For nearly half a century, baseball's all-time gold standard for teen pitching phenoms was Bob Feller. In 1936, the 17-year-old Feller struck out
unholy numbers of batters in his first two starts. I believe it was 17K's in his first game, and 18 in the next, and I'm not sure but what the second
game wasn't against the now DiMaggio/Gehrig Yankees. When his 14-game, 8-start rookie season was over, he'd pitched 62 innings and struck out 76
batters. Next year, at age 18, he struck out 150 in 148-2/3 innings, and went 9-7 with 150 K's... and 106 walks.
And next year, at 19, he set a still-standing record which nobody is anxious to break: He STRUCK OUT 240 batters in 277-2/3 innings, posted a 17-11
record (the last non-war year he'd fall short of 20 for a long time, AND WALKED A STILL-STANDING RECORD 208 BATTERS. Opponents were terrified to face
him, because neither they nor he knew where his fastball was going. He was not so much a young Nolan Ryan as a young Ryne Duren. But MAN, did he
rack up some great years:
(a) 1939, 24-9;
(b) 1940, 27-11;
(c) 1941, 25-13;
[1942-1945] Military Service
(d) 1946, 26-15; and
(e) 1947, 20-11.
Now, please realize those are CONSECUTIVE seasons, because the only ones Feller missed in there were seasons during which he was serving his country
in what was the one absolutely, no-doubt-about-it, let's-here-ANYONE-try-and-dispute-the-point, justified war in American History: World War II. I
know a few goofballs who disagree with me about that, but no mature person of ANY political stripe or ANY reasonable I.Q. could deny that two
country's whose sworn goal was world military conquest HAD TO BE STOPPED. Russia stopped the Germans, at a cost of 20 to 30 million lives, and with
the help of a LOT of supplies from us. WE stopped Japan. And Feller was a genuine hero in all of that madness.
So, it's only natural that for half a century, Feller stood unques-tioned as MLB's all time greatest young pitching phenom. But the problem was that
come 1984, that just wasn't true anymore.
In 1984, the NY Mets had a rookie right-hander who ran away with the Rookie of the Year Award. He was an All-Star, #2 (!) in the Cy Young
Vote, #2 in ERA, #3 in Wins, #1 in Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched, #5 in W-L %, #1 in fewest hits allowed AND in best strikeouts/IP
ratio AND in strikeouts!
And that was as a 19-year-old rookie!
In 1985, now at the ripe old age of 20, he had one of the greatest post-Dead Ball Seasons in all of baseball history. To wit:
He was 24-4; threw 277 innings; gave up 198 hits and 69 walks (less than one runner per inning); struck out 268 (one more K than his and walks
combined); had the best NL E.R.A. since Gibson's legendary year in 1968 (1.53); threw 8 shutouts; had about a 4-1 K/BB ratio; posted an Adjusted ERA
of 226, the SEVENTH BEST of any post-Dead Ball starter ever.
Gooden was now 20, was by light years MLB's best pitcher, and had a record of 41-13. A longtime Dodger scout was prominently quoted as saying that,
for the first time in his career, he no longer found it absurd to think someone might break Cy Young's record of 511 wins. And nobody said he was a
And although the QUALITY of Gooden's pitching started to go downhill immediately, his record didn't. When he got his 100th MLB decision, he had the
best W-L % of anyone with 100 decisions. When he won his 100th victory, he was ahead of WWII pitcher Spud Chandler (who, in my opinion, shouldn't
count) for the best W-L % by a 100-game winner.
Even when Gooden retired, after several years of off- and on-the-field embarrassments, his record was still 194-112, which makes for a .634 W-L
percentage--not only vastly better than average, but vastly better than a lot of Hall of Famers and, I'm sure, better than the average Hall of
Now, I'm sure all the hypocrites who get to vote for the Hall won't even give a thought to Gooden, except to talk about how he COULD HAVE been
436-142, or something. But let's talk about what he WAS. He had a W-L % of .634. Do you know how many MLB starters from after the Dead Ball Era won
over 150 (never mind 194) and did better than that in W-L %?
Try SEVEN, and that's cutting a couple of guys some slack:
(1) Pedro Martinez (only 14 years, but is there any doubt?);
(2) Whitey Ford;
(3) Lefty Grove, to date, the greatest pitcher ever;
(4) Roger Clemens (would have to lose incredible number of games to fall below Gooden in W-L %);
(5) Randy Johnson (would have to go 34-32 in next 66 decisions to fall below Gooden);
(6) SANDY KOUFAX--yes, the GREAT KOUFAX, who was only 2 percent, .654 to .634, ahead of Gooden, and while they both pitched in great pitchers' parks,
Koufax's was much better a pitcher's park;
(7) MIKE MUSSINA, .638, though he'd better retire soon or he'll fall behind Gooden; and
(8) JIM PALMENT, .638, a pitcher whose Zeta-Jones like narcissism over his good looks, combined with his arrogant and often unpleasant personality,
have caused many fans to forget just how GREAT a pitcher he was, and for just how LONG.
OK. Gooden has had a lot of trouble with the law. So have/did some others in the Hall. There is ZERO proof I'm aware of that Gooden ever cheated on
the field. And I simply DO NOT THINK off-field misconduct should bar one from the Hall.
On his career stats, Gooden OBVIOUSLY belongs. MANY pitchers with fewer than 194 wins are in, so that shouldn't keep him out, and when you remove
that excuse, there are none left, really, except his substance-related lawbreaking. And as to that:
OK, Gooden has a weakness for illegal substances. I was a child of the 60's, and I did a ton of pot, a brief stint with STRONG hallucinogens (long
ago), and drank up a storm (as y'all know if you read my mea culpa under "what are you drinking?). The first two didn't hurt me; the booze nearly
killed me. But to each his own, and anyway, I don't think nonviolent, and especially nonadjudicated, crimes should keep anyone out of the
Different story with Palmeiro-->they NAILED him. And Canseco nailed himself. And, well, you know....
But I've said before, I don't think Bonds should be banned, sinced the honest part of his career was FAR more than enough to get him in. With Gooden,
all he ever took was cr@p than ruined him, and, not being Babe Ruth, it caught up with him FAST. If he goes to jail, fine. But they haven't taken
away Simpson's Heisman, have they? And while he wasn't found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, I'm quite satisfied by a civil standard, and
would bet most of y'all are, too.
So Gooden committed victimless, self-destructive crimes, plus the decided NON-victimless crime of driving while loaded. He should do time for that
last one, if it's proven satisfactorily. But he should be put in the Hall, and I mean A.S.A.F.P.
Kirby Puckett acted like a good Uncle Tom for American cameras and interviewers. Whether he really was one or not, I don't know. But for several
years, Gooden was a better player than Puckett ever was--and it's hard for a great pitcher to be better than a great CF.
PLEASE raise a hue and cry in Gooden's favor. You may not like him, and you may--like me--feel sick over how he squandered the most enormous talent
of any teenage pitcher ever, but the dude clearly belongs in the Hall, which has always asked what a player actually did, not what he might have