Doc: A Memoirby Dwight Gooden, Ellis Henican
Now, with fresh and sober eyes, the
A brutally honest memoir of talent, addiction, and recovery from one of the greatest baseball pitchers of all time. As a shy nineteen-year-old, Dwight Gooden swept into New York, lifting a team of crazy characters to World Series greatness and giving a beleaguered city a reason to believe. Then he threw it all away.
Now, with fresh and sober eyes, the Mets’ beloved Dr. K shares the intimate details of his life and career, revealing all the extraordinary highs and lows: The hidden traumas in his close-knit Tampa family. The thrill and pressure of being a young baseball phenom in New York. The raucous days and nights with the Mets’ bad boys (and the real reason he missed the 1986 World Series Victory Parade). The self-destructive drug binges and the three World Series rings. His heartbreaking attempts at getting sober, the senseless damage to family and friends, and the unexpected way he finally saved his life—on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.
In Doc, Gooden details his close friendships with many of baseball’s greats: Pete Rose, George Streinbrenner, Joe Torre, and nephew Gary Sheffield. For the first time ever, he reveals the full story of his troubled relationship with fellow Mets superstar Darryl Strawberry. And he tells the moving story of the Yankees no-hitter he pitched for his dying father. Doc is a riveting baseball memoir by one of the game’s most fascinating figures, and an inspiring story for anyone who has faced tough challenges in life.
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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- 9.10(w) x 6.20(h) x 1.10(d)
Read an Excerpt
Grown men and women were clapping and waving. Little children were yelling themselves hoarse. Secretaries leaned out of upper-floor windows, tossing shredded computer paper to the street. A throbbing mob of blue and orange, people as far you could see, jammed together on the sidewalks, shouting out our names.
“Mookie, Mookie, Mookie!”
“Ray, Ray, Ray!”
Three men in shirts and loosened ties were dancing on a narrow ledge six stories up, doing a high-kick they must have stolen from the Radio City Rockettes. One false step — they’d never kick again.
They didn’t look too worried though. They were too stoked to care.
Big-bellied construction workers hugged total strangers, as rolls of toilet paper flew through the air. Wall Street office drones wept tears of joy. If I had to take a guess, I’d say zero New York children made it into school that day. Even some Yankees fans couldn’t help but cheer. Anyone who beat the Red Sox was okay with them.
For only the second time in history, and for the first time in seventeen years, the New York Mets had won the World Series. We’d finished off the hated team from Boston, and now the official victory parade was rolling up Broadway. The crowds were so huge and so pumped, the wooden police barricades were no more than a suggestion. Every time an open convertible passed, another wave of fans would burst forward. Then the cops would run into the street and shoo them back.
So this is what two million people looks like?
The Canyon of Heroes, this stretch of Lower Manhattan is called, for all the great achievers who have been celebrated here. Not just sports champions, but people who really changed the world: Charles Lindbergh, Douglas MacArthur, Albert Einstein, the Apollo 11 astronauts, the American hostages released from Iran — all of them have taken that slow ride up Broadway to City Hall. And now it was our turn, this bad-boy mob of talent and heart, some of the greatest guys you could ever play ball with, as loud and rambunctious as the city we’d just won it all for.
Davey in the lead car followed by two sanitation trucks with snowplows, sent to clear the knee-deep confetti.
Keith and Gary, Howard and Jesse, pumping their firsts in the air. Lenny, Wally and Tim, looking thrilled in their open cars. Darryl waving from a bright-red Cadillac. Ray Knight, the series MVP, was positively beaming. Pitcher Ron Darling’s smile was so bright, he could have subbed for the lights at Shea Stadium.
Every time a politician tried to speak — Ed Koch or Alfonse D’Amato or Mario Cuomo — boos swelled up from the crowd. No one had come to hear them. The fans were there to cheer their champions — and themselves. “Thank you all for making a dream come true,” our catcher Gary Carter said, and the people roared.
Of course they did. It was their dream too.
