Every once in a while, Dwight Gooden pops up in the news and fans like myself are again drawn into a baseball story filled with romanticism, tragedy, and intrigue…
To some, Dwight Gooden represents the epitome of failure for throwing away a career and a life paved with ease and fortunes beyond what most of us could ever expect. All for the lure of some white powder that only demanded more – and more. For these folks, they no longer want to hear of anything to do with Doc Gooden.
Still, others wish to wrap him in their arms like a puppy who lost his way. They point to Dwight Gooden’s blackness and the environment he grew up in – asking – what did you think would happen to him when he found riches and fame?
And to drive the point home further, they ask the same of Gooden’s buddy, Darryl Strawberry, who grew up fighting off the demons of gangs and drugs in the crime-infested part of Los Angeles known as Compton.
Everyone misses the real point, though, which is that Dwight Gooden is only a man. And as we know, man is not infallible.
And for anyone who was alive and breathing in the decade of the Eighties, across America, cocaine was the drug of choice for millions of citizens, and most especially in the white suburbs surrounding the inner cities.
Many of us, including this writer and my white middle-class circle of friends at the time, “experimented” with cocaine. It was everywhere, and it was also in the clubhouse of the New York Mets. The story goes that it was Keith Hernadez who introduced the substance to his teammates.
Hernandez himself, the (believable) tale says, was traded from the Cardinals to the Mets to avoid having their clubhouse infested with the drug. Later, Hernandez would admit to “using massive amounts of cocaine” during this period.
Fireballs with the energy needs of the Energizer Bunny like a Lenny Dykstra jumped in quickly, the first of many bad choices he would make that led him to prison. Gooden and Strawberry, presumably, felt like they were home and on the streets again, instead of a major league clubhouse. To make matters worse, the Mets rolled over the opposition in 1984, finishing second with 90 wins. With the Yankees floundering at the time, the Mets were the toast of New York City.
Much like Mickey Mantle in his alcoholic heyday, there was nowhere in New York City Mantle could go to buy himself a drink, as fans and bartenders lined up to tell their friends later – I bought The Mick a drink last night.
For the rest of us, cocaine easily lost its lure, and we found ourselves thinking, the hell with this, moving on with our wallets a bit fatter and our nasal passages intact.
For Dwight Gooden, the road forward has been a bit bumpier, even including an incident in August 2016 when Strawberry staged an “intervention” on Gooden’s behalf, telling the whole world that Gooden was so frail he looked like he was dying.
A man of immense pride, Dwight Gooden refused, until recently, to even speak with Strawberry.
As we said, man is not infallible. And that’s why for me, the Dwight Gooden I choose to remember is the pitcher who was nearly infallible in 1985, winning the Cy Young and finishing with an astonishing 25-4 record. But that’s only half of it as he threw 276 innings, completed sixteen – sixteen! – of his starts, finishing the year with a minuscule 1.58 ERA.
And yes, he threw it all away. But who among us has never done the same thing, only in a different way? Perhaps missing the chance to pursue a relationship that would have changed the course of our lives. Or maybe a career that was thrown aside that promised a future we never realized. At the same time, though, there can be redemption for all of us.
Andy Clayton, writing in the New York Daily News, caught up with Dwight Gooden recently, and the unfolding story is a good one.
Gooden will be pitching to men and women attending the Mets Fantasy Camp in a few weeks. Following that, he’ll stay in Port St. Lucie as a special guest of the Mets, mentoring and working with some of their younger pitchers.
Dwight Gooden, a Baseball Story of the kind we’ve never seen before.
And oh yes, like Springsteen said, he “could throw that speedball by ya, make you look like a fool” (Video).