|In an age when the word “drugs” in the context of sports makes us all jump to “steroids”, it’s easy to forget about so-called street drugs like alcohol and cocaine. Dwight Gooden’s place on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot reminds us that non-performance-enhancing drugs can ruin a career as fast as a syringe filled with anabolic steroids can.
When Gooden made his amazing big league debut in 1984, Mets fans had to pinch themselves to make sure that this was real, that they finally had a superstar athlete to rival any other in the league. In 1985, Doctor K. put up truly amazing numbers, winning 24 games with an ERA of 1.53 (better than even Clemens’ best year) – and he was just twenty years old! In his third season with the Mets, he performed well again and helped his team win the World Series.
There’s always a downside when a story starts out that sweetly. With talent comes popularity, and as anyone who’s lived through junior high can tell you, with popularity comes peer pressure and trouble. Alcohol became a problem, then cocaine. He first tested positive for cocaine in 1987, which resulted in a rehab stay rather than a suspension, then was suspended when he tested positive in 1994, and when he tested positive during that suspension he was suspended for the entire 1995 season. In an even creepier incident, Gooden and two of his teammates were charged with rape in 1991 – behavior I choose (hope) to believe to have been drug-fueled. The rape charges were later dropped, but the damage to his reputation was done. Gooden's talent was not only overshadowed by his drug problems, but stunted by them, too. Dr. K struggled through the rest of his career, never surpassing his excellent first three seasons at his best and very nearly embarrassing himself at his worst. In his final season in 2000, which he split between the Astros, Devil Rays and Yankees, he looked nothing like the young kid who wowed Mets fans fifteen years earlier.Playing a “what-if” game doesn’t serve anyone, of course…but….what if?