“This is so much fun,” our manager, Davey Johnson, told the people on the sidewalk and the many, many others watching on TV. “I think we ought to try to do it again next year.”
Mookie Wilson, our switch-hitting center fielder, was thinking even bigger. “Nineteen eighty-six,” he thundered, “the year of the Mets. Nineteen eighty-seven, year of the Mets. Nineteen eighty-eight, year of the Mets.” Our victory was barely twelve hours old, and Mookie was already talking dynasty.
It was a glorious celebration. And right at the front of the crowd, a small boy was standing with a hand-lettered sign.
WE LOVE YOU, DOC, it said.
Too bad I couldn’t thank him or even wave.
I really wish I could have. But as everyone gathered in Lower Manhattan, I was twenty-five miles away.
As my teammates rode through the Canyon of Heroes, I was alone in my bed in Roslyn, Long Island, with the curtains closed and the TV on, missing what should have been the greatest morning of my life.
I’d spent all night in a sketchy housing project apartment near the Roosevelt Field mall, getting wasted with a bunch of people I hardly even knew. I was drinking shots of vodka. I was snorting lines of cocaine. And more lines of cocaine — and more lines of cocaine. I didn’t leave the drug party until after the sun came up. As my teammates toasted our triumph, I was nursing a head-splitting coke-and-booze hangover, too spent, too paranoid, and too mad at myself to drag my sorry butt to my own victory parade.
I had never felt so lonely before.
I hope I never feel that way again.
You’d have to look hard to find another young athlete in any sport who had risen so high so quickly and then fallen so hard. Too much, too fast, too young, my life was spinning wildly, and I was the one who didn’t have a clue.
I’d been the National League Rookie of the Year. I was the youngest player ever to appear in an All-Star Game, and when I stepped on the mound — one, two, three — I retired the side. Three days before my twenty-first birthday, I won the Cy Young Award as the league’s best pitcher. That year, I also won the pitching Triple Crown, leading in wins, strikeouts, and earned runs. No pitcher had done that in thirteen years, and it would take another dozen before anyone did it again. For most of that breathless run, there was truly no stopping me. Sports Illustrated called me “Dwight the Great.” I was featured on the cover of Time. Nike hung a 105-foot mural of me on Manhattan’s West Forty-Second Street. I was facing west, coming out of my windup, looking like I just might hurl that ball across the Hudson River to New Jersey and beyond.
Heads up, LA!
And why not? With all that I’d accomplished as the Mets’ young pitching ace, who could rule anything out?
New York’s combative sportswriters could hardly agree on anything, but all of them seemed to agree on this: in a very short time at a very early age, I had become one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball, well on my way to greatest-ever territory. The Hall of Fame talk had already started. And now, to cap it all off, my team had just won the World Series in a come-from-behind seventh-game victory in front of the home crowd at Shea Stadium.
If I had died that minute, I would have died a happy man. In hindsight, that might have saved a lot of people a lot of grief — me at the top of the list.
I was still only twenty-one.
After Jesse Orosco threw his final game seven strikeout and the Red Sox were put away at last, I ran out of the bullpen, where I’d been warming up for a late-game relief call, and out to the pitcher’s mound, dry-diving onto a twisted pile of my teammates. In an instant, it seemed like the whole team was there. Hugging, slapping each other’s backs, rolling around together in the infield dirt. Fans were bursting past police officers in riot gear, including some cops on horseback, and jumping onto our pile. As quickly as possible, team security hustled the players off the field and into the safety of the locker room.
The party revved up fast. Champagne corks were flying as the TV crews grabbed their postgame sound bites. The players were shouting each other’s names. People started pouring champagne on other peoples’ heads. All of us agreed how great we were.
But in the early craziness of the locker room, two thoughts were crowding all the others out of my head: I gotta call my dealer. And I gotta call my dad.
My father was watching at home with my mom in Tampa. I called him from the clubhouse phone, getting it out of the way as soon as I’d had my second gulp of champagne. I always called my dad after a game. He deserved this victory as much as I did. “Yeah, it feels great, Dad — thanks,” I told him before hanging up the phone. “I love you.”
