NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Former New York baseball stars Darryl Strawberry and Dwight “Doc” Gooden are forever linked in the public’s mind, but not necessarily their own.
That fitting line concludes ESPN’s latest “30 for 30” documentary, “Doc & Darryl,” which examines their relationship. The film premieres at 9 p.m. Thursday.
Both men symbolized the New York Mets’ mid-1980s resurgence, winning back-to-back Rookie of the Year awards. They had freakish talents: Strawberry to hit moon shot home runs and “Dr. K” Gooden to freeze batters with his fastball and curve. Drug abuse cut short both of their careers, and they eventually served time in the same jail, although not at the same time.
Directors Judd Apatow and Michael Bonfiglio wanted to see what sort of relationship the men had, and the heart of the film is a conversation held before cameras at a Queens diner, the same one where scenes from the movie “Goodfellas” were shot.
Their body language and lack of eye contact betray a discomfort, reminiscent of get-togethers with friends who hadn’t connected in years.
The interview revealed that Strawberry had never asked Gooden why he missed the ticker tape parade celebrating the 1986 Mets’ championship, even though the outfielder had gone to Gooden’s house to give him a ride and hadn’t found him. Similarly, Gooden had never talked to Strawberry about an incident where teammate Ray Knight approached Strawberry about rumors that one of the Mets’ two black superstars was involved in drugs. Knight confronted Strawberry, who said it wasn’t him.
“There’s a connection and a love between them,” Bonfiglio said. “They bonded as teammates. But they’re not close. They never had the conversation that they had at the diner.”
Talking to WFAN’s Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts on Tuesday, Gooden compared his relationship with Strawberry to two brothers who love each other one day and hate each other the next day.
“But at the end of the day, we knew we had each other’s back, “Gooden said. “But we were never like best friends. We were great friends, but not the best of friends. And we had our differences.
“I think a lot of times people thought we were closer than we were because you’ve got two young black players on the team … and they just put us together.”
The subject matter — seemingly endless relapses, lost dreams and betrayals — isn’t particularly easy, either.
Apatow, maker of comic films such “Knocked Up,” and Bonfiglio seem like odd teammates themselves. Apatow had tweeted praise about an ESPN documentary to a contact at the network once, who shot back a response wondering whether he’d like to make one himself. He expressed interest in a piece on Gooden and Strawberry, if they could be persuaded to participate.
Apatow once followed the Mets, but he found rooting for a team too nerve-racking and gave it up, just before their magical 1986 season.
He had met Bonfiglio, a noted documentarian known for films on Metallica and Bo Jackson, when he interviewed Apatow for an episode of Sundance’s “Iconoclasts” series. Apatow asked him to collaborate for the ESPN film.
While Apatow is known for inducing belly laughs on films like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “This is 40,” many people overlook his sensitivity, Bonfiglio said.
“It would be such a different film if I had done it myself,” Bonfiglio said. “We were in total synch with the vision, but he’s so interested in how people behave and how they deal with the challenges of life.”
Apatow has seen plenty of people in show biz unable to handle sudden success. “It’s a very common theme, except when you are one of the greatest hitters and pitchers of all time while going through it.”
“If you’re in New York, people would get upset if you don’t come through for the team,” Apatow said. “They don’t care what your life is like, what your childhood was like and what you’re struggling with. They just want results.”
The film shows how early the seeds of their abuse were planted, which may surprise some fans. Both men dealt with difficult dads. Strawberry’s was abusive and alcoholic. Gooden’s dad was also alcoholic, and he drove his son relentlessly to achieve his own failed dreams. Both future stars drank and drugged in high school. Gooden recalls being rip-roaring drunk the first time he met Strawberry.
“Doc & Darryl” is noteworthy, too, in not being a redemption tale. Both former stars are trying hard to stay clean, Strawberry with the help of religion and a grounded relationship.
But too many people have been burned thinking this part of their journey is over.
“A lot of times when people tell an addiction story it ends with people who are clean and sober, they’re fine, or they’re dead,” Bonfiglio said. “A lot of times it’s not the case. A lot of times it’s a lot more complex than that. We didn’t want to make it easy, because it isn’t easy.”
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