Smiles that never lasted, via Newsday
The inability to avert cocaine.
The challenge of halting marijuana and alcohol use.
The failure to fend off the attraction of a series of beautiful women.
These issues not only tarnished the outlook of two prominent New York athletes, but an entire sports community. Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry’s off-the-field headaches muddied the future of the Mets’ organization, scratching championship banners off the Citi Field outfield wall.
ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary “Doc and Darryl” highlighted the epic crashes of two players, both of whom had the potential to be amongst the best of all time. A diner in Queens staged the reunion of Gooden and Strawberry, who had not seen each other for quite some time. The audience of the show certainly experienced the emotional uprisings and plummets of their recollections.
Gooden and Strawberry single-handedly put Flushing Meadows, New York on the map. Shea Stadium was once a mute stadium, averaging 13,570 fans in 1983, dead last in the NL, per Baseball Reference.
The excitement following Darryl Strawberry’s astounding 1983 rookie season put over 9,000 more backsides into seats per game in 1984. Doc Gooden’s pin-point accuracy, his ability to tightrope the edges of the strike zone and his 17 rookie wins sparked 12,000 more fans to come to the ballpark in 1985.
They revitalized a bite of the Big Apple that had been rotten for years. Royal blue and orange spurt out, while navy pinstripes were shelved into closets. The ball spat through Bill Buckner’s legs like a car through the Lincoln Tunnel. Ray Knight stomped on home plate. Jesse Orosco catapulted his glove in the air. A dynasty waited, and so did a parade.
But that parade was absent of the star pitcher. Gooden rushed from the locker room, partied, drank, smoke– all distasteful things, all without his Mets teammates. How could you miss that historic celebration?
Every time it appeared that Strawberry and Gooden were committed to making a change, they descended back into the ditch, shoveling it deeper and deeper. They should have been back-to-back raisers of the Commissioner’s Trophy.
Who knows, if Gooden doesn’t miss the first two months of the 1987 season due to rehab, maybe he adds on three or four victories to his 17 win season. Maybe the Mets win first place in the NL East over the Cardinals. Figure out the rest from there.
Their stories are troubling ones. Whether or not you feel sympathy for numbers 16 and 18, you cannot ignore the depressing mood the ESPN Film establishes. While their lives to this day still need some patching up, the Mets are a franchise that still hasn’t recovered. Strawberry bolted from New York for Hollywood, desiring a fresh start from his prickly past. But what if that past wasn’t so dark? He certainly would still call Queens his home.
There wouldn’t be as many head scratches, faces engulfed by hands and tears shed had these two grown from their mistakes. Their struggles are in tandem with the Mets inability to return back to championship form. A few years of elation, only to be followed by multiple distraught decades.
Everything they accomplished, every swing of the bat, every single time the baseball was caressed by the glove, what did it mean? What did it mean to the youngsters who pinpointed the first baseman and pitcher and said, “Hey, I want to be like them!” What did it mean to a city crying for more championships?