With the New York Mets hosting the 2103 All-Star game, it seems a natural to relive the team’s glory days. Maybe that’s why Dwight “Doc” Gooden decided to release his memoir at this time.
Gooden burst onto the baseball scene as one of the most promising pitchers in the long history of the sport. He won 17 games as a 19-year-old in 1984, striking out 276 batters in just 218 innings. These accomplishments netted him all kinds of accolades as well as the Rookie of the Year Award. The following year was even better: Gooden led the league in wins, strikeouts and earned run average --- the pitcher’s “Triple Crown” --- and earned the Cy Young Award, indicative of the best pitcher in the league.
In 1986, Gooden helped the Mets to a World Championship, which is where the troubles seemed to start. How often have we encountered a remarkable young ballplayer and pinned unreasonable expectations on him after just a couple of years? Skip the vote; just put him directly into the Hall of Fame.
"I often look at these mea culpae as a therapeutic exercise. It may be cathartic for the writer, but all it does for the readers is make them shake their heads and think about what might have been."
As many books like this will tell you, the subject has a “dark secret.” DOC begins with the pitcher ditching the celebratory parade to score cocaine. He rationalizes that he can do one more line and still get home in time for a few hours of sleep; do another line and just take a quick shower; just one more, just one more…
Although his statistics stayed at a high level for the next several seasons, he was certainly on a downward spiral of drug addiction. Stories about baseball per se are relatively lacking in his memoir --- written with the able assistance of Ellis Henican, a veteran New York columnist and TV political commentator --- and take a back seat to all the addiction issues. He discusses his early years with the Mets and final seasons with the Yankees, including his difficult decision over whether to visit his beloved (if flawed) father who was critically ill at the time, or take his regular turn on the mound, with remarkable results.
It will be up to the readers’ attitudes to decide whether his drug abuse qualifies as an illness, out of his control. If not, empathy might fly out the window as Gooden continually denies he has a problem to himself, his family and friends, his team, and his fans. He makes several attempts to get clean, most of which seem half-hearted at best; even in rehab, he was constantly planning his next score while mouthing the platitudes of recovery. You run out of patience after a while, wanting to believe him, but ultimately coming away disappointed. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me five or six times….
When all else seemed to fail, Gooden agreed to appear on a season of “Celebrity Rehab.” It was there he may have had the breakthrough to explain the “reason” behind his addiction. Then again, many people have been through troubled times without turning to drugs and alcohol as a refuge.
There is relatively little “dirt” in DOC. Although he refers to drug use and a few sexual encounters, he rarely involves other teammates and does not imbibe in gossip. The closest he comes is to describe his ambivalent relationship with teammate Darryl Strawberry. Many fans assumed they were close friends because they were both young Mets, arriving at the same time and leading the team in an exciting brand of baseball. According to Gooden, however, he was disenchanted with the power-hitting outfielder, claiming Strawberry threw him under the bus on several occasions.
One can’t help reading DOC without wondering the purpose behind the publication. I often look at these mea culpae as a therapeutic exercise. It may be cathartic for the writer, but all it does for the readers is make them shake their heads and think about what might have been.
Reviewed by Ron Kaplan on July 19, 2013