Yesterday’s news about Dwight Gooden has brought out a lot of old photographs of Doctor K, but this one is the one I like the best. Two young stars, their potential seemingly limitless — 1985 All-Star! — clowning around after a game in some wood-paneled office at Shea Stadium that still had NFL helmets on display years after the Jets had moved to New Jersey.
That shirt on Doc brings back a memory for me. His endorsement with Nike was the first time I ever associated an athlete with a company, but it wasn’t from this photo. It was from one like this one to the right, only hundreds of times bigger and hanging off the side of a building in Midtown Manhattan. New Jersey Mets fans may remember it well: A giant image of Gooden, arm cocked, foot driving, the Nike logo and swoosh in a corner, affixed to the western side of a building and visible to pretty much anyone gazing out the windows as they emerged from the Lincoln Tunnel. People winding up the ramp into the Port Authority Bus Terminal parking deck got a closer look, but that wasn’t necessary to notice the thing. It was huge. Billboards are made to be larger than life, but putting Gooden on that one made him into the city’s Paul Bunyan. A true giant.
Unfortunately, the only images I have of it are in my head. I never really had a chance to get a picture of it, because my first camera — the cheap and perfect-for-kids Kodak Disc (I was probably influenced by the commercial) — wouldn’t have been able to handle shooting from behind the window of a moving car, and it wasn’t until the past four years that I found myself any further west in Manhattan than that exit to the tunnel, and with all the changes in New York, that building itself may not even be standing, let alone any monster billboards of the city’s biggest sports star that may be occupying the space. Gooden, it seems, came down shortly after his drug suspension in 1994, though if I took note of its disappearance at the time, I didn’t keep the memory for long.
A photo of that billboard — not a reproduction of the particular image, but an actual photo of that billboard on that building — may be the holy grail from my first years as a Mets fan. I recently came across one discovery when I uncovered the two ticket stubs to my first Mets games. I always knew that my family went to two one summer, one of which was on a brutally hot and muggy New York night, and the opponents were the Reds (I remember Pete Rose) and the Cubs (the blue jerseys). However, I was under the impression that both games were in 1985. Upon finding the stubs, I learned that they were from that dominating year, 1986.
That was truly a year in which everything came together, stars and planets included. The talent was undeniable and it should’ve carried over into another division title in 1987, if not another World Series win before the ’80s were out. It just wasn’t in the cards.