I traded a few more handshakes and hugs.
By then, the beer and the hard booze were coming out — the vodka and the Rémy Martin. That stuff was always kept out of view of the reporters, tucked away in the back of the players’ lockers or in the equipment room. But it magically appeared that night. After what we’d just accomplished, who was going to complain? I had a couple of rounds, Absolut and grapefruit.
Then I grabbed my chance.
I didn’t think anyone would notice in the excitement of the moment, and no one did. I slipped into the trainer’s office, where I knew I could make my other call without being disturbed. I had the number memorized. I tried to appear casual, like maybe I was ordering a pizza.
“Hey, I’ll be coming by later tonight,” I said to my dealer.
“Congratulations, man!” he said.
“Yeah, thanks,” I said. “Just make sure you’re available, okay? It’s gonna be a big party.”
“I got whatever you need,” he told me.
The drinks were still flowing. People were still hugging and calling each other’s names. Guys who’d had little squabbles during the season were making up, shaking champagne bottles and spraying each other. I bumped into Bob Ojeda, who was shouting, “I love you, man!” I told Ron Darling how awesome he’d pitched in the series. Lenny Dykstra, as bouncy and wide-eyed as ever, looked as though he could hardly believe he was there — or that he’d whacked that clutch game three home run.
“The parade’s gonna be awesome,” Lenny said to me.
“Awesome,” I agreed.
We had to get up early the next morning. I knew that. We were due at the stadium in Queens between eight and nine. Then we’d all pile onto buses and ride into Manhattan for the start of the parade. But no one looked ready to call it a night. I certainly wasn’t. Word went around that the party was moving to Finn MacCool’s, a bar on Main Street in Port Washington, close to where many of the players lived.
I was already too drunk to be driving. I’d had three or four glasses of champagne and at least as many vodka-and-grapefruits. But I didn’t give drunk driving a second thought. Back then, I never did. I walked out to the players’ parking lot and climbed into my car, a gray 1986 Mercedes 300SE. I turned on the ignition and, bleary but still fairly steady, I headed in the general direction of the bar.
But I never got there.
Instead, I jumped off the Long Island Expressway at the Meadowbrook Parkway and headed south, straight for the projects.
My whole plan was to meet my dealer, buy some coke, and do a little bit — then depending on how I was feeling and how late it was, maybe circle back to Finn MacCool’s and have a few last rounds with the boys.
On my way to the dealer’s apartment, I stopped and picked up my friend Bobby, who lived in the same projects. Bobby wasn’t a close friend, just someone I’d partied with in Tampa who lived part-time in New York. He had introduced me to the dealer a few months earlier. When I first started buying, I would give the money to Bobby, and he’d make the transaction for me. But as I’d grown bolder, I was usually buying for myself.
We stopped at the dealer’s apartment. I gave him the money for the drugs. Then Bobby and I headed back to his place to get high. The dealer followed us there.
Bobby’s apartment was on the second floor. It was tiny, and people were already there. Bobby’s sister was one of them, and there were others I didn’t recognize, five or six women and seven or eight men. The music was loud — Run-DMC, Whodini, Public Enemy, old-school hip-hop. The TV was on, playing game highlights with the sound off. It was the last week in October. Even though the windows were open, it was hot and stuffy in there.
Everyone congratulated me.
“Oh, man,” one guy said, hugging me so hard I could feel the heavy gold chain around his neck.
“Oh, man,” I said back to him.
“You’re a world champion,” said a woman in a shiny gold top.
Right away, the drugs came out.
I laid two lines on a mirror Bobby handed me. I slid a rolled-up dollar bill into my nose and sniffed hard. Ah, that felt good.
I did it again on the other side.
A nice, warm feeling was already sweeping through me. This, I thought, is what I had been waiting for.
The first time I remember checking the clock, it said twelve thirty. Then, what seemed like twenty minutes later, it said a little after two o’clock.
