There’s a very good reason people still talk about the 1986 Mets team that went on to win the World Series for a million more reasons besides Mookie Wilson’s famous (or infamous if you’re a Red Sox fan) hit going between Bill Buckner’s legs in the sixth game. That reason is simply because they were just that damn good. They were fun, they were cool as hell and they were filled with personalities. It was the 1980s, they were from New York City, and they partied it up because that’s what young athletes do no matter where they play. But since the 1986 Mets came from a specific time and place – Madonna, Basquiat, stock brokers with cash to spend, Bright Lights, Big City and plenty of drugs to go around – it just felt like part of the broader story. As Leonard Cohen put it, those were the reasons and that was New York.
And we knew about what came after. About the fallout. That two of the biggest, brightest and youngest stars from that team, Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, barely made it out in one piece. The players that were primed to become the greatest pitcher and hitter of their generation, both on the same team, trailed off by the end of the decade. Each falling deeper and deeper into their own pits of addiction. Strawberry would have a great few years after the Mets’ championship – moving out west to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers before trailing off starting in 1991 – while Gooden’s problems became noticeable almost immediately. After an arrest for fighting with police in Tampa in December of 1986, Gooden would come back to spring training and test positive for cocaine. He chose rehab from April to June instead of suspension. He’d go on to win 15 games and the team would not repeat as champions.
You probably know all that already. No doubt you saw the “30 for 30” documentary on the pair, about their rise, fall, and attempts to stay clean and sober. We were all hoping that these two players who squandered so much talent after giving us so much to cheer about would be fine. Forget what they did or didn’t do on the field; we wanted them to be safe and healthy, with whatever demons in the rearview mirror. And it looked like they were, until they weren’t. We learned that this weekend.
“I have to try something before he’s dead,” Strawberry told John Harper of the New York Daily News in an article that looked more like a very public intervention than anything. Strawberry reached out to the reporter after his old teammate failed to make an appearance the two were scheduled for, leading Stawberry to claim the retired pitcher is “a complete junkie-addict,” and that he’s been trying to help Gooden. He admitted that even Gooden’s son has called Strawberry, crying, saying he wants to help his father who is said to have relapsed after the death of a family member.
“We all love him, but we’ve all been enablers to addict behavior. It has to stop,” another person told Harper. The source wanted to stay anonymous, “citing business concerns,” but that quote, to anybody who has known an addict, is all too familiar. The only difference is Gooden is a celebrity, he’s the face of one glorious summer for countless fans, and this isn’t a private matter any longer. It’s not just his closest friends and family; it’s everybody. Strawberry took a big risk going public with this latest relapse news, especially since Gooden’s troubles seem frequent. He told the world about Gooden’s latest and possibly gravest hour, and in doing so, he put us all in the room for one man’s intervention.