You had to be around back then to believe it.

Dwight “Doc” Gooden was one of those pitching prodigies that comes along about once every half century, if that.

Today we celebrate phenoms like Jackson Chourio and Jackson Holliday who accomplish the almost unthinkable feat of making the major leagues at age 20. By age 20, Gooden, having already led the league in strikeouts with 276 as a teenager, rose to become the best player in the bigs.

Those alive back then knew it anyway, but to be sure, I checked. Gooden — whose Mets No. 16 was retired in a nice and overdue ceremony Sunday — topped the majors at age 20 in 1985 with a 9.7 WAR, tied with Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson.

He was 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA. He was a phenomenon the likes of which this town had never seen. Or probably ever will see.

You’d probably have to go back 70-plus years to find a 20-year-old in New York who was even a great All-Star (Mickey Mantle was, in 1952). At 20 Gooden was Cy Young, unanimously.

Doc dominated like no 20-year-old. He wasn’t merely an All-Star. He was all-time great. What’s more, his outings were an event. Gooden games were must-see.

Gooden’s former rotation mate and current SNY and MLBN broadcaster Ron Darling recalled that in those days as the Mets’ second pitcher — a “distant second,” Darling said, honestly — he charted the previous night’s pitcher. And that Gooden was so off-the-charts good that it bore no relation to anything he was about to do.

“The only thing I can compare it to is like in Little League, occasionally you get the kid that’s almost shaving, that’s better than everyone else, that strikes everyone out. That’s what he was like,” Darling recalled. “He was just bigger, stronger, better. No one had a chance.”

The other thing that was different was the time. When Gooden made the majors at 19, even the Mets’ front office planned the usual Class-A to Double-A to Triple-A progression until the spring of 1984 when savant-like manager Davey Johnson told general manager Joe McIlvaine the kid was ready.

Gooden treated Class-A hitters the year before like toddlers, whiffing exactly 300. But it wasn’t like it is now when media members are dedicated to minors and even amateurs. And honestly, the teams sometimes didn’t know what they had.

“Nobody knew about Dwight Gooden until he made the team,” Darling recalled. “There was an innocence about ballplayers then. Players came out of the cornfields. They came out of Tampa. They could be 19 years old.”

At least Doc could anyway. Darling didn’t recall other baseball players who compared, but instead conjured Yo-Yo Ma and Bobby Orr.

When they did give him his shot, it was quickly clear Gooden needed another league. He was that good.

“Those first two years are the best first two years anyone’s ever had,” Darling said.

Which bring us, sadly, to what happened next. And give Gooden credit. He faces up to it. He was the first to bring up the “off the field” stuff that diverted him from the Hall of Fame and career all-time great status.

And give him this, too. He deals with the loss as best anyone could. When I asked if he thinks about what might have been, he recalled that playing on the Tampa sandlots with his nephew Gary Sheffield, they didn’t think like that. Gooden recalled they dreamt of making it to the majors, of having a nice career and maybe winning a World Series.

Regrets are for fans. Gooden missed the 1986 World Series parade because he was on a bender, not that anyone knew the reason at the time. He was addicted. Soon he was in and out of Smithers. Eventually, he was arrested multiple times.

He’s in a good place now, which makes everyone who knows him happy, and relieved. He lives a middle-class life in Glen Cove, L.I. By all accounts he’s a great family man with seven kids and eight grandkids.

He’s sober today. He’s a guy who’s been to the mountaintop and spent many a night at the nadir of the valley. But today, he’s comfortable and content as a regular suburban dad, rich only in memories.

He made it through that wild youth, which might be among his biggest accomplishments. The 1980s were a crazy time, teammates recall. Both he and Darryl Strawberry are lovely guys who battled demons and came out OK. They aren’t Hall of Famers, but they memorably made their mark.

Gooden said he forgave himself for missing the parade. And very likely, everything else. If anyone is disappointed, it isn’t Gooden.

“These are expectations that other have … I’ve gotta be thankful for the things I did accomplish. I can’t worry about things that didn’t happen,” Gooden said in answer to my question about what might have been.

“Not to blow smoke, but I won just about every award a pitcher can win,” he said. “I won the World Series with both New York teams, [had] my number retired … got inducted into the Negro League Hall of Fame. I have a lot to be thankful for.”

And with that, folks applauded.

Gooden days never did disappoint.

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