I could hear fans partying in other apartments. People were yelling outside and lighting off fireworks. If they’d only known where one of the Mets was! It was crazy, even being there. Somewhere in my mind, I must have realized that. There was no security. At any moment, the cops could have burst in, and I would have been busted. Or someone could have robbed me. My $50,000 Mercedes was sitting outside.
But I didn’t care. This was where the coke was, so this was where I wanted to be.
That’s pretty much how the evening went.
Do a shot.
Do a line.
Look at the clock.
Notice how late it was.
See the coke.
Do another line.
Forget about the clock.
Hear how great I am.
Do a shot.
Watch some highlights.
Bullshit with strangers.
Look at the clock.
Do another line.
And that clock was moving like you wouldn’t believe. I knew I had to get up early, but I had a plan.
“I’m gonna stay here till four o’clock,” I said to myself. “That’ll give me time to go home, get an hour or two of sleep, grab a shower, and be at Shea in time.”
The next thing I noticed, the clock said four thirty. “A couple of more lines, and I’m out of here at five,” I told myself. “No matter what.”
But the drugs kept coming. The shots too. People kept laughing. I was having too much fun to leave.
A girl came over and climbed onto my lap. She was pushing her breasts against me and wiggling around. We were doing everything but having sex. I’m sure if I wanted to, I could have taken her into the bedroom. But sex wasn’t my top priority at that moment. I was far more interested in the drugs.
“Okay, I’ll stay another thirty minutes,” I thought, still managing to bargain the worry away. “Then I’ll get out of here.”
I looked out the window at one point and felt my first wave of fear. The purple-black sky was turning ever so slightly gray. Dawn was coming soon.
“I gotta get out of here pretty soon,” I decided.
But I was still bargaining. Drug addicts are always bargaining with themselves.
Deciding to stay another fifteen minutes seemed totally logical to me. And then another. I was dripping with sweat. My eyes were totally bloodshot. My clothes stank. But I kept recalculating. I could still rush home, take a shower, get to the stadium, and make the parade. I was resigned to the fact that I wouldn’t get any sleep. But I’d gone without sleep before. How often would my team win the World Series?
The coke was keeping me up. The booze had been keeping me mellow, though not so much anymore. Both of them had clearly wrecked my judgment.
The sun through the window slammed me hard.
“Uh-oh,” I finally realized. “That’s not good.”
It was after six thirty by then.
Everybody was talking. But suddenly, the voices all sounded like noise. I didn’t want to talk to anybody anymore, and I didn’t want anybody talking to me.
The TV was shifting to the morning shows. The game highlights were still on the screen. I was on the couch where I’d been laughing and talking for hours. Now I was staring straight ahead. This wasn’t fun anymore.
“I’m in no condition to drive,” I thought. “Maybe if I do a line, it’ll pick me up and I can get out of here.”
I did another line, and things got worse.
“This is stupid,” I said to myself. “You shouldn’t even be here.”
One guy looked at me and smiled. “You’re a real dude,” he said. A real dude? I was a real mess. That’s all.
When I first walked in with Bobby, everyone was saying, “There’s a hero.” What were they thinking now? It was more like, “Look at that fuckin’ guy.”
As sunshine filled the small apartment, my high was evaporating fast. You can’t say I was sober. After all I’d put into my body, that made no sense at all. I was just feeling numb and disgusted.
I still had some coke left. But without saying good-bye to anyone, I put the drugs in my pocket and quietly skulked out of there. I was praying no one would see me in the project parking lot.
I looked like crap. I smelled like crap. I can’t vouch for my driving. As I drove toward home with the sun streaming in the passenger window, I was still sweating out of control.
And then I totally lost it.
I started crying, sobbing loudly, literally blubbering in the car.
This was pathetic.
I couldn’t go to the parade this way. I knew that. But how could I not go? Everyone would know what I’d been doing all night. Or at least they would suspect.
My mind was racing nowhere. Everything was pouring down at once.
I walked into my empty apartment and started taking off my clothes. I was thinking I could get a quick shower and maybe still make the parade.
