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Baseball's 'Doc' Gooden Pitches A Cautionary Tale

Mets phenom Dwight Gooden  pitches at New York's Shea Stadium on May 6, 1984.
Ray Stubblebine
Mets phenom Dwight Gooden pitches at New York's Shea Stadium on May 6, 1984.

For New York Mets fans, 1986 was a glorious year. The Mets won an epic seven-game World Series against the Boston Red Sox.

Millions turned out for a raucous parade through Lower Manhattan the next day. One man conspicuously absent from the celebrations was Dwight Gooden, the Mets' 21-year-old star pitcher, who had a blistering fastball and nasty curve.

Where was he? Not riding triumphantly through the Canyon of Heroes. He was alone in his apartment with the curtains closed — flattened after a sleepless night spent snorting cocaine and drinking in a sketchy housing project.

That's how Gooden's book, Doc: A Memoir, begins. The moment highlights a life and career of stunning highs and harrowing lows.

In 1985, Gooden said he felt almost like an "entertainer" out on the field with all the praise. But by 1986, the pressure became overwhelming.

"Unfortunately, in '86 is when the expectations became more than I could really handle. ... If I only had three strikeouts, the first question ... after the game [would be], 'What happened?' " he tells NPR's Melissa Block. "So my next game, I would go out there and try to get 10 strikeouts, pitch a complete game and pitch a shutout."

It was too much. He became addicted to cocaine and would go on three-day binges. "Luckily," he says, "my heart didn't explode."

"I still feel I'm here for a purpose, and that's part of the reason why I wanted to do this book," he says. "It's great therapy for myself, and to help others who might be going through similar situations that I went through or may have a family member or a friend that might be going through different situations."

Cocaine was only one on a list of transgressions: He spent time in prison and faced numerous charges. But Gooden says there's still a reason for old fans to retain their admiration of him.

"I'm being honest. I'm standing up, admitting my mistakes. It's on their time to forgive me or if they want to forgive me," he says. "Now it's not about me just talking about recovery, but actually living recovery and doing things to help others."

Gooden says that as of March, he's been sober for two years. But he has relapsed in the past. So why is it different now?

"I can't guarantee what's going to happen next week or next year. It's a lifelong commitment, and I'm in it now. I feel good about myself, at peace within myself," he says. "And the main thing is I don't carry any guilt and the shame that I had before that kept leading [me] back to ... self-destruction. You know, everything is great today and that's all I can guarantee is that I'm clean and sober today."

His own mother trusts him more than she did a year ago, Gooden says, but there's still a ways to go. She keeps his World Series rings locked up in a safe, after hearing stories about addicts pawning valuables for drugs. Gooden says she has "every right" to do so.

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