Gooden Shares Tales of Baseball and Addiction During Talk
Former major league baseball pitching phenom Dwight Gooden was at Sacred Heart University Wednesday night for a panel on “Talking Baseball and Beyond.” Joining him was SHU’s Executive Director of Athletics Bobby Valentine. The discussion was moderated by Ellis Henican, who co-authored Gooden’s new book, Doc: A Memoir. It was part of the 2013-2014 Student Affairs Lecture Series and was sponsored by the Graham Foundation of Connecticut, Inc.
Henican kicked off the discussion by asking Valentine if it is the manager’s fault if a team stinks. “Yes,” replied Valentine with a laugh. He went on to say that when a team comes together, special things can happen. “When they do things apart, even the best team might not be successful,” he added. He quickly deflected the attention from himself, noting that the evening was about Gooden.
And, indeed, it was. Gooden was open and vulnerable as he shared the ups and downs of his baseball career and his longtime struggles with addiction to drugs and alcohol. He started out by telling the crowd of approximately 400 baseball fans that “being here is therapy for my soul.” He went on to describe the challenges of being a 19-year-old arriving on his own in New York City to play for the Mets. He speculates that a desire to please and an addictive personality led to his issues with alcohol and cocaine.
“I often tell the story of when I tried Copenhagen (smokeless tobacco) and hated it. I never tried it again. I wish the same had been true of cocaine, but I fell in love with it,” he said. That love eventually led to failed drug tests, a season-long suspension from baseball in 1995 and even jail time. Now clean and sober for 2 ½ years, Gooden—through his book—has come clean in a different way after years of skirting around the truth.
“Once I got permission from my mom and my older kids, it was important for me to get the truth out there to help others and to help me stay clean,” he said. “This book is close to my heart, because I put everything in it. Ellis did a tremendous job of getting things out of me,” he said.
The book opens with Gooden missing the Mets’ celebratory parade after winning the 1986 World Series because he was strung out on drugs and alcohol with strangers in a strange place somewhere on Long Island. “I wanted to open the book with an example of how drug addiction turns the highest of highs into the lowest of lows,” he said of letting down his team, his fans and himself. “It was embarrassing. You don’t get a second chance to ride on a float after your first world championship.”
Gooden, with the help of Valentine, also shared some baseball tales. For example, he told of a time early in his career when teammates Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez had a difference of opinion about how he should pitch to a particular batter. First one came out to the mound and then the other. “Before long, the two were shouting at each other about what pitch I should be making,” he said.
He described Carter, who passed away in 2012 after a battle with brain cancer, as a friend and mentor. “I talked with him just before he passed, and he encouraged me to fight my disease the way he was fighting his and to use my experience to help others fight. That’s what I’m trying to do now,” Gooden said.
After many stints in various rehabilitation centers, Gooden finally found success with Dr. Drew and his television program, Celebrity Rehab. “There is no perfect rehab. What you put in is what you get out,” he said. “I knew the cemetery was right around the corner for me, and I told Dr. Drew that I would do whatever it takes.”
Gooden believes that recovering on national TV has actually made him more accountable. These days, he works with at-risk children and adults wherever he can find them—treatment centers, halfway houses, schools, prisons and church programs. Still, past experience—including a fall from grace after seven years of sobriety—has taught him that his own health remains fragile. So, as he shares his experiences openly and honestly for the first time in his life, he is still just taking things one day at a time.