During Spring Training of 1996, the Yankees had a former Cy Young Award winner pitching against the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Phillies were putting a hurting on that pitcher.
This was the third consecutive start that the pitcher, known as Dr. K, was getting pounded.
Yes Dwight Gooden had a horrible Spring Training that year.
Many scouts were telling New York Yankees Boss George Steinbrenner that he 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 sought his advice.
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 him.
When he had to, he scolded him like a father scolds his son.
He devoted as much attention on Gooden as I had seen him devote to any player in all of my years with the Boss. Doc once asked me if he takes this much time with all the players and I responded by saying, "Only if he loves you."
I remember on one occasion, in 1996, Doc got hurt during a game and the first two people in the trainer’s room, besides Gene Monahan, were me and Mr. Steinbrenner.
I remember putting my hand on Docs leg and the Boss sarcastically saying, "I didn’t know you was a Doctor too Negron."
That was the only time Doc laughed.
The Boss asked Doc how he felt.
Gooden said it hurts when you make me laugh.
Well as we all know David Cone suffered an aneurism 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 felt that it might be just the medicine that his father needed.
Well as we all know, 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."
Ray Negron is a sports executive with over 40 years of experience in baseball. His first job came from a chance encounter with George Steinbrenner as a youth. He has become an American film producer, a best-selling author, and a philanthropist. His memoir is entitled, "Yankee Miracles: Life with the Boss and the Bronx Bombers." For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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