Friday, March 4, 2011

Dwight Gooden Faces Reality

This is heartbreaking on so many levels.  Former Met pitcher Dwight Gooden will be appearing on the next season of Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew, a so-called reality TV series.  My favorite Met after Tom Seaver,  Gooden was simply beautiful to watch.  In his first few years in the majors, Dr. K. was one of the greatest and most exciting pitchers I ever saw.  He won 100 games by the age of 25, but then injuries and substance abuse tragically derailed his career.  It still makes me sad to think what could have been.

And now his troubles are going to be exploited on VH-1.  The identity of the rest of the cast of Celebrity Rehab speaks volumes:  Lindsay Lohan's father, the couple that famously crashed the White House state dinner, the dude who played "Hobie" on Bay Watch, and Chinese actress, Bai Ling, whose claim to fame appears to be having been arrested for shoplifting at LAX. 

Dwight Gooden is the only one of this strange collection of characters to be famous for having actual talent.  (Sorry, Hobie.)  He was only 19 years old in 1984, when, with incredible poise, an explosive fastball and a devastating curve he won 17 games and led the National League in strikeouts.  He was an All Star and Rookie of the Year.  In 1985, Gooden had one of the best seasons any pitcher ever had -- and he was only 20 years old.  With 24 wins, 268 strikeouts, and a 1.53 ERA (leading the league in all three categories), he became the youngest player to win the Cy Young Award.

But the numbers don't begin to tell the story.  I still remember the game I saw him pitch that year at Candlestick Park against the Giants.  He struck out 14, in a 2-1 victory, going the distance and striking out the side to end the game.  I've witnessed some of Tom Seaver's gems at Shea, including his 19-strikeout game in 1970, a Fernando Valenzuela masterpiece against the Mets, and more recently Tim Lincecum in Cy Young form.  But that day I saw Dwight Gooden was something special.  He was simply an electrifying presence on the mound.  What no one could have imagined then was that 1985 would be his greatest year.

In 1986, the Mets' championship season, Gooden was their ace, winning 17 games and striking out 200, but he faltered in the World Series and failed to show up for the victory parade, allegedly due to oversleeping.  That winter, Gooden was arrested for fighting with police and during spring training, he tested positive for cocaine.  I recall hoping desperately that Dwight could overcome his personal problems and resume a career that looked to be a lock for the Hall of Fame.  Indeed, for awhile all seemed well.  He returned in 1987, after missing the first third of the season with a stint in rehab, winning 15 games, and in 1988, he won 18.  But he then suffered a series of injuries and drug relapses, and although he continued to have occasional flashes of brilliance (and a 19 win, 200+ strikeout season in 1990), he was never again the truly dominant  pitcher he had been.  He left the Mets after 10 years, in 1994, and pitched for the Yankees and three other teams, retiring after the 2000 season.  Since then, his periods of apparent recovery followed inevitably by substance abuse and legal problems have been well publicized.  And now he has signed up for a nationally televised intervention.

Celebrity Rehab is a show that chronicles the celebrities as they go through treatment for alcohol and substance abuse by Drew Pinsky, a doctor who plays one on TV.  Pinsky's method of exploiting the travails and triumphs of addicts for dramatic effect have not surprisingly come under attack by experts in addiction.  It is telling that many of the famous and infamous cast members from earlier seasons have relapsed.  Columbia University's Director of Substance Treatment and Research Service finds Pinsky's conflict of interest problematic:  “The problem here is that Dr. Drew benefits from their participation, which must have some powerful effects on his way of relating to them. He also has a vested interest in the outcome of their treatment being interesting to viewers, which is also not in their best interest.”  But the stars get paid and the show gets its ratings and sponsors regardless of the success of their "treatment."

First tragedy, then farce.  It is hard to imagine that this silly show on such a serious issue can do much for Dwight Gooden.  All I can do is hope that he isn't humiliated by the process and that he soon finds the help he needs. 


lonbud said...

TV is the most destructive substance abuse mechanism ever invented. When the history of the human race is written TV will feature prominently in the denouement.

Meanwhile, the no-no Doc threw for the Yankees in the twilight of his career was one of the more emotionally moving things I have witnessed in sports during my time.

fuzzyone said...

I was in the stadium in the upper deck of Yankee Stadium for Gooden's no hitter. In the top of the ninth I got a little scared because you could feel the deck bouncing up and down with everyone on their feet going nuts. Certainly one of the greatest games I have ever attended.

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