When Derek Jeter addressed his future on Wednesday in Tampa, he said that he wasn't one for thinking about his legacy until his playing days were done. Dwight Gooden was the same way, although it's safe to say that Jeter has done a better job of keeping his eyes on the days to come than Gooden did when he was still wearing spikes.
That's why Gooden is remembered as a guy who had the world in the palm of his hands but chose to snort it all away instead of honoring his talent in a way that would have made him the revered figure it looked like he'd become a couple of years into his career. The thing about legacies, though, is that they can always be rewritten long after the playing days are done and it looks like Gooden may yet have a shot at altering his.
The Mets have offered their fallen star a gig as a Spring Training advisor, a job he's turned down at the moment because his wife is nine months pregnant. Presumably that offer will remain open for future camps, though, and Gooden will also be welcomed into the fold at other points throughout the year. If that goes well, perhaps Gooden moves into a wider ranging role with the team that encompasses working with young players, public relations and the like as he moves from enfant terrible to elder statesman.
It's a good fit. After years of struggling to find a post-baseball life that works and keeps him out of jail, Gooden would be able to trade on both sides of his life experience to benefit others. The Mets would gain goodwill from the faction of their fan base that thinks they don't pay enough attention to their own history and their players could only stand to gain from lessons Gooden could impart about how quickly everything can disappear if you don't work to keep yourself at the top of your game.
Such rehabilitation projects are no new thing in baseball, of course. Unlike Mark McGwire's gig as hitting coach in St. Louis, say, Gooden would actually be honest when telling people not to follow his path because it cost them glory.
The job with the Mets isn't the only battleground on the legacy front for Gooden. The noted baseball historian, statistician and writer Bill James's new book, Gold Mine 2010, outlines a new way of comparing starting pitchers across history by assessing where they ranked among the best pitchers of their era on a season-by-season basis with bonus points for historically significant seasons. He goes on to establish a cutoff point for pitchers under Hall of Fame discussion.
The whole article is excerpted here, but the salient part is that Gooden finds himself on the right side of that line. That supports Neil Young's idea that it's better to burn out than fade away, but it works against the way Cooperstown voting has worked for most of its existence. James's ideas have a way of taking anchor in the baseball world so it's worth seeing if his new approach to evaluating starting pitchers do the same, especially since Gooden will have to wait to be considered as a Veterans candidate after falling off the regular ballot.
Add that to his off-field image repair and you have to ask if Gooden could find himself viewed very differently in 12 or 15 years than the way he's viewed now.