On Monday, November 16, 1964, in a hospital in Tampa, Florida, Dwight Eugene Gooden was born to Dan and Ella May Gooden; a steel worker and health care professional, respectfully. Unbeknownst to the couple, they had just given life to a son that would go onto have a meteoric rise in the sport of professional baseball. Doc or Dr. K, which are both names he is affectionately called by fans and players alike, due in part to his boyish good looks and his charming smile, but most importantly his dominating and electric pitching, would be showered with adulation while capturing the hearts and minds of those who followed the New York Mets, as well as baseball fans in general. Sadly, Gooden would also become proficient at breaking hearts, not only of the fans who idolized him, but of his family, who by and large loved him and wanted to see him succeed. The reason for the scorn was the direct result of his use of, and his infatuation with cocaine, which began to seemingly consume his every waking hour off of the baseball diamond.
His addiction got so out of hand, virtually from the first moment he used the substance, that he failed to make an appearance at a moment that should have been one of his proudest as a professional athlete, the 1986 World Series ticker-tape parade down New York’s Canyon of Heroes celebrating the improbable come from behind victory by the Mets against the Boston Red Sox. Gooden, however, after calling his father to share in the joy of being a World Series champion, next phoned his drug dealer, and once he left Shea Stadium, home of the newly crowned champions, wound up spending the remainder of the evening, and well into the next morning, in a seedy housing project where he did shots of vodka, and snorted his way through his celebration.
The events of the aforementioned evening were a far cry from where he started on April 7, 1984, when at not even twenty years of age Gooden broke into the big leagues. In addition to a number of other accolades that Gooden received throughout his career, especially during his first few years, was the Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year Award in 1983, The Rookie of the Year Award in 1984, the prestigious Cy Young Award in 1985 (which is given to the best pitcher during the regular season in both the American and National League), and the Triple Crown of Pitching in 1985, which is awarded to the pitcher who leads his league in wins, strikeouts, and earned run average. In 1985 Gooden accumulated a spectacular 24 – 4 wins to loss record, amassed 268 strikeouts and had an earned run average of 1.53. In addition, during his first year in the big leagues, he became one of only three teenagers to ever be named to baseball’s All Star game, known as the Midsummer Classic, which was played on July 10, 1984 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. The other two players who have received that honor are Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians in 1938, and Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals in 2012. But, on the night the Mets won the series, and on numerous subsequent occasions, the unrelenting call of the white powder so charmed the man with the million dollar arm that he allowed it to thwart his talent and gave into its numbing properties. In so doing, Gooden ultimately cut his career short, while also severely diminishing what were once phenomenal chances that he would be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Published on June 4, 2013 by New Harvest, the 304 page “DOC” A Memoir co-written by Gooden, and best selling author, New York Newsday newspaper columnist, and television commentator, Ellis Henican, goes beyond just a run-of-the mill story about the career of a professional athlete. Instead, it is a quick, page turner that is both raw and relentless, sparing no embarrassing or unsavory detail. The now dedicated father of seven writes about the countless occasions that he thought he had finally defeated his demons of alcohol and cocaine use to the point where he no longer needed to abuse either, only to learn, with each inevitable relapse, that nothing could have been further from the truth.
In addition, to his struggles with addictions, he writes about his time in prison and rehab facilities, his miserable attempt at being a husband and father in his younger days, his phony suicide attempt, and the relationship he thought he had with another former Mets superstar, Darryl Strawberry. According to Gooden, the two men have no relationship at all now; they are cordial when in each others company, but that is the extent of things. But, Gooden also speaks about the individuals who tried to help along the way, for example, the late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who always was willing to give Doc second and third chances to attempt to get his life headed in the right direction. During 1996 and 1997 he had a two year stint pitching for the Yankees. On May 14, 1996, Gooden pitched a gutsy no hitter, the only one of his career, as his father, who was in poor health, was watching from his hospital bed in Florida. After the game, Gooden flew to Florida and gave the ball that constituted the final out to his father, the man who had encouraged his baseball from the time Dwight had been a youngster.
Happily, at least for the time being, Gooden has been clean for more than two years now. A journey to becoming a whole person began with the breakthrough he made when he appeared on VHH1’s Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew Pinsky:
“How could you not like Dwight Gooden? There is no way. His disease took so much from him. He lost everything. And in spite of that, he is having this glorious recovery. He understands what’s really important in life – your family, your relationships, getting right with God, doing what you need to. He gets that now. It makes his story that much more tragic – and that much more inspiring.”
Dr. Drew Pinsky
One of the important teaching moments of the book, that hopefully is able to speak to someone in a similar situation, or someone who knows an individual struggling with addiction, is that no matter how many times drugs and the like messed with Gooden’s life, he refused to give up on living. He realized somewhere deep within himself, that regardless of whatever booze or drug haze he was lost in at that given moment, that he needed to change his self-destructive behavior and get his life on the straight and narrow. Gooden’s autobiography is nothing, if not a testimonial to never giving up, no matter how bleak the odds for success look.