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The Met Superlative : Good, Gooden, Great

September 25, 1985|MIKE DOWNEY | Times Staff Writer

Let's say you own or run the Minnesota Twins, and there's this kid, Bryan Alois Oelkers, pronounced Elkers, and he's a good kid, a good-looking lefty with the right stuff, and you're glad to have a chance to get him, because you can never have enough good pitching if you expect to become a solid ballclub.

Or, let's say you own or run the San Diego Padres, and there's this kid, James Condia Jones, Jim for short, and he's a good kid, a promising right-hander, and you're glad to get him for the very same reasons the Twins are glad to get Oelkers.

Now, then:

Let's say you could always use another pitcher, but you have a chance to pick up a slick shortstop instead. You own or run the Toronto Blue Jays, and there's this kid, August Robert Schmidt, whom everybody calls plain old Augie, and he played some good ball for the University of New Orleans, so you claim him and ship him to Kinston of the Carolina League.

Or, you own or run the Chicago Cubs, and there's this kid from Brooklyn, Shawon Donnell Dunston, and you're willing to fork over $150,000 in bonus money to sign him because three years from now he's going to be in your starting infield.

You feel good. You got yourself a prospect. The first round of the June 7, 1982, free-agent draft is history, and you pat yourself on the back, satisfied that you have helped your club build a better tomorrow.

Then the guy who owns or runs the New York Mets makes the fifth pick of the draft, taking a 17-year-old pitcher from Tampa, Fla.

You check your scouting reports. Yep, the kid's a prospect all right. Throws hard. Good breaking stuff. Seems mature for his age. But you never can tell. Maybe the Mets will wish they had helped themselves at another position, or chosen an older and wiser college player, or even taken that other prep pitcher from Tampa, what's his name--Monteleone.

The high school baseball season had just ended when Dwight Eugene Gooden heard the car pull up in front of his house. It was Richard Monteleone and Rich's dad. Together they were going to the Tampa newspaper office to watch the major league draft picks blip into the office, one at a time, on the computer.

Neither was sure which would go first. Monteleone had seemed to receive a bit more attention from the scouts and from the media, but the only sure thing was that both of them would be chosen high in the draft, probably in the first round. They had opposed one another, Catholic high school vs. public, and had struck up a friendship off the field. They were happy for one another's success. What would happen next, no one knew.

Three years went by. In spring training, 1985, some baseball people were talking about Dunston, who had beaten out Larry Bowa as starting shortstop of the Cubs. The No. 1 pick of the 1982 draft was about to blossom.

Schmidt, No. 2, had hit .297 at Kinston, but had made 29 errors the next summer for Knoxville.

Jones, No. 3, had walked nearly as many as he struck out his first year at Walla Walla.

Oelkers, No. 4, had worked in 10 games for the Twins in 1983 and wound up with a record of 0-5.

They all needed more work and more time.

Dwight Gooden did not.

In 1984, he broke into the majors and broke opponents' hearts and bats. His vital statistics: 17-9 record, 2.60 earned-run average, 276 strikeouts, 73 walks. He won eight of his last nine games. He faced three batters in the All-Star Game and struck them out, zip, zip, zip.

He struck out so many batters that in New York he became known as Doctor K, inspiring fans to hang cards from the facade of the third-base line stands with every strikeout, turning Shea Stadium into a K mart.

Could Gooden get better? Yes, he could.

In 1985, he is 22-4 with a 1.57 ERA and 251 Ks, and the season is not over yet. He could be the National League's most valuable player. He is so unreal that he is even hitting .257, having broken Tom Seaver's team record for hits by a pitcher in one season. Last Saturday against Pittsburgh, Gooden went 3 for 4 with a home run. The other time up, he lined out.

Ready for the testimonials about him? Here they come:

Dave Johnson: "What can I say? Doc is just about superhuman."

John Felske, manager, Philadelphia Phillies: "It's hard for me to imagine anybody's ever come along in the history of baseball that's ever been any better."

Tom Lasorda, manager, Los Angeles Dodgers: "Dwight Gooden is almost ridiculous, he's so good."

Whitey Herzog, manager, St. Louis Cardinals: "Gooden's the best young pitcher I've seen come along since . . . since . . . I don't know who since."

More?

Keith Hernandez, Met first baseman: "There's nothing on two feet like him."

Darryl Strawberry, Met outfielder: "The best thing about playing for the Mets is that I never have to bat against Dwight Gooden."

You get the idea. Gooden himself gets the idea. One day this summer he batted against Houston's Nolan Ryan, who blew him away with a fastball. Gooden returned to the dugout and said: "Now I know what it must be like to face me."

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