizable as transcendent. He possessed a strong, albeit wiry frame, that could unleash tremendous power at the end of a sweet left handed swing. The shy kid from Crenshaw High School was quickly introduced to a foreign territory, (Darryl, had never been anywhere outside of Los Angeles) the east coast and it’s prodigious two-way meat grinder, the ‘Tri-State’ metropolitan area sports media. This transition would have been difficult for an average player, but for a kid who was being compared to Hall of Fame players the likes of Ted Williams, it was herculean. To many within the Mets community, Darryl Strawberry’s arrival was akin to that of a franchise ‘savior’. For a majority of professional athletes, unrealistic expectations are a road that inevitably dead ends at ‘disappointment’. In the case of the Strawberry however, he was able to effectively shoulder this immense weight. His rookie season was exceptional, Strawberry blasted 26 Home Runs (best among all NL rookies), and drove in 74 Runs (best among all NL rookies), Stole 19 Bases, capped off with a noteworthy .848 OPS. Darryl was named the National League Rookie of The Year for 1983…
While Darryl Strawberry was in the process of instilling hope in the Mets faithful during the 1983 season, there was a kid out of Tampa, Florida named Dwight Eugene ‘Doc’ Gooden performing for the ‘Tidewater Tides’ in the Mets AAA farm system. In actuality, he wasn’t simply ‘performing’ he was ‘dominating’ minor league hitters, often with cartoonish, video game like statistics. Case in point, in just a single season in the minor leagues he went from Class A to Triple A. While in the Class A Carolina League, he led all players in wins, strikeouts, earned run average, and the soul crushing of opponents egos. Young Dwight had the kind of ‘stuff’ that pitchers from ‘Little League’ to the ‘Major Leagues’ collectively wished upon many a star. A blistering 98 (+) mile per hour fastball, with late movement. A devastating 12 to 6 curveball, affectionately named the ‘Lord Charles’, that broke down through the strike zone like a parlor trick. His height, length, and mechanics provided for an otherworldly delivery. His minor league stats included a sparkling 29 – 14 record with an earned run average of 2.50, all while amassing 468 strikeouts in just 300 innings! One year. True story. By the end of the 1983 campaign the New York Mets had not one, but two of the best prospects in all of Major League Baseball. Mets fans were anticipating the 1984 baseball season with the same baited breath as the rest of the baseball world.
NYC Stars Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, and Mike Tyson (1984).
The 1984 Major League Baseball season marked the first time that both of these young phenoms suited up together as members of the New York Mets roster. The Mets were coming off a disappointing 68 – 94 record for 1983, but expectation, and anticipation were running neck and neck in the hearts and minds of their loyal fans going into the 1984 campaign. Among the many questions swirling around this team was Dwight Gooden and his unveiling to the national league. For Darryl Strawberry, the question was ‘sophomore jinx’? or the next stop on the road to immortality? By the end of the 1984 season, Dwight Gooden had completed a rookie campaign that was exceptional by any measure. The dominating 19-year old rookie pitcher earned a spot on the 1984 MLB All-Star roster (the youngest player to ever appear), while on his way to being named the 1984 National League Rookie of the Year, following up his teammate Darryl’s 1983 award. Dwight led the National League in strikeouts with 276 in just 218 innings, while turning in an outstanding 17 – 9 record, with a lights out 2.60 earned run average. For his part, Darryl Strawberry dispelled any notion of a sophomore jinx by turning in another 25 (+) Home Run campaign, hitting 26 while improving his runs batted in total by 23, driving in 97. He also increased his stolen base numbers by swiping 27 bags. As for the Mets, the end of the 1984 season saw them improve their record by 22 wins! Improving to 90 – 72 over the previous lackluster 68 win total of 1983. The team finished in 2nd place, and anticipation grew exponentially going into the 1985 season. With their two young future stars in place, the New York Mets were putting the rest of the National League on notice, they were now legitimate contenders…
Darryl & Doc in Spring Training 1985.
