The headline made me shake my head in sadness, unfortunately not for the first time — Dwight Gooden arrested for driving under the influence of drugs. To make matters worse, this time his 5-year-old son was in the car when he crashed into another car in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey Wednesday morning. Luckily no one was injured.
It took me back to that horrible day early in the 1994 season, perhaps the worst day for the Mets and their fans since they traded away Tom Seaver. I was working at a TV station at the time, so I got the news before everybody else. Someone in the newsroom shouted out, “Dwight Gooden tested positive for coke.” My head snapped around. “Gooden?!” I said, “Are you sure?” But it was true. He was suspended for 60 games. And when he kept failing drug tests, he was suspended for the rest of that year, as well as the entire 1995 season.
Gooden needed to find out more about rehabs and get himself treated if he wanted to get back in the game.
Gooden was the good one. This wasn’t supposed to happen to him. When he and his good pal Darryl Strawberry were running together, we asssumed Strawberry was the bad guy. After all, he was the loudmouth troublemaker. If Strawberry tested positive, no one would have been surprised (of course, he would also test positive, years later). But Gooden? The teen sensation who was on his way to Cooperstown?
Yes, Gooden had tested positive for cocaine that forced him to miss the first two months of the 1987 season. But we all thought that was a one-time, youthful indiscretion. Instead, we found out Gooden was not the superhuman he appeared to be when he was on the mound. We would also find out years later that oversleeping didn’t cause him to miss the parade following the 1986 World Series championship — it was a cocaine binge.
But that day in 1994 is burned into my memory because that was the day it all fell apart for Gooden and the Mets. We were all hoping he would make it back, but deep down I think we all knew his Mets career was over. It was also the end of an era for the Mets. Gooden was the last player left from the 1986 team. While we had to suffer through with the likes of Bobby Bonilla, Vince Coleman and Kevin McReynolds on those early 1990s teams, at least we had Gooden to watch. But suddenly he was gone. And the Mets were unwatchable.
Although Gooden wasn’t my favorite player (it was “bad guy” Strawberry), I identified with him starting with his rookie year. That’s because we were about the same age — the first player my age it make it big. I was always rooting for “old guys,” so it was nice to see someone my age on the field. Add to the fact that he was just so damned good and seemed like such a nice guy, it was impossible to root against him — impossible to think he might someday go down the wrong road.
But Gooden did indeed go down that road, and continues to. The sight of him in that orange prison jumpsuit is a sickening one, after all the joy he brought us while wearing the Mets orange and blue. We’re both old guys now, but I still root for him, hoping he can clean himself up and get back on the right road.