That was the only reaction. That was the only way to respond to the news. It’s been the only way to react to the worst of the news involving Dwight Gooden since April 1, 1987, when an EMIT screen test administered during spring training revealed Gooden had tested positive for cocaine.
And it was the only reaction Friday, when the news emerged Gooden had been arrested June 7 for cocaine possession and driving under the influence.
Gooden is that rare New York athlete for whom all fans have affection. He came up a Met, of course, and his first two years out of the chute, 1984 and ’85, had people comparing him to Bob Feller thanks to his precocious flame-throwing. Even as he took a step back in the fabled 1986 championship season, he was the face of those brash Mets.
Then came the EMIT screen. And a trip through the Smithers Institute, which too many Mets visited in the ’80s and ’90s. And relapses. And release.
Somehow, he created a second baseball life across town, throwing a no-hitter for the Yankees in 1996, winning two World Series with them in 1996 and 2000. In what was his last great hurrah, he beat the Mets as a Yankee on July 8, 2000, at Shea Stadium. That day may be best remembered for what happened in the nightcap of that split-doubleheader — Roger Clemens beaning Mike Piazza at Yankee Stadium.
Still, for a generation of baseball fans in this city, seeing Gooden working on fumes was something to see. The old K Korner was unmanned that day, but it certainly brought to the forefront of memory those wild days of the ’80s when a Jersey kid named Dennis Scalzitti and his crew filled that third-deck at Shea with an energy we’ve rarely seen since.
“I missed one game in three years,” Scalzitti told me a few years ago. “Hey, I would have gone anyway, made the trip over from Jersey as much as I could, just because when he pitched, you never knew when he was going to do something you’d never seen before.”
“We always brought 27 Ks with us every game,” he said. “Just in case.”
That last day at Shea — five innings, six hits, two runs, one lonely strikeout — was the 191st win of his career. He finished with 194. It still feels impossible that Gooden only wound up with 194 wins when he had 119 wins by age 25.
Except we know about all the postscripts. We knows he could never quite get past his demons, and his addictions. He remains an engaging soul, eager to mingle with the masses who used to worship him, but so often has looked drawn and unhealthy during those appearances.
We are smarter as a society now about drugs, and what they mean, than we were 32 years ago when Gooden first revealed this terrible weakness. We know addiction is a disease. We no longer dismiss its victims as “druggies” or worse. We understand the daily struggle that has been Gooden’s fight for life for decades now.
Doesn’t make news like this any easier to take. Doesn’t keep the sadness away. Doesn’t mean you don’t hope, always, that he finds peace in his recovery. And doesn’t break your heart on the days when you realize he hasn’t yet gotten there.
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Sometimes, sports really does pay you back for the huge portion of your heart you invest it. Friday night in Anaheim — starting with Tyler Skaggs’ mom’s first pitch, through Mike Trout’s 454-foot home run, through the combined no-hitter, to all the No. 45 jerseys draped upon the mound after — was one of those times. Breathtaking.
The best thing you can say about “Chernobyl” is the best thing you can say about any TV series or miniseries in this age of terrific TV: It belongs in the HBO Hall of Fame. First ballot.
Would it really have killed Brodie Van Wagenen to utter these words Friday night in Miami: “This season’s on me. I’ve done a bad job. I pledge to learn from my mistakes and be better from here”?
Brodie Van Wagenen wrong to hide behind organization speak
MIAMI — My question was simple. Brodie, is this on…
The Rockets might want to hire the great Barry Levinson. It was Levinson who first filmed someone (Roy Hobbs) actually tearing the cover off a baseball in “The Natural,” and we believed it. Maybe he can show how the Rockets can plausibly use more than one basketball to satisfy and satiate James Harden and Russell Westbrook (left) this year.
Whack Back at Vac
Neil Ptashnik: Please explain to me why the Mets would trust Brodie Van Wagenen to get good deals for their tradable assets. He’s already set the team back at least five years.
Vac: I’d say that qualifies as a 100 percent fair question, wouldn’t you?
Michael Abate: It’s sad Jim Bouton was treated so bad after writing “Ball Four.” I wish the players like Mickey Mantle realized this book made me appreciate the players more, someone the fans could identify with. I periodically break out his books to read, I think it’s time again for a few laughs.
Vac: Even Mantle himself told Bouton before he died that he never had nearly as much anger about it as was reported. And Mantle lived off telling behind-the-scenes stories for many years, too.
@FChunNetsJets: It would be silly if Sean Marks said Kevin Durant was out next season but then rehab goes well and he’s healthy enough to return.
@MikeVacc: Agreed. Which is why I was surprised he chose to say anything. His usual M.O. is to keep everything very close to the vest.
Scott Wolinetz: Mick was right when he told Rocky that all the champs had one thing in common: good management. This is why we won’t see the Knicks or Mets (or the Jets, but who cares?) win until they get the proper management and that includes owners and GMs.
Vac: Mick learned that lesson the hard way when he couldn’t prevent the first Clubber Lang fight.