1983 TCMA Lynchburg Mets Dwight Gooden a Myth Solidified

It has been said we most desire those things we know we cannot have.

If that’s the case, then the mythical Dwight Gooden rookie card just may have been the most lusted-after hunk of nothing ever to have haunted collector dreams during the summer of 1984.

That’s the year, you might remember, when Gooden made the New York Mets’ Opening Day roster, jumping all the way from his 1983 home with the Single-A Lynchburg Mets to Flushing.

He was just 19 years old.

Most casual fans had no idea who he was.

That changed in a hurry, though, when Gooden struck out ten Montreal Expos in seven innings on April 25. He went double-digit Ks in his next game, too, and in three of his next five.

By June, Gooden’s record stood at 4-3, but he was lighting up National League hitters every time he took the mound, and the lowly Mets had a winning record and sat within a few games of first place in the old National League East.

Everywhere you went, including baseball card shows, people were talking about how Gooden and teammate Darryl Strawberry, the 1983 NL Rookie of the Year, were helping make New York a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

Why, Gooden might be the best young pitcher ever! Certainly right up there with Vida Blue more than a decade earlier. And Mark Fidrych and Fernando Valenzuela had nothing on the young right-hander.

We all wanted to get our hands on a Gooden rookie card.

Except … no such creature existed.

These were the days before draft pick cards and card companies rushing to get young prospects under tamper-proof wrappers. There might have been an exception here or there, but, generally, if you hadn’t made it to the Big Leagues, you hadn’t landed on a rookie card.

And so it was with Gooden, but this young man seemed even more elusive than your typical breakout star. In the rural climes where I lived, I heard about the phenom on the radio occasionally, saw his name creeping up the stats line in our Sunday sports section … but, by the time school was ready to start again, I had yet to lay eyes on Gooden.

No pictures, no TV clips (that I saw), no baseball cards.

That, too, would change in a hurry late that fall when both the Topps Traded and Fleer Update set featured the 1984 NL Rookie of the Year, but that Olympic summer passed without a Dwight sighting, and with much handwringing over the matter.

But … if only …

If only we’d had the internet back then, all that angst over missing out on the visuals of the greatest pitcher since pitching was invented could have evaporated in the heat of a mouse click.

Even better, if we’d had the internet, we might have had eBay or its equivalent, or online card stores.

And then, well, maybe I would have known about the 1983 TCMA Lynchburg Mets set that came out the year before.

You know, when Gooden was still an unknown, and even more baby-faced than in 1984.

And … when he was actually part of that Lynchburg set …

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Check prices on eBay (affiliate link)

Check prices on Amazon (affiliate link)

Sure, it’s a low-quality and somewhat cheesy black-and-white shot.

And, yes, the design looks like it was created in an early version of Photoshop or scanned-in construction paper.

But it’s a Dwight Gooden baseball card, goshdarnit, his first one. And his only minor league card.

And even all these years later, when we know Gooden didn’t become the best pitcher ever and likely didn’t live up to his baseball promise, this card still feels sort of magical.

Almost like we clicked through a portal to a simpler time, when we were wide-eyed to the possibilities the future held.

No one stoked those dreams of glory quite like Dwight Gooden.

Hobby Holiday Hots

If you want to see what hobby royalty looked like back at Christmas of 1984, look no further than this eBay lot:

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That’s a 1984 Topps Traded Tiffany set, featuring the shiniest, premiumest Dwight Gooden rookie card you ever did see — not to mention Pete Rose with the Expos, Dave Parker with the Reds, and all sorts of other “new” player-uniform combinations.

Check out the full listing here (affiliate link).

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