By Jason Keidel
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I cant speak for women, but men of middle age seem to become overwhelmed with an obscene sense of nostalgia. And as this is the first day of the year when there are no meaningful team sports in America, allow me this stroll down the decades…
Enter Dwight Gooden, who recently ran a theatrical round of rehab, Doc K meets Doc Drew, if you will.
To those not old enough to remember, there was indeed a desolate decade for the Yankees. It was called the 1980s, when the Mets were the apple of the Big Apple. But even as a Yankees fan I admired the good Doctor. As I was becoming a man (15) he was THE man in Manhattan and beyond. His image soared from the side of skyscrapers, his divine right arm ready to unleash lightning on a trembling .280 hitter.
I don’t mean to play the age card, but you have to be lucid and alive in 1985 (when he went 24-4, with a 1.53 ERA) to comprehend Gooden, his brilliance, buttressed against his savant’s humility and reticence to howl over his sublime talent. It started in 1984, when he was a kid (19) with a god’s gift. He took the mound in the fifth inning of that year’s All-Star Game and struck out the side. He was the youngest man ever to appear at the midsummer classic. Then the world took notice, even if it couldn’t fathom him. He threw a rising 98 mph fastball with a commensurate curve, given its own moniker, “Lord Charles.”
You know the rest, the tumble down the mountain of narcotics, years, innings, pitches, and memories wasted, the suspensions, the mounting rap sheet, including his arrest last year with his little son in the car. Yes, there was still enough power left in that battered arm to throw a no-hitter for the Yankees in 1996, but Doc was gone, his epitaph penned as the face of two New York dynasties a decade apart.
At 46, Gooden is in the sixth inning of life, far too early for a hurler of his heft to leave the game. I don’t know the man, yet I love the man. It’s just one of those things.
Maybe you were one of those anonymous kids with a K sprouting from your seat at Shea Stadium and can relate.
You’ve recently seen the portly pitcher in repose trot to the mound and bow for the fans. You wonder how he’s doing. And you can’t think of Gooden without pondering Darryl Strawberry, his de facto brother on the team, equally talented and similarly tormented. “Straw” seems to have turned the righteous corner. And we hope he stays there.
Remember Mickey Mantle and Billy Martin, among the phalanx of broken hearts who bled on stage for our pleasure, and didn’t ask for a damn thing in return. Like Gooden, they aren’t heroes for being human. It’s what they represent to us all: better times.
Many confuse an illness for weakness, though I dare anyone to call Lawrence Taylor weak to his face. You’ll just have to accept that with a certain talent comes a certain torture in many humans, whether you like it or not.
There are those of you who have no patience or pity for the addicted, no emotional balm for the self-induced scars from the drunk or junkie, that any man at the business end of a bottle, powder, pipe, or needle does so at his peril. Fair enough. But try to remember what Doc did for us. Remember that he was Rembrandt for a summer.
Then ask yourself what you’ve done for millions of people. Gooden gave you chills, thrills, and still might have another few innings left. Maybe we can make a new sign for him, while praying for his next curtain call.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com
What are your memories of ‘Doc’?