I had messages on my answering machine. The first three were from the Mets’ PR man, Jay Horwitz.
“Hey, Doc, just calling to make sure you’re up for the parade.”
“Doc, you up?”
“Doc, let me know if you need a ride. No problem. We can send a car.”
Just then, I heard a knock on the door. A loud bang, really. I didn’t look outside, but I was pretty sure it was Darryl Strawberry. Darryl lived in the next complex over. A lot of times, we’d ride to the park together. Either he would drive or I would drive. I couldn’t remember what plans we’d made the night before.
But I didn’t answer. I was too dejected and too scared. After a few more bangs, the knocking stopped.
I finally got the courage to get into the shower. When I came out, I looked in the mirror and hated what I saw. I looked horrible.
In my insanity, I thought if I did one more line, maybe I would get the boost I needed. So I did another line.
The phone kept ringing. I heard my mother’s voice on the machine. “Honey, are you on your way to the parade?” The Mets must have called her in Florida. My girlfriend, Carlene, called too. And Jay called again. “Hey, Doc. We’re worried. Wherever you are, we’ll send a car.”
I started putting my clothes on. I wasn’t sure what I should do. But who was I kidding? I was in no condition to go anywhere, much less to ride in front of two million people at the victory parade.
“Oh my God,” I thought. “What am I going to do?”
If I did one more line, I thought, maybe my heart would explode and I would die. Or maybe I could buy an airplane ticket and go somewhere far and hide. I could stay away long enough that people would forget I wasn’t there.
No answer seemed any good. What could I say when people started asking? Major League Baseball had called me in during the season. There were already rumors about me and drugs. This would prove everything. Who would believe me now?
I took off the clothes I’d just put on. I pulled on some shorts and a T-shirt. I climbed into bed and turned on the news, thinking, “I’d better watch this. I know they’re gonna say something about me.”
But as soon as my head hit the pillow, it seemed like the live parade coverage began. It couldn’t have started that quickly, but that’s how it seemed to me.
I stared at the TV through narrow, squinting eyes. And that’s how I watched my own victory parade.
I saw Mookie and Darryl, Keith and Ray, and all the Mets I had played with.
I heard Davey talk and politicians get booed. I saw a kid with a hand-lettered sign.
Meet the Author
At nineteen, DWIGHT "DOC" GOODEN became the youngest starting pitcher in MLB history. His 98-mph fastball earned him Rookie of the Year and Cy Young accolades, and led the Mets to victory in the 1986 World Series.
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This is an excellent book. It was shocking in many ways, especially the drug use. Start to finish I couldn't put it down.
By all accounts, Dwight “Doc” Gooden should have been riding atop the world of baseball in late October 1986. He was one of the most dominant pitchers in the game and he was the ace of the pitching staff for the New York Mets, who had just won the World Series in a tense seven game series. But instead of getting ready for a parade to celebrate the championship, he was in the low-income housing area getting high on drugs. That is the beginning of this brutally honest memoir in which Gooden opens himself up about all of his substance abuse problems and how they affected his personal and professional life. This is not a happy book to read or listen to – at times it is very painful to hear what these substances have done to the man. The text and the narration bring this all to life for the reader or listener and it is easy to get mad at Gooden for living this type of life. While the book concentrates more on Gooden’s battle with addiction, there is a good deal of baseball stories as well. They are not as deep or humorous as many other memoirs and biographies of baseball players. Indeed, there seems to be a condition attached to each teammate remembered. Gooden got along great with Keith Hernandez – but they would often have beers together. Darryl Strawberry was always linked with Doc – but that friendship turned out to be anything but cordial. Those are just two of the many people who Doc believes either hurt him or he hurt with his battle against addiction. The road to recovery for Gooden is long, takes many turns including appearing on the reality show “Celebrity Rehab” and is painful. This is reflected in both the words and the narration and that is why this particular memoir was moving. Instead of reflecting on his baseball success and failure, Gooden realizes at this point in his life what he needs to do to not only stay clean but to be a good father for his seven children and be the man that he believes he can be. Mets and Yankee fans who remember Gooden’s pitching and subsequent substance abuse problems will enjoy this book to see the recovery process Gooden had succeeded with to that point when the book was written. Others who wish to read about success after substance abuse will also want to read this excellent memoir.
