Chrisforliberty's Blog

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What might have been

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While I am solidly a football fan these days and aspire to be a football coach, I decided a year ago that I would keep my options open in regards to coaching and/or teaching opportunities.

I still grab the occasional baseball game and I also enjoy watching college basketball (I’ve not cared for the NBA since Michael Jordan retired), women’s softball and volleyball. I even like ladies mud wrestling although some would beg to differ as to whether that is a sport.

Being a Mets fan back in the 1980’s-early 90’s, those were the good ole days for me. I grew up on Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Howard Johnson, etc… Gooden and Strawberry were Hall of Fame talents in their day. Sadly, it was not to be.  I was also a big fan of the Reds and A’s during that time. I liked Chris Sabo, Dale Murphy, John Franco, Mark McGwire, Don Mattingly, Nolan Ryan to name a few. I could name the entire rosters of all the teams and stats of all the players. I enjoyed the movies “Major League” and “Field of Dreams”.

I fell out of interest with baseball to a large degree during my college years as many of these players retired or moved on in some other capacity. They just don’t make em like they used to. I also think many people will agree with me that Bud Selig is bar none the worst of commissioners ever in any sport.

I’ve also had the chance to tune into some Little League World Series games this week. Potentially, there would be some future major league baseball players in the making. This makes me keep in mind some lessons of the past in how to deal with some of the issues baseball/softball players would face and that I would have to keep in mind as a coach/manager.  Dwight Gooden is one example that I chosen to focus on, but by no means the only example.

While it has been commented that perhaps drug use or being unable to deal with fame at a young age have been cited as the reasons why his career went downhill after 1990, I think that is only part of the story.  Some background would suffice. I had played t-ball and baseball (although not exactly a great player) on and off from the time I was six until 13. Somehow even then, I was aware that at that age, it is not a good idea to have pitchers working too many innings or throwing too many breaking/curve balls.  Why was it that Dwight Gooden injured his arm at age 24? Whereas Nolan Ryan was still going strong at 42 and never had a big injury as best as I can tell.  Part of the reason is that muscle fibers and tendons in the arms are not fully developed until one’s mid 20’s.

Nolan Ryan was drafted by the New York Mets in 1965 and basically struggled with his control much of his career. He didn’t really start to develop into one of the better pitchers until he was with the California Angels. While his won-loss record and bases on balls left something to be desired, he was making up for it with strikeouts and being able to go the distance time and time again. He would play for 27 seasons. Also noticeable when compared to Dwight Gooden was that he didn’t throw a lot of innings until he was 25.

Gooden did not play ball his first two years of high school, but was the star in his final two years at Hillsborough High in Tampa, Florida.  His raw power attracted major league scouts from all over the country.  At the age of 17, Gooden was the fifth player chosen in the 1982 MLB draft by the New York Mets. Gooden spent a year in the minors beginning in the Rookie Appalachian League in Kingsport, Tennessee and finishing up Triple A ball in Tidewater, Virginia. After the 1983 season, Gooden had struck out 300 batters in 191 innings and posted a 19-4 record.

In 1984, he was the youngest player in the National League (NL) and became the first rookie to lead the league in strikeouts. Against the Dodgers, Gooden established a new single- game rookie strikeout record with 14. Then  he was named to the All-Star team. Gooden finished the season with a 17-9 record and a 2.60 Earned Run Average (ERA). He recorded 15 double-figure strikeout games and broke the rookie strikeout record with 276 Ks in only 218 innings. Gooden finished second in the NL Cy Young Award vote and was named the NL Rookie of the Year. He received 23 of the 24 first place votes to become the youngest player ever to win this honor.

In 1985 Gooden had one of the finest seasons in major league history. In the off-season he added a change-up to his curveball and blazing fastball. By the All-Star break he was 13-3 with a 1.68 ERA; by the end of the year he finished with a 24-4 record, 268 strikeouts in 276 innings and a 1.53 ERA. Gooden led the league in all three categories and was the unanimous choice for the NL Cy Young Award. He became the youngest player to ever win Cy Young Award. Since that time, only two major league pitchers have pitched as many innings as Gooden did (Charlie Hough and Roger Clemens in 1987). The difference was Hough was 39 and Roger Clemens was 24-25.

Gooden would go on to win the 1986 World Series (one of the best in my opinion) and had a few more good seasons after that.

But trouble was lurking underneath the surface.  While the drinking which began when he was a teenager and some legal troubles are fairly well known in baseball circles, overlooked by just about everyone was the number of innings he pitched between the ages of 19-25.

He did return to form in 1990, but after a second arm injury in 1991, he was never the same.

So if I was to ever become a baseball/softball manager, one issue among others that I would need to pay attention to is making sure that pitchers and catchers are icing the hands, elbows,  shoulders and knees after the games if not during the games. The other main issue is making sure they are not overworked. Dwight Gooden’s success at an early age blinded many people to this fact.  Nolan Ryan’s lack of success at an early age eventually set him up for a Hall of Fame career of which Gooden and Darryl Strawberry would be if things had turned out differently.

Written by chrisforliberty

August 21, 2010 at 9:54 pm

Posted in General

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