Thursday, June 13, 2013

Review: Doc (2013)

By Dwight Gooden and Ellis Henican

Two of the last three sports books reviewed here have more to do with addictions than sports. That's just a coincidence, I think. But the subject is always attractive to readers.

After all, people like Dwight Gooden and Bob Probert were both in the top of their respective fields - playing baseball and hockey in the best league in the world - but couldn't handle the accompanying pressures. This obviously is the dark side of fame and glory.

Without a doubt, Dwight Gooden had both of those two qualities (fame and glory, that is) in large quantities. He let it all slip away, or more appropriately, shoved it up his nose. "Doc," like any of these stories, is not pretty to read.

If you weren't around at the time, it's tough to describe  Gooden's prime fully. He took off with the impact of a rocket, and a large one at that. Gooden arrived essentially out of Class A ball and was the rookie of the year for the New York Mets in the National League in 1984. In 1985, he won the Cy Young Award and might have been the best young pitcher in history. That's quite a statement, but he was that dominating.

Gooden was good enough to help pitch the Mets to a World Series championship in 1986. But the night after New York won the title, Gooden headed to some projects to celebrate with an all-night cocaine blowout. He didn't even make the parade in Manhattan the next day, which makes for a compelling first chapter.

Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, both so young and so talented, were supposed to be the cornerstones of Mets' teams for the next decade plus. They couldn't keep it up and lapsed into similar problems. In Gooden's case, he showed flashes of brilliance in the years after 1986. But he never could kick his habits completely, and wandered in and out of rehab as well as the judicial system for the next quarter-century or so. It's not a pretty picture, and Gooden gets points for telling it honestly.

If you need any reminders of how addictions work, consider what Gooden essentially gave up. His career wasn't what it should have been, although a heavy workload at a young age didn't help his long-term prospects on the diamond either. He went through a few wives and girlfriends, and didn't have a strong relationship with his children. Finally, after a number of false starts, it took an appearance on "Celebrity Rehab" to force him to face his demons. At this point, he's been clean for a couple of years. No doubt, the book is part of his effort to face up to his past actions.

It's the obvious question at this point: How does Gooden's book compare to Probert's? They struck me as quite similar, as the stories and behavior go down the same path. Gooden probably is more likable, and thus it's easy to root for him to get better. However, it's tough to know if those observations are tinted by the fact that Probert didn't get that happy ending to the story, while Gooden has the chance for one.

Don't kid yourself - this is not a baseball book. He's already written a couple of those. I don't think there are a lot of bombshells here, although Gooden makes it clear that he doesn't appreciate some of Strawberry's remarks and actions regarding Gooden's behavior over the years.

But "Doc" does feel like the whole story of his issues, told in a straight-forward way. Gooden comes across well enough. He was simply unable to handle everything that was thrown at him at such a young age. The book probably works better if you closely followed Gooden's career. But my guess is that anyone will come away after reading the book with hopes that Gooden has conquered his demons and will be able to move on to a happier life from here on out.

Three stars

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