I suspect that a number of baseball fans, especially those of the Mets and Yankees, will pick up a copy of Dwight Gooden's autobiography. If they are expecting a lot of behind-the-scene stories of those teams and of baseball – they will be disappointed. If they are looking for a story of the life of the famed pitcher, most of it occurring off the mound, then they may appreciate the work. I am a baseball fan, and as such was disappointed at the lack of space devoted to Gooden's baseball career. However, I also realize that so much of what the man is known for occurred off the field, and that is what a good deal of the autobiography covers. The arrests. The rehabs – especially his stint on Celebrity Rehab (3 chapters). His (lack of) family life. I was disappointed … but once I opened my mind and embraced the book for what it was rather than what I wanted it to be, I enjoyed it a lot more. Perfect? No. Adequate? More than yes. Rating: 3 1/2 stars, rounded up to 4. Please note that I received a copy of this book free of charge without obligation, although there was a request to post a review upon completion.
I’m a long time Mets fan so I had to read this story. It was a hard read. His struggle with drugs was horrible to learn. His writing style is very easy to engage with though and knowing he has recovered made it easier to get through. A great read for any baseball fan.
Doc Gooden was an awesome player. He made me a fan of baseball. His story is incredibly sad but it shows the power of human triumph.
This almost surprisingly read-able and engaging new book tells a tale well-known to almost every New York baseball fan, and probably even to those not in either of those categories. In the books opening pages, Dwight Gooden says, in words difficult to dispute: “You’d have to look hard to find another young athlete in any sport who had risen so high so quickly and then fallen so hard. Too much, too fast, too young.” As a devoted baseball fan since the days of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and ardent Mets fan for the past 27 years, I clearly remember thinking, when “Doc” Gooden first came up to join the major league baseball team, “these guys have everything thrown at them: money, women, more of both than they can possibly know how to handle, and they’re just too young to be able to deal with it all.” Although certainly not the first, that was certainly the case with the author, who in 1984 at 19 became the youngest starting pitcher in MLB history, was Rookie of the Year and recipient of the Cy Young Award. The book opens with a wallop and mostly doesn’t slow down from there, chronicling as it does the highs and lows of those years, starting with his incredible rookie season when the Mets won it all, but including suspensions for drug use and a jail term after a conviction for endangering the welfare of a minor (his youngest child at the time). I have to say that just past the half-way mark, for me, the cycle of addiction, followed by regret/repentance/recovery and then back again, got somewhat repetitive, as it did in Doc’s life. (One can only imagine how similarly his loved ones felt at the time.) He says of cocaine: “It was love at first sniff,” and of himself: “We were aggressive young men with money in our pockets and testosterone to burn.” When he left the Mets, at age 30, he was the father of 6 [with three different women] of his now 7 children. Always close to his parents, he was unable, for a long time, to provide that closeness to his own children, something he is now doing his best to compensate for. Doc also discusses his relationship with and feelings (ambivalent at best) about Darryl Strawberry, 2 years older than him and Rookie of the Year in 1983. The book is very interesting, and is recommended.
I truly enjoyed this book. As a lifelong baseball fan I was very familiar with Dwight Gooden, but this book turned that knowledge on its ear. I had no idea about his personal life as depicted in this book. It was very entertaining and at times very sad to read about. All in all it was a great book.
I never expected to be so shocked and also so touched by this book. he tells the story of a rise to the very top and then a life that included flophouses and prison. He's a Dad that loves his kids, had an amazing relationship with his parents but messed up. He almost went out to shoot cops after being beat up by the police? He witnessed a family shooting? His amazing relationship with Steinbrenner. And he doesn't even get along with Darryl Strawberry???? Wow, this book is worth every penny.