Over the course of February, which is Black History Month, MLB Network and MLB.com are looking back at some of the most prominent African-American players in MLB history. Today we look back on the careers of former Mets stars Darryl Strawberry and Dwight "Doc" Gooden.For much of the 1980s, the
Over the course of February, which is Black History Month, MLB Network and MLB.com are looking back at some of the most prominent African-American players in MLB history. Today we look back on the careers of former Mets stars Darryl Strawberry and Dwight "Doc" Gooden.
For much of the 1980s, the Mets featured one of the most feared hitters and most dominant pitchers in the game. Fresh off a run of seven consecutive losing seasons, New York returned to contention with the emergence of two young phenoms -- outfielder Strawberry and pitcher Gooden, players whose careers will forever be intertwined.
In the pair's seven years together on the Mets from 1984-90, the club posted a winning record each season, including a World Series championship in '86. In that span, the Mets never finished worse than second place in the National League East and went 666-466, including two 100-win seasons.
Each player debuted with impressive rookie campaigns, claiming NL Rookie of the Year honors in consecutive years. A 21-year-old Strawberry broke into the big leagues first, batting .257 with 26 home runs and 74 RBIs in 122 games in '83. Gooden followed in '84 by leading the Major Leagues with 276 strikeouts at age 19. He went 17-9 with a 2.60 ERA in 31 starts, finishing second in NL Cy Young Award voting behind Rick Sutcliffe.
They both competed for the NL in their first All-Star Game in '84. For Strawberry, it was the first of eight straight appearances, while Gooden was making his first of four trips to the Midsummer Classic.
The following year, in his sophomore campaign, Gooden turned in arguably his most successful season, posting a 24-4 record with a 1.53 ERA, 16 complete games and 268 strikeouts. He won the NL Cy Young Award, made his second All-Star team and led the NL in wins, ERA and strikeouts to claim the first pitching triple crown since 1972 (Steve Carlton).
The individual peak of Strawberry's career also came while wearing a Mets uniform. In '87, he joined the 30-30 club with 39 home runs and 36 stolen bases to pair with a .284 average -- his highest for a full season -- and 104 RBIs. He followed that up with another 39 home runs, 101 RBIs and 29 stolen bases in '88, winning his first Silver Slugger Award and finishing as the runner-up to the Dodgers' Kirk Gibson for the NL MVP.
Strawberry and Gooden's best team season came in '86 when the Mets won a franchise-best 108 games en route to the World Series, where they defeated the Red Sox in seven games. It marked the Mets' second and most recent title. Strawberry and Gooden returned to the postseason with the Mets in '88, but they lost to the eventual-champion Dodgers in the NL Championship Series.
Their careers diverged after the 1990 season when Strawberry left in free agency to sign with the Dodgers. He spent three seasons in Los Angeles, where his production took a notable dip, then played sparingly for the Giants in '94. Gooden, meanwhile, remained with the Mets through the '94 season.
Both players battled substance-abuse issues, each serving suspensions for testing positive for cocaine during their careers. Strawberry was suspended for the beginning of the '95 season, while Gooden missed the entire season. Strawberry returned to baseball in June that year by signing with the Yankees, eventually reuniting with Gooden, who inked a deal with the Yanks in '96 after a year away from the game.
Though neither player was able to recapture the individual success of their days in Queens, Strawberry won World Series rings with the Bronx Bombers in '96, '98 and '99, though he missed the '98 postseason while undergoing treatment for colon cancer. Gooden contributed to the Yankees' 2000 title team when he rejoined them during his final year in the Majors.
Gooden wrapped his 16-year career with a 194-112 record, a 3.51 ERA and 2,293 strikeouts through 430 games (2,800 2/3 innings). Strawberry retired after 17 seasons one year earlier in '99, finishing with a .259 career average, 335 homers, 1,000 RBIs and 221 steals in 1,583 games.
Neither player received enough votes in his first year of Baseball Hall of Fame eligibility to remain on the ballot, but fittingly, the former New York stars, whose careers will forever be entwined, were elected to the Mets Hall of Fame together in 2010.
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.