Heat: My Life on and off the Diamondby Dwight Gooden, Bob Klapisch
Dwight Gooden's early years with the New York Mets were golden he was the youngest winner of the Cy Young Award in baseball history and led the New York Mets to one of the most dramatic World Series victories in 1986. Dwight Gooden a.k.a. Doc or simply Dr. K had a fastball that hitters just could not beat. But Gooden's fall was as quick and
Dwight Gooden's early years with the New York Mets were golden he was the youngest winner of the Cy Young Award in baseball history and led the New York Mets to one of the most dramatic World Series victories in 1986. Dwight Gooden a.k.a. Doc or simply Dr. K had a fastball that hitters just could not beat. But Gooden's fall was as quick and dramatic as his rise. By 1994 he had twice been suspended from the league for drug abuse, plunging him into a vicious cycle that threatened his career and, ultimately, his life.
Today, Dwight Gooden is back in the big leagues. Heat captures Gooden's poignant road to recovery, and how it culminated in his second World Series ring with the New York Yankees in 1996, and offers a behind-the-scenes look at the Yankees club. During his fourteen years in the big leagues, Dwight Gooden has seen plenty. Heat brings to life the glorious world championship baseball through the eyes of one of its most popular and talented stars.
- HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.39(w) x 9.52(h) x 0.93(d)
Read an Excerpt
May 14,1996 MY MERCEDES SL 500 had traveled about half the distance between Roslyn, Long Island, and 161st Street in the Bronx, which meant I was at the front gates of my old home, Shea Stadium. There it was, gray and desolate, more colorless than I'd ever remembered it in the eighties. Funny how time diminishes the things you once considered so huge, so important. It's like returning to your old high school, years after graduating and realizing the hallways are smaller, the desks are tinier, the gym more compressed, and the teachers, even the toughest ones, turn out to be just regular people.
The Shea Stadium in my mind was sold-out, alive, seductive. It felt like the place was packed every night, and the Mets were communing with this living, breathing mass of people in the stands. On this day, though, Shea just looked dirty and washed-out. Still, I almost made a right turn off the Grand Central Parkway, toward the players' entrance all by reflex. It goes to show that, even when you're in control of a car moving at sixty miles an hour, you can still be far, far away, especially if there's a crisis going on in your head.
I missed Shea sometimes, anyway. I went past the place every day on my way to Yankee Stadium and there wasn't one instance where I didn't still feel a stab of nostalgia. So many memories from the Mets: winning the Rookie of the Year award in 1984, winning the Cy Young Award in 1985, then winning the World Series in 1986, which to me, was the greatest single accomplishment I'd been part of.
I remember how crowded the highways used to be, too, back in the days when everyone in the city was a Met fan. How driving to Shea meant that you wereabsolutely guaranteed to get swallowed up in some massive traffic jam. Kevin McReynolds hated the traffic so much, I swear he was already out the clubhouse door before half of us had come in from the dugout after the last out. We used to laugh about it, but in a good way, because it showed how much New York had embraced us. But in 1996, the Mets seemed dead. All the great players had moved on or retired. New Yorkers had shifted their attention to the Yankees, just like me.
There were moments where it was still impossible to believe I was wearing pinstripes. Me, a Yankee. Keith Hernandez would've killed me if he'd known ten years earlier that I'd end up in Bronx. God, we hated the Yankees back then their arrogance, their so-called tradition, the airs they put on that New York belonged to them, even though everyone knew the Mets were a better team.
But the Yankees had turned out to be my life preserver in 1996, when I was trying to reclaim my career and my life. As I paid the toll at the Triboro Bridge that day, crossing into the Bronx, I thought to myself: This is right, this is where I belong. I only wish that I could've enjoyed it a little more, because my mind wasn't anywhere close to the game I was supposed to pitch that night.
