'It’s started to hit me now': Doc talks jersey retirement

April 1st, 2024

NEW YORK -- One of the best days of ’s life will occur on April 14th at Citi Field. That’s when the Mets will retire his No. 16 before they play the Royals.

Gooden will become the ninth player -- Willie Mays, Keith Hernandez, Jerry Koosman, Mike Piazza, Jackie Robinson, Tom Seaver, Gil Hodges and Casey Stengel are the others -- to have his number retired by the franchise.

Having his digits immortalized didn’t hit Gooden until last Monday when he took a walk at the stadium with Jay Horwitz, the team’s club historian and vice president of alumni relations. Once he stepped on the field, Gooden was finally hit with the reality that his number would be hanging at Citi Field.

“It’s started to hit me now,” Gooden said. “A couple of months ago, it didn’t seem real yet. Now it’s starting to hit as the day gets closer. It’s something I’m looking forward to.”

Gooden wanted to end his playing career with the Mets and thank the fans, but the team didn’t show any interest in re-signing the right-hander, whose final Major League game was with the rival Yankees at age 35. Gooden, now 59, will finally get that chance 24 years after he hung up his spikes.

The fans meant so much to Gooden because they supported him no matter what he did on and off the field. Gooden's struggles with drugs and alcohol during his playing career have been well-documented, but he said over the last four years, he has been sober.

“Many times, the fans could have turned their backs [on me], but they always gave me support even when I was down and even when I didn’t believe in myself. They always lifted me up,” Gooden said. “I think part of it is being honest with the fans. I made my mistakes. I admit it. I just tried to reach out and do the best I can. I’m not perfect. I’m never going to be perfect. … I always tried to connect with the fans and they played a huge part in my career.

“I want to apologize to the fans for all the mistakes and my addiction off the field -- to make things right. … Now I get the opportunity to thank the fans and let them know that every time took the field, I gave it everything I had. Unfortunately, off the field I had some struggles. I want to let the fans know what they meant to me.”

Gooden’s years with New York were spent at Shea Stadium from 1984-94. He ranks second in franchise history in wins (157) and strikeouts (1,875), as well as third in innings (2,169 2/3), complete games (67) and starts (303) and quality starts (209).

Gooden’s best seasons were 1984 and '85. In '84, he won the National League Rookie of the Year Award after setting a Major League rookie record with 276 strikeouts. The following year, he became the youngest pitcher to win the Cy Young Award as he captured the Triple Crown of pitching, leading the Majors in wins (24), strikeouts (268) and ERA (1.53).

“Every fifth day that Doc started, we felt we had the day off,” said reliever Roger McDowell, who was Gooden’s teammate from 1985-89. “Doc talked earlier about pitching seven innings and then let me and Jesse [Orosco] come in and pitch the eighth and ninth. That ain’t happening. Doc had 16 complete games that year. We overjoyed sitting down in the bullpen because we could just sit back, relax and enjoy the show like the other 55,000 fans at Shea.”