Mets retire Dwight Gooden’s No. 16, provide long-awaited closure for franchise legend

Dwight Gooden Mets jersey retirement
Dwight Gooden during his jersey retirement ceremony (Lloyd Mitchell/AMNY)

QUEENS, N.Y. — Dwight Gooden’s road to Sunday’s ceremony at Citi Field to retire his No. 16 jersey has been anything but easily traveled. But the New York Mets icon’s path to recovery both physically and emotionally has been predicated on self-forgiveness.

Now 59 years old, Gooden once electrified the majors as a 19-year-old when he won the 1984 Rookie of the Year and as a 20-year-old in 1985, winning the pitching Triple Crown and Cy Young Award with a 24-4 record, 1.53 ERA, and 268 strikeouts. The following year, he anchored a club that won a World Series title. But a career on a Hall-of-Fame trajectory derailed by substance abuse issues, which was something that plagued him long after his playing days were over.

“I forgive myself for that,” Gooden began. “That’s a thing I struggled with for a long time because that’s something that happened that you can’t re-do… It kept me sick for a long time but I had to get to a place where I could forgive myself and move on from that. I have done that.

“I just think about where I’m at today, being healthy mentally and physically, and having my friends and family here to celebrate with me.”

Dwight Gooden jersey retirement
Dwight Gooden’s No. 16 after being unveiled on Sunday afternoon at Citi Field. (Lloyd Mitchell/AMNY)

That is what Sunday’s festivities were all about. This was not Gooden simply becoming just the seventh player in Mets history to have his number retired. It was a chance to celebrate his 11-year career in Queens and a chance for him to thank a fan base that stuck with him throughout his struggles, which was something he never thought would happen after he was released by the team in 1994 — and called them about a reunion unsuccessfully in 1997, 1999, and 2000.

“I never thought I’d get the opportunity to thank them since 1994,” Gooden said. “Just to make it right because you don’t want it to end the way it ended. I understand the business type and the Mets had to cut ties, it was nothing personal, but I always looked back and just wanted to let them know how I felt about them and how much I appreciated them, and what they meant to me.

“The things I did on the field, I thought I always had a chance but unfortunately, the struggles I had off the field probably diminished that and I thought it probably wouldn’t happen.”

Photo: Lloyd Mitchell/AMNY

Flanked by old teammates, including Darryl Strawberry, Howard Johnson, Mookie Wilson, Keith Hernandez, and Sandra Carter — the wife of the late Gary Carter — Gooden’s complicated past was seemingly reconciled in just a few minutes. 

He held back tears when he spoke of his parents’ support, he beamed when he spoke of his sobriety, which has held strong for the better part of the last half-decade, and regaled in stories of the days when he was king of New York. Those stories were not always the easiest to bring up for the man who can now fully live up to one of his old monikers, “The Good Doctor.”

“I had to take a step back and look at my expectations and say, ‘Well, I gotta be thankful for the things that I did accomplish and not worry about the things that didn’t happen,'” Gooden said. “Not to blow smoke, but I won just about every award a man could win. I won the World Series with both New York teams. Now I get my number retired… I have nothing to be ashamed of in my career. This is a celebration and I’m very proud of what I accomplished.”

For more on Dwight Gooden and the Mets, visit AMNY.com

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