By Joe Rini
A few weeks ago, there were sad dueling headlines across the various New York news outlets as Darryl Strawberry and the family of Dwight Gooden publicly pleaded for Gooden to seek treatment for drug addiction as Gooden denied their allegations.
Is Gooden still abusing drugs? I don’t know. I don’t know him. I saw him when the Mets honored the 1986 Mets on May 28 and even chatted with him briefly and he didn’t look well to me. I photographed him while he spoke to another reporter and he looked a little too thin and his face drawn. Was that the condition of an active user or someone wearing the effects of past destruction? I couldn’t say.
Prior to the 1986 Mets being honored on the field, members of the press were able to interview the various players in the media room. For someone like myself who was such a fan of those Mets, it was a treat to chat with Davey Johnson, Jesse Orosco, and Wally Backman. In fact, even before asking Davey and Jesse any questions, I took off my journalism hat and put on my fan hat and thanked them for winning the World Series. They were grateful for the comments and I had good chats with each of them.
As the interview period was ending, I saw Gooden was available and decided to ask him a couple of quick questions as he was leaving the room. I have to say that I never enjoyed watching a baseball player perform as much as I enjoyed watching the Gooden of 1984 and 1985 and I made a point of telling that to him. He didn’t really react much to the comment but I’m sure I’m not the first person to tell him that. I asked what it was like to be pitching so well in 1984 and 1985 at such a young age in such an exciting city and he said it was “living the dream.”
It wasn’t the most insightful answer but to be fair, it wasn’t the deepest question either. The press session was ending and he seemed eager to leave, so I contented myself with my interviews with Davey, Wally, and Jesse. I later had a friendly encounter with Ray Knight at the elevator and mentioned speaking to the four of these people in my article. I didn’t mention speaking to Gooden.
When one thinks of Gooden and even Strawberry, rather than celebrating their greatness, they’re the cautionary tales of “what might have been” and “how they should’ve made the Hall of Fame” and they won “only” one world series championship.
As I read the recent stories about Gooden, I thought about how hard it must be to reminded everyday of your failure to meet the world’s expectations, to have your life reduced to a series of “yes, but he should’ve…”
Then I remembered my own “compliment” to him when I said I never enjoyed watching a player as much as him in 1984 and 1985. Was I also saying, “Yes, but you weren’t as good in 1986, 1987…and I didn’t really enjoy watching you play as much in those years. Boy those other years were great. You should’ve been a Hall of Famer.” Maybe that’s why he didn’t react so much.
All of us have our failures, the moments when we disappointed ourselves and our loved ones. Like a wound, it can heal, we can try to forget it, but there’s always that faint scar reminding us of it. But what about Dwight Gooden, and others whose failures are there for all to see and to always be reminded of them by others, even the ones who think they’re complimenting you. As I read these recent articles about Gooden, I thought about what if I had asked him, “What’s it really like to always be reminded of how you squandered your talent as a pitcher?” I don’t know what his answer would’ve been, but I’m sure it would not have been, “living the dream.”