Sunday, July 29, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 1986

Part 25 of our 50-year K Korner...
What is it: 1986 Topps #250, Dwight Gooden

What makes it interesting: I don't like the '86s as much as, say, the '85s, but it's still a really nice looking set. A very '80s set, with the screaming team name across the top and the big, blocky player name on the bottom. The Mets team set in '86 is another large one, clocking in at 39 cards. By '86, the Mets were a powerhouse in the National League, not to be taken lightly as they could beat you in innumerable ways.

One such way the Mets could beat you was simply by sending Dwight Gooden to the mound.

Gooden burst onto the scene like a comet. In his rookie year of 1984, he was a sensation, winning 17 games, setting a rookie record with 276 strikeouts and making the All Star team, all at the tender age of 19. But he was just getting warmed up. In 1985, quite simply, Gooden was the best pitcher on the planet. His numbers that season are the stuff of legend, indelibly burned into the memory of any Mets fan. His 24-4 record was backed up with a 1.53 ERA, 268 strikeouts, 16 complete games and 8 shutouts. In 276.2 innings pitched, he allowed 198 hits, 69 walks, and 47 earned runs. He would win 14 games in a row, not losing between May 25th and August 30th. In September, he raised his game further, throwing 31 consecutive scoreless innings, and didn't allow an earned run over 49 consecutive innings. Not since the days of Seaver had the Mets had the kind of pitcher that they could run out there, and every time out expect, and receive, a quality, winning outing. His popularity soared to the point where his photo was featured on a gigantic Nike billboard near Times Square, and when he pitched, everyone stopped to watch. The Cy Young Award he received following the '85 season was simply a coronation of his greatness.

But just as quickly as he rose to greatness, such was his fall. The pressures of stardom at such a young age took its toll, and Gooden would fall victim to the demon of vice. His 1987 season was interrupted by the revelation that he had failed a drug test, and would spend time in a rehab facility before finally rejoining the Mets in June. Though his later years with the Mets would produce continued success (he would post elite seasons in 1988 and 1990), he would never again reach his lofty 1985 numbers. Injuries would curtail his 1989 and 1991 seasons, and by 1992, he would suffer his first losing seasons. And, of course, his final, bitter farewell to the Mets came after more failed drug tests and suspensions in 1994.

Although ultimately his career is looked at somewhat wistfully, because it held so much more potential than it would ultimately achieve, Gooden's career stands out among Mets pitchers. Gooden remains the only Met other than Tom Seaver to win the Cy Young Award, and is one of only four Mets to win the National League Rookie of the Year award. His 157 victories and 1875 strikeouts stand second only to Seaver, and his 3.10 ERA places him 7th in Mets history. Gooden finished in the top-10 in Cy Young award voting 5 times, and was a 4-time All Star. Always revered  by fans, even to the current day, Dwight Gooden was elected to the Mets Hall of Fame in 2010.

Card back:

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