April 27, 2008
BASEBALL: Davey Looks Back
The Daily News talks to Davey Johnson. On Dwight Gooden:
DN: You managed one of the greatest young talents the game has ever seen in Dwight Gooden, who went 24-4 as a 20-year-old. How do you feel when you think about his career, and his life after baseball?
DJ: Unbelievably sad. The biggest shock in my life in baseball was in the spring of 1987, when he came into my office and said, "Skip, I've got a problem. I've got to go to drug rehab." I said, "You've got to be kidding me." Doc was like a son to me. He was the first one to the ballpark every day. He was always happy. I just couldn't believe what I was hearing.
The thing with Dwight is that he meant no harm, but he couldn't say no - to his guys from his hometown. He didn't want to feel bigger or better than anybody else.
DN: He was a good pitcher after that 1985 season, but never the same pitcher.
DJ: Never the same. I blame it on the drugs, and I also blame it on the delivery change they had him make. I don't even know where the orders came from, but they didn't come from me or Mel Stottlemyre. They wanted him to shorten his delivery, lower that big high leg kick and not turn as much. Sure, he could be run on, but they could run on (Greg) Maddux, too; did they change his delivery? To this day I regret even going along with it.
Um, yeah. That doesn't sound like a great idea. Of course, today you would not ask a 20-year-old pitcher to throw 276 innings, either.
DN: If you were starting a team and could choose from all the players you managed or played with/against, who would be your No. 1 pick?
DJ: Henry Aaron. I loved Barry Larkin and Cal (Ripken), but Henry, he could do anything he wanted to do. He was just so powerful. Even at the end of his career, he could do things with such ease. I asked him once, "What do you look for when you go to home plate?" He said, "The breaking ball." I said, "Why?" He said, "Because I know they can't throw the fastball by me."
One time late in his career we went into San Francisco. Henry was 40-something years old. Normally he would take off a day game after a night game. This time the Giants' pitcher, (John) Count Montefusco, said in the paper, "Why am I pitching against the lowly Braves? I want to pitch against a good team." Henry read it. He went to (manager Eddie) Mathews and said, "I'm playing." Now Montefusco had a nasty slider. Just wicked. Ralph Garr got on, Mike Lum got on. Henry got up and Montesfusco threw a slider, down and away, his best pitch, And Henry went boom, and hit it out of the ballpark. He got back to the dugout and said, "Maybe that'll teach this kid a little humility."
Read the whole thing.
Doing my Rob Neyer impression, here is the only possible game that Johnson could be referring to -- the only time Aaron faced Montefusco. The only big error that Johnson makes is the baserunners -- Aaron hit his homer in the top of the 2nd with the bases empty. And Ralph Garr didn't play that day.
Doc is the ultimate what-might-have-been, and it cuts both ways. Maybe if the Mets had put him on pitch counts, he'd have had the career of Roger Clemens or Randy Johnson. But it's also possible his demons would have caught up with him before he'd really had success, and the Mets would never have won anything. I think pitchers are kind of like racehorses - they are fragile, but when they are ready to run, you need to let them run.