Mon Apr 20 07:00pm EDT
Former Mets pitcher Dwight Gooden has been described as many things over the years, but "graffiti artist" has never been one of them.
Until today, that is.
In a wormy controversy that could only have been born and put to rest in the Big Apple on the same day, Doc and the Mets squared off after the team said it would erase an autograph that Gooden signed on a Citi Field bar wall on Opening Day at the new ballpark last Monday.
However, Gooden ultimately prevailed when the Mets bowed to fan pressure and agreed on Monday night to move the signature to a more prominent place in the stadium and invite other Mets to sign the wall, too.
The compromise capped off a mini-uproar that played out over an afternoon that saw Gooden, the Mets and New York fans attempt to hold their ground.
Here's how the tabloid-fueled day started: The team, shocked that someone would desecrate the walls of the "Ebbets Club," were looking at Gooden as no more than a modern-day Jean-Michel Basquiat. It quickly said that it would remove the "Dwight Gooden 84 R.O.Y. 85 Cy Young, 86 W.S. Champs" inscription by the next homestand so that no fans would think it was OK to follow Gooden's suit and add their own signatures to the walls.
"It's a brand-new building," Jay Horwitz, the Mets' VP of media relations told the New York Post on Monday morning. "No one is supposed to write on the wall. It's going to be erased."
But by mid-afternoon, Gooden was pointing out that he wasn't quite the Sharpie-wielding maniac as some might have thought. He said he was invited to sign the blank wall by a worker at the bar and that many of the fans surrounding him really enjoyed the moment.
So what was the big deal, asked Doc?
"One of the guys that worked there asked me to sign one of the walls, so I did it. It wasn't like I was walking around with a Sharpie in my pocket," Gooden told the Daily News on Monday. "They asked me to sign the wall as a favor, as something for the fans to see. I was in there watching batting practice and they had fans taking pictures with me by my signature and I thought it was a fun idea.
"I definitely didn't think it was going to turn out to be this big deal. I didn't do anything intentionally for the Mets to get upset. I was just doing it for the fans. I don't see what the big fuss is. Honestly, I don't."
Yes, it was a pretty silly argument, but it was one that resonated among Mets fans, mainly because fans and media have recently criticized the new Citi Field for not paying enough tribute to the team's proud past.
And that's why the arguments started to pour in and the fans started to apply the pressure that would ultimately cause the team to crack.
Among the cases:
• Mets Today believed that Gooden's John Hancock should stay because of the above reason.
• Hot Foot thought this was a pretty poor way to treat a player who had only recently been welcomed back into the Mets' fold.
• MetsBlog proposed that a different section should be designated for player autographs if they wanted to keep the Ebbets Club pristine. (Interestingly, this is the plan the Mets ended up adopting. Who said bloggers aren't influential?)
Meanwhile, Walkoff Walk thought this was simply a preventive measure to make sure that Mookie Wilson would never be afforded the same privilege as Gooden.
Honestly, I can't believe a debate over whether or not a club for high rollers at Citi Field should be turned into a baseball version of Gino's East — the Chicago pizza joint that allows its patrons to draw on its walls — created this big of a fuss. Only in New York, right?
But that doesn't mean I wasn't amused by the bitter reaction by the fans or ultimately pleased by the Mets finally listening to their fans and one of their greatest players.
For once, at least.