In case you haven’t heard, Mel Stottlemyre—former Yankee pitcher, former Mets and Yankee pitching coach—died today of cancer. He was 77, and a very, very, very good man.
And I was thinking that, perhaps, I long owed Mel an apology. See, back in 2003 my book about the 1986 Mets, “The Bad Guys Won,” was released. Because he was the pitching coach of that outstanding young staff, Mel is regularly evoked in the pages. He worked extensively with Ron Darling, with Bobby Ojeda, with Sid Fernandez, with Rick Aguilera, and helped mold those young men into one of the great all-time staffs.
Oh, there was also Dwight Gooden.
Mel spent a ton of time with Doc. Helped with his control, with his composure, with his mound IQ. But, back in the day (and in my book), Mel was blamed for trying to convince Gooden to learn how to throw a slider—and how to use it. That was heading into the 1986 season, and the results, well, they weren’t tremendous. Gooden’s stats (17-6, 2.84 ERA) look good on paper, but he wasn’t the dominant pitcher of 1984 and 1985. He was very human and one could correctly argue that both Ojeda and Darling were better starters for New York during the ’86 title run.
Mel Stottlemyre caught some grief for this. Why change perfect? Why mess with artistry? And, looking back, it’s bullshit. Dwight Gooden wasn’t reduced because he tried throwing more sliders. No, he was reduced because he was an alcoholic and a drug addict in the early stages of a life-destroying addiction to cocaine. He was using, and using a lot. Hell, the fact that he went 17-6 with a 2.84 ERA is a credit to Mel Stottlemyre, not a jab.
So, to the late, wonderful Mel Stottlemyre, a nod of appreciation.
You did wonders.