Thursday, April 06, 2006

Hollywood Ending

It was very sad to see Doc Gooden sentenced to prison yesterday. He actually chose prison over rehab because he doesn't think that he can get clean without being locked up. Doc has lost everything at this point. His family, fortune, fame (I think he just qualifies as infamous at this point) are all gone. He was given so many chances that it made Steve Howe blush. It seems that he's hit rock bottom and that he has no one to blame but himself for it.

The thing is that I just can't seem to let go of the image of a 19 year old kid from Florida just toying with major league hitters. If you never saw him in his prime (and Gooden's prime was from 19-21), you missed something special. His fastball was just a rumor to most batters. His Curveball, which was so majestic that the usual term "Uncle Charlie" didn't suffice. His curveball was call "Lord Charles" and it caused more knees to bend than Sunday mass at St. Patrick's. His 1985 season was as dominating as any I have ever seen. It was as good as Guidry in '78, it was as good as Clemens in '86, as good as Maddux in '95, as good as Randy Johnson in '92. Hell, I'm sure he was as good as Lefty Grove, Sandy Koufax and Walter Johnson in their primes. I'm a Yankee fan and it hurt like hell that the Mets had come up with what looked like the next great pitcher in baseball. I was jealous, sure, but I was also in awe of his unbelievable ability. I was sure that they were already preparing his HOF plaque in Cooperstown. He won the Cy Young award at the age of 20 and I knew that it was just the first of many.

So what happened? How did the kid with the golden arm and golden future end up in prison? It's a sad tale of partying, drugs and loose women. Gooden along with his literal partner in crime, Daryl Strawberry partied their way through what should have been a dynasty with the Mets. Instead of winning multiple championships, the Mets won only one (and that one took a miracle). I don't think it really mattered to Doc. He was enjoying himself too much. He world was his for the taking. And he took whatever he could get. You can't blame him really. He was a teenager who was thrust into the spotlight in the loudest city in the world. New York puts it's heroes up on a pedestal so high that the view from up there is absolutely dizzying. Doc reached Mount Olympus and that made his fall from grace even harder to endure. The Yankees briefly resurrected his career and he ended up pitching a no-hitter and winning another World Series ring. You would have thought that after being on the precipice of disaster, his life was back on track and that he had seen the error of his ways, but apparently that was just a brief respite on the way to skid row.

In a scene from "The Natural", Roy's dad is talking to him as a kid. He tells him that he can't rely too much on his gift, because if he does that he'll fail. That's exactly what Doc did. He was so supremely talented, such a prodigy that he never saw the pitfalls that lay in his future. He could have been the best ever. He could have had the career that Roger Clemens is having. He could be the one that people point to as an example of the best that baseball has to offer; instead he ended up being a cautionary tale. He could have had it all. And for one brief shinning moment, he was the best that anyone had ever seen. Maybe that's enough for him. It's going to have be enough for us. It's certainly more than most people will ever get, but you can't help but wonder what he might have been.

Maybe there's a Hollywood ending to this story. Perhaps this year in prison will turn his life around. Perhaps he'll make it his life's work to make sure that kids don't end up like him. I certainly hope so because Hollywood also produces a different kind of ending. The one where the flawed hero doesn't hit the game winning home run, doesn't get the girl and doesn't live happily ever after.

Good luck, Doc. You're going to need it.



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