Ray Negron's Playball Weekly Blog

How do you mend a broken heart, especially when it’s the Boss’s

In 1984 Dwight Doc Gooden was the National League rookie of the year. He was 19 years old and already had become the face of the Mets. Every time he pitched it seemed like an extra 20 thousand fans showed up at Shea Stadium.

In the Bronx George Steinbrenner watched what this phenomenon was doing in Flushing with amazement. At one time Gooden was pitching in a game at the same time that the Yankees were playing their game. He had his television tuned into WOR channel 9, the Mets station. After watching a few innings he turned to his guests and said the last time I saw someone with this kind of ability and excitement was Ron Guidry in 1978.

After the season ended Dwight Gooden was catching a flight to go back to Tampa Florida. He was sitting in the back row of the first class section. All of a sudden he noticed George Steinbrenner walk on the plane. He saw the Boss sit in the first row of first class. Doc was young but was very aware of Mr. Steinbrenner and all that the Boss had accomplished in the game. Doc was also aware of the many philanthropic deeds that the Boss had done in Tampa, Docs home town.

Doc actually wanted to get up and go say hi to him but Doc was still painfully shy.

At that moment an elderly African American woman walked on the plane. The Boss reached out to her and said hello. There was just something about this lady that made Mr. Steinbrenner feel sorry for her. The Boss asked her to show him her ticket. At that moment he said to her that she was going to sit in his first-class seat. With the assistance of the flight attendant, he made sure that she was comfortable. At that moment he actually went and sat in her seat in the back of the plane.

When they landed Dwight finally got the courage to go up to the Boss and say hello. The Boss was actually excited to meet the Tampa boy wonder. Mr. Steinbrenner told him how proud he was of him and how wonderful he had become for the people of Tampa, especially the children. The Boss even told him not to be surprised that someday Doc would be a Yankee.

Doc not knowing the Boss made a mistake in his excitement in talking to him.

Doc said … Mr. Steinbrenner, I saw what you did for that lady on the plane. Before Doc could get out his next sentence the Boss said … Gooden, You didn’t see anything, you understand… then he walked away.

This turn of events shook Doc up. He wasn’t sure if he had done something wrong.

It would be eleven years before Doc would see the Boss again. This time it was to sign a contract with the Yankees, Pitch a no-hitter and win a World Championship. In the middle of all this Doc’s father, Dan would get very sick and Mr. Steinbrenner would go to the Hospital and hold Dan’s hand. Before Dan would die he asked the Boss through his tears to please take care of my son. The Boss told Dan that he would. I stood there and witnessed these three men cry. I cried too for different reasons. One because Dan was about to die. Two because I worried about Doc losing his best friend, mentor, and father. Three because I wished that the Boss would let people know just how incredible his heart was. I know it made me a better person and I always thought that if others in our society also witnessed his incredible benevolence, we would have a better world.

When Dan Gooden died Mr. Steinbrenner was with and stood by Doc’s side every step of the way.

When Doc went to the Cleveland Indians the Boss made me go with him and give him a report every couple of days. In 2000 When Doc was almost done with his career Mr. Steinbrenner signed Doc again and had him finish his last season with the World Champion Yankees. That season Doc was brought in to pitch a very crucial game at Shea Stadium against the Mets at the request of the Boss. Before the game, Joe Torre told Doc to just give him whatever he had left in his arm. Doc took this as a challenge from Torre and dug down deep to show him that Doc still had some fight left. He also didn’t want to let the Boss down after all the Boss had done for him. Well, he pitched a very courageous game and beat the Mets. The Boss was very proud of Gooden and happy that his baseball decision to pitch Gooden was dead on.

Ironically the Yanks would win the World Series at the end of the year at Shea Stadium.

After the season Mr. Steinbrenner asked Doc to retire and become a special assistant to him. Mr. Steinbrenner had a lot of plans for Doc however the demons returned and in turn, continuously kept getting in the way. However, that’s a story for another day.

I can only say that George Steinbrenner really care for Doc the way he cared for Thurman Munson. He truly loved them Ironically they broke his heart for different reasons.

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