June 25, 2004, on this blog: NBA should draft mentors
The NBA, in other words, has just invested millions of dollars and the hopes and futures of many of its franchises, in a bunch of teenagers.
Much talk today in the sports world of the “risks” these teams are taking by drafting players so young. The teams, many are saying, are “gambling” on these kids. I’d suggest that it’s possible for these teams to mitigate some of that risk. And I’d insist that it’s their obligation when gambling on these kids not to also gamble with these kids.
For a look at the perils and possibilities of a team investing in talented teenagers, consider the New York Mets’ two young superstars of the 1980s, Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. The arrival of those two players as teenagers was the most exciting thing to happen to the franchise in more than a decade. They were a joy to watch and the team started winning — winning more than 100 games on its way to a World Championship in 1986. Gooden and Strawberry, both still underage, drank champagne in the locker room.Strawberry was a five-tool player with the prettiest swing you ever saw. Doctor K retired hitters in a way that made them consider a permanent retirement.
Mets fans, people by nature inclined to expect failure, began to dream of a dynasty built around these still very young phenoms.
But that didn’t happen. What happened instead was the baseball equivalent of an episode of Behind the Music. The Mets took a pair of talented teenagers, brought them to New York City and gave them each more money than they had ever seen or imagined. The not-so-surprising result was a tragedy for both the players and the team.