TAMPA, Fla. -- Displaying the poise and ease and grace with which he dominated hitters at the start of his career, Dwight Gooden announced his retirement Friday at Legends Field. The aging, star-crossed pitcher stepped down rather than forcing the Yankees to release him.
"It's a sad and enjoyable day for myself," said Gooden, 36. "I've enjoyed a great career. It's been a joyous ride. I have no complaints."
Gooden learned Thursday night the Yankees were not planning to keep him on the 25-man roster, and there seemed to be a mutual lack of interest in Gooden playing for Triple-A Columbus. So he telephoned George Steinbrenner, who saved him from the scrap heap last year, to see if there might be one more favor. The Boss renewed a promise to create a job for him in the organization, making Gooden's decision easier.
Gooden might have retired anyway. He was awful in spring training, going 0-1 with a 7.90 ERA in six games less than a year after everybody else in baseball gave up on him. "I said last year this would be the last uniform I would wear, and that time has come,' he said. "I'm looking forward to starting my second career: spending time with my kids.'
Gooden had a 194-112 record. He had said it was important to him to reach 200 wins, noting he might not have tried to pitch at all this season if he had already surpassed the milestone.
Gooden was competing with Darrell Einertson for the final spot on the 11-man staff. Einertson won the job, but an MRI uncovered a rotator cuff problem and he went on the disabled list, leaving the final spot for Carlos Almanzar, acquired from the Padres this week.
When he first broke in with the Mets, it would have seemed absurd to believe Gooden would be facing such a plight, getting edged out by the Darrell Einertsons and Carlos Almanzars of the sport. Gooden had a 17-9 record and won the NL Rookie of the Year award in 1984 and went 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA at the age of 20 in 1985, becoming the youngest player to win the Cy Young Award.
But he hurt his shoulder in 1989, made trips to the DL three times in a four-year period and also was suspended for the 1995 season because of drug problems. "When you've been spoiled with pitching at a certain level, it's kind of tough to accept the way things have gone for yourself," Gooden said.
There probably was no player in spring training anywhere who could claim more regrets than Gooden, who, in pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre's opinion, should have Roger Clemens' statistics. Gooden says he will not be wistful.
"When I came to this conclusion, I decided I wouldn't say what-ifs'," he said. "I'd look back to all the great things that happened in my career, to all the great people I've met in my career."
He signed with the Yankees last June 11 after being released by Tampa Bay and went 4-2 in 18 games, including a 4-2 win over the Mets at Shea on July 8 in the first game of the interborough, day-night doubleheader. "What a way to finish last year, coming back to New York to get a ring," Gooden said.
He also won World Series rings with the Yankees in 1996 and the Mets in 1986, and had a no-hitter for the Yankees against Seattle in 1996. Sandy Koufax once said Gooden could be the greatest pitcher ever, but Gooden recognizes he long ago squandered his Hall of Fame chances. "I think I've had a great career," he said. "I wouldn't trade it in for anything."
Gooden said he doesn't want to be remembered for any of his individual achievements. He wants his baseball epitaph to be simple. "I would say a guy that never gave up," Gooden said. "Every time I pitched, I gave my all both on and off the field."
Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service
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