In July, 1962, I spent a week with my aunt, uncle, and cousins in their Monroe, New York home. As a 12 year old, I found this to be a wonderful time, and I enjoyed every minute of it. By far, the best part of the week was travelling to New York City for a New York Yankees doubleheader with the Boston Red Sox.
I had never seen the Yankees in person before.
Seeing Yogi Berra, Bobby Richardson, Clete Boyer and others play was beyond incredible.
Seeing Mickey Mantle play was one hundred levels greater.
For those not of age to see Mickey, I will try to explain. Men, all men who lived within 50 miles of New York City, absolutely idolized Mickey Mantle. He was a complete, total God. With his golden hair, country boy good looks, blacksmith forearms and incredibly broad back, he made an incredible impression.
Years later, I came to find out that women also felt the same way about Mickey, and he took advantage of the hundreds of offers for female companionship.
When Mickey came to bat in the first inning, the crowd became electric. I could not believe the intensity of the reaction. And Mickey did not let us down. He hit a monstrous home run to right center field off Red Sox pitcher Earl Wilson.
Now, as I mentioned, the teams were playing a doubleheader, and Mickey played both games (something that probably would not happen today). For the rest of Mickey’s at bats, always met with great adulation, he struck out. So he homered once and struck out about six times.
But for me, it did not matter…he could have struck out fifty times. I had gotten to see my hero play, and as it turned out, this was the only time I saw him play in person.
Twenty two years later, I witnessed a similar situation. I was on a first date with a young lady, and our destination was Shea Stadium in New York City.
We had plans to see the New York Mets play, and the pitcher that night for the Mets was rookie right hander Dwight (Doc) Gooden.
Usually, on a first date, I was focused on making a good first impression, and that was the case for a short while that night.
But my attention toward her was replaced with an intense level of attention toward pitcher Dwight Gooden. Never, NEVER have I seen a baseball performance by any player of any age that matched this nineteen year old.
Gooden struck out Los Angeles Dodger after Dodger, a total of fourteen in all. But he didn’t just strike them out…the Dodgers actually backed out of the batters box to get away from the incredibly fast pitches that Gooden was throwing.
As with Mickey Mantle, the crowd was absolutely electric. Many sportswriters claimed that Dwight Gooden was the BEST young pitcher in the history of major league baseball!
Tragically, Gooden’s career peaked within a year or two. Like Mantle, Gooden had substance abuse issues (cocaine for him, alcohol for Mantle), but Gooden’s issues destroyed his career.
What looked to be a surefire Hall of Fame career turned out to be a brief affair with incredible greatness. Subsequent years saw Gooden spending far more time in jail than on a pitchers mound.
Gooden and Mantle had something in common. Both had enormous talent, and both dealt with the demons of substance abuse.
Mantle was able to overcome his demons to the point that he had a very successful Hall of Fame career.
I have this to say about both of them…..I will never forget my first personal experience with both of them.