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Uncomfortably numb: Coming to grips – again – with Doc’s demons

Doc in 1987 -- rehab awaited

The saddest part about Dwight Gooden’s latest setback is that I’d like to say it’s not even sad anymore. You see that Doc’s in trouble again, and it does just sort of make sense at this point.

All the years of the same old thing have left me without a leg to stand on. I’ve always hoped that just maybe, Doc and Darryl Strawberry would get their act together. As my fourth decade begins, I still maintain that aching desire to feel good about my childhood heroes.

Doc and Darryl, forever inextricably tied, the two Mets demigods that defined my childhood.  Two otherworldly talents with demons working overtime to ruin their careers and lives.

As I got older, I often wished I could go back to the mentality I had back in fourth and fifth grade in terms of my naiveté with my pair of flawed idols. Looking back, I’m almost certain I knew back then all about the problems Doc and Straw were dealing with, but I don’t think I was aware enough to fathom exactly what they meant.

Back then, as long as Straw came back and hit home runs, as long as Doc could snap off that Bugs Bunny curveball, I was cool with them. With that high leg kick, who cared if Doc walked someone and they stole second standing? He’d just strike out the next three guys anyway.

When I met Doc at a baseball card show my senior year of high school in 1997, I realized he just didn’t look right. When I shook his hand, Doc was wearing that infamous smile that could light up a stadium, but his eyes were so hollow and vacant and his posture so hunched that the grin I fell in love with as a youngster seemed perverse. I came away a little hollow myself, thinking the Gooden with so much life that I had thrilled to several years prior was nowhere to be found.

I had basically the same reaction when I saw him on television at the last game at Shea Stadium in 2008, and at Citi Field last year watching his nephew, Gary Sheffield, play. And as recently as mid-January, when he and Darryl were announced as going into the Mets Hall of Fame at Citi Field, it was the same broken record. Doc just had that pallor over him.

You can take Doc out of Tampa, but you can’t take Tampa out of Doc.

Conversely, when I met Darryl in a church in South Jersey back in ‘04, it was as uplifting as the version of Amazing Grace we sang in unison. Darryl looked great; I didn’t know at the time how long that would last, but I so much wanted to believe he was over his problems and ready to make us all proud by just being healthy and strong again.

Six years later, Darryl seems to be doing just fine – though if I’ve learned anything about these two guys, it’s that you can never just assume it’s going to stay that way. But Darryl’s at least giving me some hope that just maybe, he’s turned the corner and kept going.

Doc has never reached that point, though I always wanted to believe that he could. I’d heard rumors last year of a baseball clinic of some sort he was going to run, and I had actually planned to go check it out if he got it off the ground. But deep down, I really couldn’t picture that happening. Not with Doc.

Before he slipped up in Franklin Lakes yesterday, driving under the influence of… something, and getting in a hit-and-run accident with a young child in the car, he’d supposedly been sober for four years.

Cover boysAnd of course, I simply can’t believe that. You have to think this is the culmination of a few more years of Doc lying to himself, and lying to everyone else. Because that’s what addicts do.

I’ve never been addicted to something, so I can’t pretend to know what it’s like. I very seldom drink now, but about seven years ago there was a brief period when I thought I was drinking a little much. I decided to take some time off from drinking – to make sure I could – and found as I suspected that I really didn’t need alcohol in the least.

But I have spent some time around people with legitimate substance abuse issues, and they simply never know when they’ve had enough. Long after they should have cut themselves off, they still want more. It’s in their nature. There is no “time off.” And their vice constantly calls out to them, it’s a lifelong struggle.

So as much as I want to believe Doc was just on Ambien, or whatever his agent said was clouding his senses when he rear-ended someone and bolted, it’s so difficult to give him the benefit of that doubt.

And honestly, even if that’s what it turns out to be, does it make it all that much better that he was driving in that condition? He could have run someone over. And he had his 5-year-old kid unrestrained in the back seat. And then he left the scene. Whatever explanation he has, it’s not understandable at all.

I’m not mad at Doc. How could I be? He doesn’t actually owe me anything, doesn’t know our history, nor does he even remember that we met. And after all this time, I still care about him for the role he played in helping me to love baseball, and by extension, sports.

But I guess I just can’t front. As much as I’d like to say this has happened so often that I can’t possibly find it sad, I remain compelled to think of what was, is, and could have been. I think of the Gooden jersey hanging in my closet right now, and the signed picture of Doc and Darryl on my wall. I think of the rookie cards I bought with my dad when I was younger.

I think of myself as a fifth grader – what I thought about Doc then, and what I’m forced to think about him now. I’m weary of all the tired jokes and comments on Deadspin and the like, none of which are funny.

It’s not that I never learn, but no matter how many times this happens, I’m unable to prevent it from affecting me at least a little.

I just wish Doc was the same way.

 

 

Shea goodbye

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