It was spring training of 1996, and the Yankees had a former Cy Young Award winner pitching vs. the Philadelphia Phillies, who were putting a hurting on the pitcher. This was the third consecutive start that the pitcher, who was known as “Dr. K,” was getting pounded.
Yes, Dwight Gooden was having a horrible spring training. Many scouts were telling Yankees’ Owner, George Steinbrenner, that Gooden should probably be sent down or even released. One scout even told the Boss that it was a noble experiment on his part but he should give up before it becomes embarrassing.
The Boss went to his pitching guru, Billy Connors, and asked him ‘what should we do.’ Billy told the Boss that we should give him more time because Doc had not pitched in a year due to his suspension from baseball. One scout even recommended that the Boss make him a relief pitcher but the Boss had always been enamored with the legend of Doc Gooden and really believed that the good Doctor, as the Boss liked to call him, could come back.
The Boss literally willed Doc into pitching back to prominence. He had many one on one conversations with Gooden and when he had to, he scolded him like a father. Mr. Steinbrenner paid as much attention to Gooden as I had seen him show any player in all my years with the Boss. Doc once asked me does he take this much time with all the players and I responded by saying, only if he loves you.
I remember one time in 1996, Doc got hurt during a game and the first two people in the trainer’s room besides Gene Monahan was myself and Mr. Steinbrenner. I remember putting my hand on Doc’s leg and the Boss sarcastically saying, ‘I didn’t know you were a Doctor too, Negron.’ That was the only time Doc laughed. The Boss asked Doc how he felt and Gooden said it hurts when you make me laugh.
Well, as we all know David Cone suffered an aneurysm and Doc got into the rotation and on May 14 of that year Doc Gooden pitched a no-hitter. Gooden valiantly pitched that game for his dying father who was about to have open heart surgery. Even though the Boss wanted Doc to go home to be with his dad, Gooden wanted to pitch the game first. Doc just felt that it might be just the medicine that his father needed.
Well as we all know, 23 years ago today, Doc did pitch the no hitter. Rookie shortstop Derek Jeter caught the final out on a pop up that took forever to come down. Doc was carried off the field and the next morning when Doc walked into the hospital room, his biggest surprise was not that his Dad was lying there. It was that George Steinbrenner was sitting next to Dan Gooden with his hand on Dan. I think that this meant more to Doc than pitching the no hitter. I don’t know, I have never asked. I tried to keep that moment light by saying to Mr. Steinbrenner…….’Boss, I didn’t know you were a doctor also.’