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The Curveball King

Doc, A Memoir; Dwight Gooden

By Earl Perkins | published Monday, September 16, 2013|
Thursday Review Associate Editor

They called Him Doc.

God gave Dwight Gooden more talent than almost any athlete on the face of the Earth. Anyone who ever saw him pitch in his early days knew he was on the short list of those headed for the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

He grew up on the tough streets of Tampa, where he was the best when it came to throwing a baseball. The young Gooden had a wicked fastball that blew past every batter, and a physics-defying curveball that made batters weak in the knees. Tampa's Belmont Heights Little League had incredible talent, but Gooden stood out even there, carving up batters like a surgeon—hence the nickname Doc.

"Time to operate, Doc!" they used to cheer from the stands.

He was drafted into the minor leagues in 1982 and had a short stint in the Carolina League with the Lynchburg Mets, but he didn't stay long in the minors. Still in his teens, the New York Mets drafted him in the first round of the 1984 Major League Baseball Draft. Named Rookie of the Year in 1984 as a 19-year-old, he was a Cy Young Award winner the following year.

He pitched the Mets into the World Series, then, helped them win it all in game 7. Gooden then made two telephone calls—one to his father and the other to his drug dealer. He spiraled downward in a cocaine binge so bad he missed the following day's ticker-tape parade thrown for the team in New York City.

There are certainly some extremely interesting and happy moments in Gooden's latest book, but it's mostly lessons on how not to live your life. Entitled Doc, A Memoir (New Harvest, 2013) its co-written with Newsday columnist Ellis Hellican. On a side note, “co-written” is usually a euphemism for a famous person blabbing into a microphone until they can't talk anymore. Then publisher tells editor to hurry up; editor yells at writer, and it trickles downhill; writer attempts to make sense of it all, finally slapping whatever makes it past spellcheck between two covers. Then, there comes the obligatory book tour, where you can get your picture taken with a guy who used to be somebody. Then please sign here so I can sell the picture later on e-Bay.

All this would have been unnecessary if the subject could have just not broken the law and not placed himself in constant proximity to other lawbreakers. It all comes down to money. People want to be well liked, and everybody likes rich and famous people.

And this book has it all, with Gooden freely admitting this was his first book where he really told the truth. What about the other two, Dwight?

His life is mostly the story of squandered potential and millions of dollars wasted on partying. The Mets would probably have won several championships if their meal ticket could have outrun his demons. Alcohol, strip clubs and cocaine were all that interested Gooden.

"Clearly, I've always been ripe for addiction," he wrote. "My whole life whenever I had something I liked, I wanted more of it—way more of it—even if having more was a terrible idea."

His comeback started on "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew (Pinsky)" a VH-1 reality show that aired in 2011. The cast included Amy Fisher (the Long Island Lolita), Lindsay Lohan's father and former Baywatch actor Jeremy Jackson.

"I have to regain people's confidence in their own slow time, he writes. "Everybody has a right to doubt me, whether it's family, friends, fans, everyone. They have a right to watch and see how I'm different this time. And I'm proud to say I've been showing them. I'll let my actions do my speaking. Time will take care of the rest."

He's also not very good with words, because that sounds so self-serving, and putting the onus on everybody else. The sad part is he's been showing them who he is for the better part of three decades, certainly not worrying about anyone but himself. When you live the life he has lived, you've destroyed the life of just about everybody you've crossed paths with. Now that your health and money are all gone, now's a good time to worry about your legacy and future. The ship has pretty much sailed on true happiness for the Doc and anyone associated with him. Most all of them are dead, broken down or just old in heart and spirit.

Still, the book ought to be required reading for all young people, because many folks coming up today act like they're invincible and will be forever young. Society, media and the tabloid press worship this fantasy, and everyone just seems to go along with the program. I am here to tell you to maximize whatever talent you have, and invest your time and money wisely. You are who you associate with, and you'll eventually pay the price for bad choices.

Many men want the hottest and youngest woman they can find, while women are looking for a handsome man who offers future security. All else is considered secondary. Now that you've stopped screaming about that statement, read two newspapers every day for a week, then come back and tell me what you see: crime, mental and physical abuse, unhappiness and every other ugly and bitter thing that exists in the world. People seem to spend more time picking out a cellphone or vegetables than they do studying how they will spend the remainder of their life.

Gooden had everything anyone could ask for: money, talent, adoration and an extremely bright future. He admits he made horrible decisions. What kind of decisions will you make?