Like everyone else in the baseball community I was saddened by the terrible news of Yankee pitching great and outstanding pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre’s passing.
I first met Mel in 1973 during my first season as a Yankee batboy. It was my first day in that crazy clubhouse and I couldn’t help but notice that Mel acted more like a young college professor instead of a “Bronx Zoo” Yankee. He was just a very nice guy. The other thing that I noticed was how everyone gravitated to him.
What stood out to me about Mel was how prepared he was before every game. He was one of the coolest customers I have ever seen play in New York. Mel truly personified what a Yankee baseball player was at that time, along with Bobby Murcer, Thurman Munson and Roy White. Those guys gave us fans hope. They also made the Yankees fun during a tough, non-winning period in Yankee history.
When Mel’s baseball career came to a screeching halt because of a rotator cuff injury in 1974, he would become one of baseball’s all-time great pitching coaches, first for the Mets and later the Yankees.
While with the Mets he would tutor one of baseball’s great pitching staffs. During his tenure there he would have the opportunity to work with one of baseball’s all-time great phenoms, Dwight “Doc” Gooden.
Mel would become a second father to this very impressionable young man. The trust that they would develop for each other probably saved Gooden in more ways than one. Mel would work for other teams including the Houston Astros.
But when George Steinbrenner signed Gooden in the winter of 1995, he asked Doc if he were to pick his own pitching coach who would that be. Doc said with no hesitation “Mel Stottlemyre.” At that moment, the Boss told Arthur Richman, his head of public relations at the time, to call Mel. The rest is history.
It’s no coincidence that Gooden was able to rebound as beautifully as he did in that 1996 season that included a no-hitter at Yankee Stadium against Alex Rodriguez and the Seattle Mariners.
On Tuesday I called Doc, who was at Mets’ fantasy camp in Florida, and when he answered the phone he was crying. He said that there aren’t words to say how he feels. He said the last time he cried like this was when his mom died and before that it was in 2010 when Steinbrenner died. Speaking through his tears, Gooden noted how good it was that Hal Steinbrenner and the Steinbrenner family honored Mel at Yankee Stadium in 2015. It was probably the last true highlight of Mel’s life.
The Boss and Mel were my baseball fathers. Like your real parents, you just can’t replace these people because of the intense emotions that you go through with them while working in a very intense and demanding business in this extremely crazy world that we live in.
Dwight Gooden is very lucky because, during his worst moments, his baseball fathers showed him more love then anyone in his situation would’ve gotten from anybody else. People like Mel Stottlemyre are not that common in the business of baseball.
Like Doc Gooden there are a lot of former players with broken hearts. Players that, at one time or another, were touched by the kindness and generosity of Mel Stottlemyre. Just ask “Dr. K,” Dwight ‘Doc’ Gooden, if you don’t believe me.