Saturday, February 25, 2006

Remembering Doc ..... But on this day, the music died

Matt Cerrone brings the link to another story about Dwight Gooden. A book by Dayn Perry is excerpted on Baseball Prospectus . The book is titled, "Winners: How Good Baseball Teams Become Great Ones (And its not the way you think). Within, Perry dedicates an entire chapter to Gooden's career. I found Perry's work to be thorough and even handed, and recommend you take a look.
Having said that, I must say I'll always be saddened by his legacy and how it's perceived as I knew Gooden. And knew him well.
Gooden was a rather simple and normal kid. On the outside, you could easily see he was a nice kid from a loving family. And I really believe to this day he is much the same. In the early years around the clubhouse he seemed most at ease with the clubhouse kids. Clear contemporaries by age, he treated them as equals indulging in their pranks and horseplay. It was genuine the affection he had for people. His love for food like a growing kid was well known and he liked to show off the little dives around the league he could find for eating to Steve Garland, Jay Horwitz, bullpen catcher, Rob Drumerhauser and me. He exuded class was gracious and a gentleman. These traits I'm certain he's not lost.
But I suppose its a bit of piling on the have written about this day that occured during spring training in 1987. It will be included with revesions in my upcoming book by the same title as this blog. There are many days that can be called the day the music died for the 1986 Mets and this was the first.

April 1, 1987 Huggins-Stengall Field

The morning clubhouse was still buzzing from yesterday's debut of a young righthander that we got from the Kansas City Royals for Rick Anderson and Ed Hearn. David Cone pitched three innings against the Cardinals, allowed only two singles, no runs, no walks and struck out five. One of Cone's victim's had been Jack Clark, who he struck out when he dropped down and threw sidearm. Hernandez had been almost giddy, expressing with glee that The White Rat now had a new headache. We were going down to Bradenton that day to play the Pirates. Steve was going to take the trip, because he knew of my apprehension of riding over the flimsy Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
Bullpen Coach, Vern Hoscheit liked to be in charge of when we left on the bus, saying to be on it or under it at the designated time of departure. He'd left Steve and me before, and in his zealousness actually once left Frank Cashen. As people put on gray pants and blue tops for the game, word came from Cashen to hold the bus. No big deal. Maybe we made another trade or something. But a few minutes later, instructions came to clear
the clubhouse of all the media and it became obvious that something was wrong. After a few minutes, everyone realized what it was. Doc Gooden was not there.
Doc had briefly entered the clubhouse and his keys still laid on the bench in front if his locker. No one really said much as everyone kind of just puttered around the clubhouse waiting for some kind of word. I met Mazzilli just outside the doubledoors in a shaded area by the field. He told me "I think Doc's going on a little vacation."
* * *

Doc had agreed in his contract to undergo drug testing and just a few days before had submitted to one. He could have said no, or maybe he thought he'd been clean at the time, but just maybe, as Tom McKenna said, "It was a cry for help". Tommy had collected the fateful urine specimen for the club.
I will always remember the deathly silence and stoic faces of everyone when Frank Cashen gathered everyone together in the clubhouse to tell them the news and that he would undergo rehabilitation at The Smithers Institute in New York. Cashen had sat on it for two days while he informed ownership. Gooden's presence meant more than people realized. Doc had unique people skills and easily forged relationships with everyone he encountered from the youngest clubhouse kid to the most important front office person. An easy laugh and warm smile seemed to always to be there. The 22 year-old Gooden was still more affectionately known for his love of food and things a normal young person would. But those days were now over. The Mets could not protect him as they had done in his early years. A world of innocence would now be replaced by a cruel, cold and lonely public battle with substance abuse. And it would tragically always be part of his story.

* * *

Trouble had started to enter Gooden's life during the last few years in his hometown of Tampa and actually had made noise about moving to New York to get away from it. He overslept and missed the ticker-tape parade, and there had been rumors about cocaine use so he agreed to the testing to try to end them. However, when he was arrested in December after the World Series with four friends in a confrontation with police, it became clear that Doc wasn't surrounding himself with good people. This contrasted sharply to the the love and presence of a strong mother and father. We lost Doc until June 5th when we were in 4th place, 6 games back.

* * *

Legendary comedian Danny Kaye visited the clubhouse in San Francisco in 1985. A huge baseball fan, he sought out Gooden and visited with him for several minutes. Dwight was very respectful and gracious with Kaye and seemed to enjoy the conversation. He smiled warmly and shook his hand when they parted and walked into
the training room and asked me, "Who was that, anyway ?"
Only six years separate Gooden and me, yet I knew who Kaye was. However, in my early twenties, I was still at Florida State drinking beer and trying to meet girls. Gooden was a big league baseball star from a tough part of Tampa, Florida. He was famous, had money and had experimented with cocaine-something I had never even dreamed of. Here I was the one who was innocent and naive. I was as shocked as anyone was when Doc tested positive for cocaine as I thought that baseball just meant everything and could not understand how anyone would jeopardize it.

* * *

I had not been a good spring. Only two days before, Roger McDowell's wife Karen was awakened by her husband who had gotten up complaining of intense pain in his left groin area. She drove him to the hospital and Fiske Warren was summoned from his hotel at 4:30 AM to check him out. A small hernia had been detected by Dr. John Olichney in February, but it had been thought to be inconsequential. People walk around with hernias all the time. They gave Roger an injection and it quieted it down, but the decision was made the next morning to go ahead and get it fixed. We didn't want it to flare up again in September. Roger and Karen flew to New York the next day. Losing McDowell was like losing an everyday player. He wouldn't return until May 14th when we were in 5th place, 4 1/2 games back.


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