Just because Dwight Gooden understands the reasons for the universal designated hitter doesn’t mean he has to like it.
He realizes pitching has changed a whole lot since he dominated in 1985, but this latest step — this year’s DH rule in the National League, expected to extend to the foreseeable future — sometimes feels like a step too far.
“In my time, myself, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez and all those guys, we took it seriously — our hitting, bunting,” said Gooden, who hit .226 with nine RBIs in his Cy Young Award season with the Mets. (As a comparison, he drove in nearly one-fifth of the earned runs he allowed that year.)
“We were working on that stuff constantly. When we were on the road, we’d go to the ballpark early and work on those things. I hate to see it in the National League, because now there’s nothing to separate the leagues. I liked the National League rules before that because it’s more strategy — pinch hitting for the pitcher or the double-switch, different things. Now everything is back to the basics.”
But though it’s tough to see change in a sport you love, Gooden has seen the landscape shift dramatically from the year he threw 143 pitches while striking out 16 Giants on Aug. 20, 1985.
There’s more concern in protecting pitchers, and understandably so, he said, considering injuries to guys like Chien-Ming Wang in 2008 and Masahiro Tanaka in 2018. Both were unused to running the bases and both were significantly hurt while doing so.
The DH seems like a natural development — one that stems from strict pitch counts, ample rest and the slow extinction of the complete game.
“Pitchers are only allowed to basically throw 100 pitches or go five or six innings because they don’t want them to face the order the third time around,” said Gooden, who threw 68 complete games in his career. “I think it’s a bit too much, personally . . . Our goal was to finish the game. You want to finish the game or at least go to the seventh or eighth inning. I don’t blame the pitchers or what the organizations are doing, but these guys are going five, six innings, and that’s a quality start.”
As for that other rule — starting runners on second base to begin extra innings — the less said about that, the better.
“That, to me," he said, "is Little League stuff.”