Normally, I focus on the opposing hitters, creating images in my head that I can take into the game. I'd drawn the Mariners, a last-minute assignment because David Cone had developed a bizarre condition in his shoulder, an aneurysm. I should've been thinking about how to deal with Ken Griffey and Jay Buhner and Edgar Martinez, but instead, my focus was back in Tampa, where my father was only twenty-four hours away from undergoing open-heart surgery.
I'd been dealing with my father's illness for almost ten years, ever since he began kidney dialysis in 1986, and it took its toll on me. It's an awful thing, watching a parent grow old and sick. It changes the way you look at yourself, makes you realize that in many ways, you're aging too. And that scared me.
Dad's decline was so immediate, it actually took me years to accept. Suddenly my father was a prisoner of the dialysis machine, hours at a time, three days a week, and it affected the lives of everyone in the family. He needed a hip replacement in 1992, and after that came diabetes. And in January 1996 came one more setback: my dad was getting out of my grandfather's pickup truck, and just like that, the new hip was jarred out of its socket.The doctors knew they'd have to operate on him again, but during their pre-surgery examinations, they realized my father urgently needed open-heart surgery. It was then, finally, that I realized my father wouldn't last much longer, although it was too painful for me to actually tell myself that. For weeks during spring training, he would make regular visits to the hospital, as they tried to build up his strength for the upcoming procedure. But one day a cardiologist at St. Joe's told my mother, "We can't wait any longer. It has to be now. In the next twenty-four hours."
My mom called me, crying like I'd never heard her cry before. "You have to come home," she said, a day before I was supposed to return to the rotation and face Seattle. I thought of the crossroads I faced: here was my chance to get back in the Yankees' good graces after I'd started the season, 0-3. Cone was on the DL and now the Yankees were leaning on me. But so was my dad.
He was a strong man, but after he'd come through that hip-replacement surgery, I remember him saying, "Dwight, I'll never make it through an operation. Never. That's my last one. There was something about the way he looked at me when he uttered those words, as if I was hearing an unspoken request. Maybe Dad was telling me: Don't ever let me suffer, if I can't make this decision on my own. I wish I could've asked him what he was feeling, because he was in no condition to speak, lying in that hospital bed in Tampa, with tubes running in and out of him.
After my mom had called, I went through the worst night of my life. I called the hospital every fifteen minutes, until the switchboard shut down. Since my wife, Monica, and our children were in Tampa, too, I was completely by myself in Roslyn, trying to sleep. It was pointless. I kept tossing and turning, thinking that I might never see my father again. I slept a total of forty-five minutes, so when I got up in the morning, I had this distinct buzzing in my bead. I was so tired, my eye sockets literally hurt.
I wanted to be at his side, to hold his hand, tell him he'd be okay. To thank him for every single piece of advice that he ever gave me. Dad always said: "Baseball comes first. It's your dream, so live it." So here I was, living out my dream, which was really his dream, too a former semipro first baseman whose son had made it to the big leagues at the age of nineteen.
I couldn't shake the flashbacks I had of him standing next to me on the Little League field, teaching me the fundamentals of pitching: lift your leg, stay back, keep your arm up. I remember how proud he was when I signed with the Mets, and when I finally made my first Major League start. I remember the look of devastation on his face the day I came home in 1987 and confessed that I'd tested positive for cocaine use, and how it tore him up even more when I relapsed in 1994.
Every thought I had was filled by my father. So what the hell was I doing on the northbound Major Deegan at this moment, driving that last half mile stretch to the Stadium, when my father needed me? Why didn't I just get on a plane and fly to Tampa? How could I be so selfish? Already, Joe Torre and Mel Stottlemyre had told me I had permission to be with my family. I didn't even have to ask all I had to do was turn around and drive to La Guardia Airport. Thirty minutes, tops, and I'd be on a flight home.
George Steinbrenner had called me that morning, too, specifically to say, "If you feel you have to be in Tampa, go ahead. We understand. Our prayers are with you, Dwight." I thanked George, put down the phone, and wondered. What would my dad want?
Baseball first. Baseball first. But did that mean even when he was fighting for his life?
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