Thursday, August 25, 2005

Don't Be Like The Doc

Doc Gooden
Originally uploaded by wonderbread74.
Meteoric Rise of Seattle Righty Similar To Gooden

The idea of the young pitching prodigy is one of baseball's most alluring features. The myth of the diamond in the rough was satirized so masterfully by George Plimpton in the pages of Sports Illustrated with the story of Sidd Finch, an oddball pitcher the New York Mets' camp with no baseball experience and capable of throwing 200 mph by using the Tibetan art of controlling the mind and body.

The rare occurrence of the young phemom who is able to step up to the Big Leagues and dominate older, more experienced players is what sets baseball apart from others sports and most of the job market.

Imagine a 20 year old clockmaking apprentice being able to produce instruments better than a 30 year master. What about of young college student with more knowledge than a 60 year old scholar with a Ph.d. It doesnt' happen everywhere but baseball.

Seattle's Felix Hernandez is baseball's newest phenom. A 19-year-old Venezuelan fireballer with a 98 mph heater and the changeup of a ten year vet. Hernandez has set the the baseball world on fire in just four starts.

Hernandez, like Pittsburgh Zach Duke and Oakland's Huston Street are just a few of the gallant young studs to reach the mantle of youthful greatness, but like the mystic hurler, Sidd Finch, who was but the imagination of Plimpton, there is a downside to baseball's magical anointing. His name is Dwight Gooden.

Gooden, once known as "Doctor K", finally turned himself in today to the Tampa Police after fleeing from a police officer who pulled him over on suspicion of drunken driving. Gooden was also wanted for striking his girlfriend a few months past.

If there is ever a cautionary tale for youthful greatness, Gooden is the story.

Twenty years ago today, he won his twentieth game of the season for the Mets at the age of 20. Long and slender with a high leg kick, the flamethrowing Gooden unleashed a torrent of wicked stuff at hitters with every pitch. Until, maybe Hernandez this year, there hasn't been a more dominant pitcher not of drinking age in Major League history.

At the age of 26, Gooden's career record stood at 132-53 with a miraculous winning percentage of .714. After the 1993 season his golden arm began to meltdown. The loss of his main weapon on the mound rendered Gooden a couple different pitcher and one who became mortal. Coupled with the poor health of his arm and the rampant drug use in the Mets' clubhouse when he first broke into the Majors and his subsequent addiction to drugs and alcohol, the storyboard for a nasty fall from glory was set.

All the cheers and notoriety that pervaded his fast-paced life in the 80's is now an unwanted glare of lights on his current troubles.

Plimpton's Sidd Finch ultimately shunned signing with the Mets because his Tibetan teachings called for an honest and balanced lifestyle.

Will Felix Hernandez, holed up in an apartment far from home, with little grasp of the english language, be able to control his mind and choices from what is bad like he can with a 3-2 fastball on the outside black? If he doesn't, when the cheering has subsided, the jeers will emerge from the inside of the county jail.

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