Sooner or later, Matt Harvey or Zack Wheeler will throw a no-hitter, and one thing you can put your money on here and now is that either or both won’t be with the Mets when it happens. Or that, even if they’re still wearing orange and blue, I won’t be watching. Because that’s just how we roll.
That’s how it went with Seaver, that’s how it went with Cone. It’s the story of Scott and Nomo and Humber. And it’s the story of Ryan, Ryan, Ryan, Ryan, Ryan, Ryan and Ryan.
But, remarkably, it isn’t the story of Gooden.
Pull up a chair, kids, and I’ll tell you the tale about how I happened to be watching when Doc Gooden threw a no-hitter, and how it remains the only no-hitter I ever saw. And how, if I never see another, it was good enough.
And that’s because on the night Doc Gooden thew a no-hitter, I became The Greatest Dad in the World.
Flashback to May 14, 1996, and I’m sitting in the kitchen having dinner with Linda and our younger son, Ben, who is 11 years old. (Ben’s 17-year-old brother, Josh, is AWOL, out doing whatever high school juniors do in the middle of May.)
But Ben’s in the house, and I casually say to him over our meal . . .
Hey Ben! Dwight Gooden’s pitching for the Yanks tonight. Wanna watch? Maybe he’ll pitch a no-hitter.
Yeah, I said that.
But I didn’t really mean it, because by May 1996, Doc Gooden wasn’t half the pitcher he was with the Mets a decade earlier, when he went 24-4 with a ridiculous 1.53 ERA . . . when he won the Cy Young Award at the even more ridiculous age of 20 . . . when it was said you couldn’t hit him with an ironing board . . . when Mike Lupica speculated in the Daily News that he would easily win 400 games before his career ended . . . when Ron Cey, having struck out, stood in the batter’s box, took his helmet off his head, perched it on his bat and held it aloft as he walked back to the Cubs’ dugout, explaining that he had no chance to get a hit against this guy, so he might as well use the bat as a hat rack.
Back then, I set my VCR to record every game Gooden pitched, because there was no doubt that he WOULD throw a no-hitter, or two or three, and I would have it on tape to watch over and over.
But that was in 1985, the year Ben was born. Back then, Doc was the best pitcher I ever saw. But injuries and drugs took their toll over the decade that followed, and on May 14, 1996, I had no reasonable expectation that Doc still had the stuff to throw a no-hitter.
But the chance to sit on the living room couch and watch a ballgame with my son . . . That was priceless.
So I said, hey Ben, Dwight Gooden’s pitching for the Yanks tonight. Wanna watch? Maybe he’ll pitch a no-hitter.
Ben had to go to school in the morning, but he was willing, and he sat down to watch a couple of innings, until bedtime.
And so it was somewhere around the third inning that Linda came into the living room and announced, BEDTIME!
Only Doc hadn’t given up a hit yet. And Ben looked at me, and I said to Linda . . . Give it another inning or two.
And Linda came back after another inning or two, and she pronounced BEDTIME!!!, and Ben looked me, his eyes pleading, and I told Linda, give it another inning or two.
And then somewhere around the seventh inning, around 10 p.m., wayyyyyy past our fifth-grader’s bedtime, Linda come in again and said, very firmly this time . . . BEN!!!!! BEDTIME!!!!!!!
And Ben looked at me again, his eyes begging for a reprieve, and he and I had both history and baseball juju on our side, and that’s when I turned to Linda and said . . .
Linda, don’t you know about the No-Hitter Rule? (I’m putting that in caps, because it’s a seriously important rule.)
And Linda looked at me all WTF, long before they invented the word WTF, and Ben looked at me like I’d told him a lot of baseball rules, like you don’t bunt with two strikes and you don’t try to steal third with two outs, but I’d never told him about a No-Hitter Rule.
And then I proclaimed, in all caps . . .
NOBODY GOES TO BED DURING A NO-HITTER!
And Ben looked at me like I was God!
And for that fleeting moment, I was.
Ben stayed till the very end. He didn’t leave the couch until we’d seen the Yankees carry Doc off the field on their shoulders. I may never quite get over the fact that he did it in pinstripes, but he did it just the same. And I was watching.
And to this day, I’m betting Ben can tell you where he was and how it came about that he saw Doc Gooden pitch a no-hitter.
And I’m sure Ben was the yawniest kid in fifth grade on May 15, but I’ll also tell you there’s nothing he was too tired to learn in school that day that was more important than our time together the night before.
If I never see another no-hitter, that’s OK. The one Doc Gooden pitched was perfect.
— 30 —