Dwight “Doc” Gooden – A Tragic Hero of Gotham City.
By Danielle McCartan (@CoachMcCartan)
YANKEE STADIUM, NY- Hundreds of fans, clutching sentimental memorabilia anxiously awaited Dwight Gooden’s arrival to suite 7, the “Mantle Suite”, at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, August 6, 2016. The private, VIP event, organized by Mint Pros and J.Irwin Productions, featured many other Yankees legends, but, judging by the line (which spanned the length of 4 suites), the fans were there to see Doc. Hours later, when every, single person received an autograph from Gooden, he candidly spoke to me about a variety of different topics: from his rookie year to his current state.
Due to the recent release of ESPN’s 30 For 30: Doc and Darryl, Gooden is experiencing a resurgence in popularity, not only among the fans who have seen him pitch, but with the younger generation of fans who have not had that opportunity.
The moving documentary chronicles the lives of Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, two tragic heroes whose fate is forever intertwined. From their rise to stardom on the World Series champion 1986 Mets team, stints in drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, and a second chance with George Steinbrenner’s Yankees, the lives of Doc and Darryl will forever be synonymous with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. As 30 For 30 closely chronicles, after leading all of Major League Baseball in strikeouts as a 19-year-old rookie, Gooden, began a life-long struggle with drug addiction. Gooden’s reaction to the ESPN special:
I thought they did good with everything that took place. I claim it. I did do that. But [I think] the positive stuff they could’ve shown a little bit more. . . I’m doing things different now.
Now, Gooden spends his time talking about baseball and about life at speaking engagements for high school and college athletes:”I love kids, that’s my passion”.
As a nineteen year-old rookie, Gooden lead the entire Major League Baseball in strikeouts. His dominance on the mound propelled him to superstardom in and around the game of baseball. This larger-than-life achievements must have weighed him down with an immense amount of pressure. He told me: “Its a lot of pressure in comin’ up and doin’ that and I give a lot of credit to the fans. There’s no better feelin’ than pitching at Shea Stadium and the crowd starts clapping with two strikes. Like you said, as a 19 year old and doing that, now I think I appreciate it a little more”.
Although Gooden’s rise to superstardom came via the New York Mets, in 1996, George Steinbrenner offered him, after exiting rehabilitation, a second chance. “George was awesome. [He] was like a second dad to me. He gave me an opportunity to redraw my career and to do it here in New York, it was great. . . . I was coming back from a suspension and the Mets wanted to cut ties, which, I completely understand. And I remember meeting with George, the first time I met with him, we didn’t even talk baseball, we just talked about what are you doin’ off the field. The next day we talked and he said ‘I want you to be with the Yankees, stay out of trouble, and I think you’ll be fine’. Just given an opportunity, goes a long ways.” Once on the Yankees, Gooden was instrumental in bringing Strawberry, who was playing independent baseball, to the team in 1996. Both men greatly contributed to the Yankees’ 1996 World Series championship and to the beginning of the Yankee Dynasty.
Steinbrenner, known for his cutthroat, strictly- business approach to baseball also had a softer side. Gooden told me: “Another side of George: and I’ll never forget, when my dad was sick . . . he took off time to come to the hospital and to spend an hour with me and my dad. I [even] get choked up now.”
When I asked Gooden how his career would have been different under the microscope of the ever-present social media, with a smile, he replied: “In a way, I’m glad they didn’t have social media in the 80’s. On the other hand, I think it would have been a little different. I think I would have made better decisions. Most importantly, I just need to be honest with myself and a lot of the time, I didn’t [inaudible] more to reach out for help”.
With a career as successful as his, but plagued by so much extracurricular controversy in the form of drug and alcohol addiction, I asked Gooden if he ever thought about ‘what if’ he didn’t go down that road and what ‘could have been’ if he didn’t.
Many times and that’s a great question. What’s funny is: thinking that it could have been different . . . those are the things that kept me sick because of the guilt and the shame and all of that , but once I was incarcerated in ’06 I had a chance to relive my life and I thought about: when I was a kid, my only dream was to make the big leagues. I won every award . . . I won 3 World Series. So I said: Who am I to beat myself up?
Gooden, who still talks with “a lot of those guys. . . Keith and Ronny and Bob Ojeda. . .” Says “it’s always great to catch up- make sure everybody is healthy making sure the kids are doing well. Once you win a championship with somebody, he’s never your ‘ex-teammate’, he’s always your teammate”.
In 2010, Gooden was enshrined in the Mets Hall of Fame, but he still feels the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown should be calling him. “Me, personally, I think I should be in the Hall of Fame”.
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