The 1985 New York Mets were starting to take shape as one of the better teams in the National League. The front office had done an exceptional job of building a team of solid veterans, matched with tough minded, and hungry young talent around it’s young future superstars ‘Doc’ and Darryl. For the 1985 season, both Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry seemed to be fully acclimated to New York City both on the field and off, in fact the whispers of excessive partying started to grown into rumors. However, this didn’t seem to affect the performances of either player, in fact the 1985 season was one for the ages in terms of Dwight Gooden. By seasons end he had achieved one of the greatest individual statistical pitching seasons in Major League Baseball history. It was the season that gave rise to the now iconic ‘Dr. K’ moniker as fans in Shea Stadium had their own ‘K’ section of the bleachers to denote every Gooden home field strikeout.
“Dwight Gooden had an arm delivery that resembled a whip…”
His official statistical production for the 1985 season included a sterling won-loss record of 24 – 4, paired with a microscopic Earned Run Average of 1.53. Dwight posted an astronomical 268 strikeouts, with a Walk/Hit/Innings pitched (Whip) ratio of just 0.96. While tallying a 12 strikeout per 9 inning ratio. On August 21st of the ’85 season, Doc struck out 16 San Francisco Giants at Shea Stadium. When the dust settled, Dwight Gooden had achieved the rare and exulted National League pitching ‘Triple Crown’ while capturing the 1985 National League Cy Young Award. Gooden’s summer of ’85 was simply magnificent.
“The Strawberry Smash…”
Not to be outdone, Darryl Strawberry’s ’85 season was also exceptional. He posted career highs in Home Runs with 29, Batting Average with a .277 clip, On-Base Percentage with .389, Slugging with .557, and OPS with a .947 mark. The summer of 1985 saw the New York Mets and their young superstars move past the level of mere contender, and into the realm of serious World Series title contenders. The team posted a wonderful record of 98 – 64 (8 more wins than the 1984 season) and 2nd best in the National League for wins overall. However, the Mets finished just short of the 1st place St. Louis Cardinals who posted a 101 – 61 record to win the National League East. All of the stars were aligned for a 1986 season that promised to be one to remember…
“Dr. K and The Strawberry” (1985)
The 1986 New York Mets had an aura and mystique of a team of destiny, starting from the first day of Spring Training. They had a team full of gritty, hard-nosed players with absolutely no quit in them, along with the best pitcher in all of baseball (Gooden), and one of, if not the best, 5-tool power hitters in the game (Strawberry). The 1986 season marked the 25th anniversary of the franchise in the National League. This was the season where they finally made it ‘over the hump’ by breaking past their 1985 season record of 98–64, with a 1986 record of 108 – 54, good enough to earn them the NL East Division title. Once again, their young gun superstars anchored their success. Dwight Gooden posted another amazing statistical season with a superb 17 – 6 record matched with an Earned Run Average of 2.84, 12 complete games, 2 shutouts, and a blistering 200 strikeouts. While Darryl Strawberry blasted 27 Home Runs, with 93 Runs Batted In, 28 Stolen Bases, Slugging .507, and an OPS of .865. ‘Dr. K and the Strawberry’ led the Mets to a 6-game NLCS victory over the Houston Astros, including a marathon 16 inning game 6 clincher. Then came the 1986 MLB Fall Classic and a face-off between the National League Champion New York Mets and the American League Champion Boton Red Sox. A World Series that turned out to be one of the greatest series of all-time. It took every one of the seven allowable games to settle it, including the notoriously classic game 6 in which the ‘Miracle Mets’ proved to be truly ‘Amazin’ with an epic 9th inning comeback. Their game 7 victory put the finishing touches on a 6 year odyssey that launched on draft day 1980, and ended in a World Series Championship in 1986. How special was this brief era for the Mets franchise? They have not had the great fortune of having Hall of Fame talent walk through their doors, and the 1986 championship is their last MLB World Series Championship until this very day.
As for ‘Dr. K’ and the ‘Strawberry’? Well, their lives and careers over the following decade were a twisted kaleidoscope of personal and professional highs and lows that seemed to mirror each other. Both men suffered through bouts of alcohol and drug addiction, and both men went on to win World Series Championships in the mid to late 1990’s…with the New York Yankees. As it turned out, the 1983 – 1986 edition of the New York Mets armed with their two young superstars Doc and Darryl, never fully achieved the promise that seemed so destined. However, for a few wondrous years, not only were they the talk of town, but of all of Major League Baseball.