Padre Fans Will Miss the Mets’ Gooden, but the Padres Won’t


Dwight Gooden might take some early batting practice, because he fancies himself a fanciful hitter. He will shag flies and run in the outfield and maybe throw a few pitches on the sidelines. He may even sign a few autographs.

And then he will take a seat on the bench and do a three-day impersonation of a season-ticket holder.

This will be his weekend in San Diego, essentially a paid vacation for one.


Of course, this is disappointing for baseball fans hereabouts, because this 21-year-old right-hander is already a legend before his prime. They perceive that an opportunity to watch Mr. Gooden is almost like a trip to Cooperstown, or at least a sneak preview of a future resident of that village’s main attraction.

The telephone started ringing last week--both in the Padres’ offices and newspaper offices.

“Which game,” the callers asked, “will Dwight Gooden be pitching?”

At first, it was too early to tell. It all depended on the New York Mets’ starting rotation and maybe the weather in San Francisco. Alas, he pitched Thursday against the Giants, thereby arriving in San Diego for a respite between starts.

And so the Padres would be facing Sid Fernandez Friday night, Bruce Berenyi tonight and Bob Ojeda Sunday afternoon.

But not Dwight Gooden.

“Damn,” lamented one caller, sounding deprived. “He didn’t pitch here last year, either.”

Gooden’s absence this weekend will also affect ticket sales. Padre officials estimated that a Gooden start would have attracted 5,000 to 10,000 more than the average crowd at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.

“Dwight Gooden’s a great pitcher,” Padre outfielder Marvell Wynne said, “and he brings in fans. Fans probably want to see him more than others. . . .”

And who might those “others” be?

A guess would be that Padre fans are a lot more interested in seeing Gooden pitch than the Padres themselves might be. To a hitter, missing Gooden is like missing a tornado or a car wreck or a weekend with the in-laws. Facing this young man is an exercise is swinging at sound rather than sight, and nothing is uglier than a pitch that cannot be seen.

Wynne, for example, is 0 for 15 with five strikeouts against Gooden. He had thought he was maybe 2 for 10, but that was wishful thinking.

“I guess he owns me,” Wynne said. “I was the one he struck out to break the rookie strikeout record two years ago in Shea Stadium.”

Was the ball removed from play?

“Naw,” Wynne said.

It was as if even then there was an understanding that this guy would break so many records that it was ridiculous to start accumulating souvenir baseballs. Gooden likely took that ball and used it for yet another strikeout.

If Wynne feels “owned” by Gooden, he should hardly feel alone. An examination of the Elias Baseball Analyst produces a rather interesting “lineup” of hitters who would do well to feign a touch of flu on days when Gooden confronts them.

An All-Flu team would include (statistics through 1985) catcher Mike Fitzgerald, .000 for 5; first baseman Steve Braun, .000 for 8; second baseman Davey Lopes, .000 for 7; shortstop Dave Concepcion, .000 for 8; third baseman Jim Morrison, .000 for 6; and outfielders Jeff (Jeffrey now, Jeff then) Leonard, .000 for 8; Dale Murphy, .000 for 7; and Wynne, .000 for 15. That’s a total of 0 for 64--with 34 strikeouts.

Some batters actually seem to be able to hit the guy. Steve Garvey, for example, is lifetime .412. He may well be as disappointed as the fans that he doesn’t get to swing against Mr. Gooden.

In fact, though the Padres are 2-3 against Gooden, he has a rather modest 3.53 lifetime earned-run average against them. Maybe they should all be disappointed that he is not working here.

“Actually,” Graig Nettles said, “it’s fun facing power pitchers. It’s good, old-fashioned hardball. There’s nothing tricky when you’re facing a Gooden or a (Nolan) Ryan.”

Nettles, a good, old-fashioned fastball hitter, is batting .143 against Gooden. However, one of his two hits was a good, old-fashioned fastball that disappeared over a fence. Nothing tricky about that swing.

Tony Gwynn, lifetime .125 against Gooden, does not believe that the Padres will be on vacation this weekend just because Gooden is.

“It’s not going to be easier just because Mr. Gooden isn’t pitching,” Gwynn said. “Everybody feels Gooden’s the best, but they’ve got five quality starters. Heck, I’d rather face Gooden than Sid Fernandez.”

Manager Steve Boros was sitting in his office, a copy of Scholastic Coach on a refrigerator nearby. Dwight Gooden’s picture was on the cover.

It was suggested that Boros would rather see Gooden on a cover than on the mound.

“I notice on the stats here that the Mets lead the National League in earned-run average,” Boros said. “Even if we miss Gooden, we’re not getting any bargains.”

Indeed, Dwight Gooden is simply the most renowned of the Mets’ pitchers, partially because of electric performances and partially because of charismatic personality. He is the one fans pray to see and batters pray to hit. But he is not the Mets’ only starting pitcher.

It only seems that way.