(Long Island, N.Y.) Being banished from the team you broke into the major leagues with was just another thing that the two former superstars shared. Their careers paralleled one another in some capacities, with the bad nearly outweighing the good.
Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden were mainstays on the mid-1980s Mets teams that should have won more than a single championship and their demons off the field have been viewed as a major contributor to that shortcoming. Both left under negative circumstances and only recently have been invited back into the fold, especially during 2008, the last year of Shea Stadium. .
Now it has come full circle with the announcement that the two former National League Rookie of the Year Award winners will be half of the latest class to be inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame, being named with their former manager (Davey Johnson) and general manager (Frank Cashen).
“This doesn’t make my day, it makes my year, 2010,” Strawberry said on a conference call with reporters. “There was no better time than wearing the Mets’ number 18.”
Strawberry further commented that his biggest regret was bolting for the Dodgers as a free agent after the 1990 season. Although he won multiple rings as a member of the Yankees, Straw never regained the power he had in Flushing and failed to hit 30 home runs after leaving the Mets.
Gooden also became a World Champion as a Yankee, but also knew where he felt most at home. “For me, I’ll always be a Met at heart,” he said. “I’ll always be connected to this group of guys.”
When Johnson was hired as manager, he was taking over a team that had been through some lean years, but had a young rightfielder who had just been named the Senior Circuit’s top rookie. He also brought a fireballing righthanded pitcher up north with him who would eventually win the same award in 1984. Cashen had put together a team of winning youngsters mixed with a few choice veterans that was in contention throughout the summer before bowing out to the Chicago Cubs.
A year later, the Mets and Cardinals went toe-to-toe before St. Louis outlasted them. But in 1986, the Mets put it all together and won 108 games during the regular season, en route to the World Series championship.
A shrewd GM in Cashen played a big part in keeping the core of the team together and filling in the loose ends the old fashioned way. “We never signed one free agent while I was there and we won more than anyone in that period,” said Johnson. “We kept developing players.”
The Mets were not the only club winning in the organization, which became a big part of the continuity throughout that period. “You don’t learn to win in the big leagues,” Cashen said. “You learn before that.”
All four of the men that will be a part of the new Hall of Fame that is set to open at Citi Field in April. They are the first to be named since Tommy Agee in 2002 and all together, there are 25 Mets who have received the honor.
And two of that group? Just a few years ago, it didn’t seem possible.