Former MLB pitcher Dwight Gooden earned the Rookie of the Year Award in 1984. He was 19 years old with a blistering fastball and a notoriously deceptive curve ball. His outstanding first three years in Major League Baseball were soon replaced by very public battles with alcohol and cocaine which continued for much of his professional career. At 40, Gooden served ten months in a state prison for drug-related charges. That was a decade ago. More recently he published a book, Doc: A Memoir. Gooden watches football now and hasn't touched a baseball or a drink in years.
Alec Baldwin: Here’s The Thing is supported by the Venture Card from Capital One. What’s in your wallet?
Here’s The Thing is supported by GoToMeeting, with HD Faces by Citrix. Designed to be a fast and simple way to meet and collaborate online. Visit GoToMeeting dot com, click the try it free button, and enter promo code “The Thing” for a free 30-day trial.
[Music playing] this is Alec Baldwin and you’re listening to Here’s the Thing from WNYC radio. My guest Dwight Gooden is known especially to baseball fans as the once brilliant 19-year-old pitching phenom from Tampa, Florida. He had a blistering fastball and a notoriously deceptive curveball. Those two pitches earned him the Rookie of the Year Award in 1984. In ‘85 he won the Cy Young. In ‘86 he led the Mets to one of their best seasons ever ending with a World Series championship.
Gooden still had some winning seasons after that, but nothing matched those first three years. Instead his public battles with alcohol and cocaine became the dominant story of his career, leading sports historians to write about what might have been rather than what was. At the very least Dwight Gooden’s addiction ruined what should have been the greatest day of his life, the 1986 World Series win.
Dwight Gooden: After the game was over I was celebrating in the club house with my teammates. Then I go on a bike in the trainer’s room. I called my dad. We talked about the game and he’s happy and we’re celebrating and then the next call went right to my friend who knew the dealer. My friend was the go-to guy. Told him I was coming by a little later and my goal was to go by there, get some drugs, and meet my teammates at a local bar after that, but unfortunately –
Alec Baldwin: What happened?
Dwight Gooden: – addiction, it don’t allow that.
Alec Baldwin: Right. So your friend, a friend that you knew called the dealer for you to tee up the ball for you to go score?
Dwight Gooden: Well, what it was is I wanted a lot of stuff. I wanted to party and celebrate. Unfortunately, went to the housing projects in long island –
Alec Baldwin: With the dealer?
Dwight Gooden: – with the dealer. So I’m in there with about ten people. I probably know two, that’s the friend from Tampa and the dealer. So we’re sitting there partying, having a good time, and now I’m thinking, ‘I’ll be here for maybe an hour then we’ll cut out.’
Alec Baldwin: But once those rails hit the mirror –
Dwight Gooden: Yeah. Once you start it it’s – you’re done.
Alec Baldwin: Once you start – yeah – it’s kryptonite.
Dwight Gooden: Yeah. That was always my track record. ‘Well, I’m just gonna do a little bit,’ and then three days later you’re there doing the same thing.
Alec Baldwin: Dwight Gooden has been sober since 2011 when he went on Celebrity Rehab and he has just written a deeply personal book entitled, Doc: A Memoir, which chronicles everything from his complicated relationship with his father to his meteoric rise and his drug use and the toll that took on him.
You come from an era when drugs predominate as much as alcohol or alcohol is one drug on a menu of drugs, because alcohol certainly is a drug as you – would you acknowledge that?
Dwight Gooden: Yes, 100 percent. Alcohol is definitely a drug and the era I was in, like you say, before me was heavy drinking in the ‘70s, what have you, and probably pot from what I hear. My era was basically cocaine and drinking. The alcohol was available in every club house you go to whether it was on a road or at home and even at home –
Alec Baldwin: And when you say “alcohol was available,” what was the culture of that, meaning when the game was over all professional ball players and management and coaching kind of acknowledge that when the game is over, “We gave it our best, we’re pro-ball players, and we’ve earned a drink,” and everybody has a drink. So they had a full bar there?
Dwight Gooden: Yeah. Pretty much it was normal. You go into the lounge where you have the food, you have the water and drinks and then you got the beer and then the private stash in back with the hard stuff, but especially after a day game we’ll stay in there ‘cause we wanna wait for the traffic to die down and we just sit around talking baseball, talking about the games, and just drinking.
Alec Baldwin: You started your professional career when you were how old?
Dwight Gooden: My professional career I was 19. Well, actually I was drafted at 17, played a year and a half in the minors. I get to the majors at 19 and what was amazing was after a game if we were on the road it was always one of the veteran players would say, ‘Doc, you’re pitching tomorrow.’ Everybody said, ‘No. It’s okay. You’re out with us.’ And I remember this one time I did a commercial, a Pepsi commercial with Catfish Hunter and so they started playing this commercial. We’re in Chicago after a day game. We go to this bar and the commercial comes on and the bartender was looking at the commercial, he was looking at me, looking at the commercial. Then he goes, ‘I don’t think you’re old enough to be in here.’
Alec Baldwin: [Laughs] that’s funny.
Dwight Gooden: So he said, ‘You can hang out in here, but I can’t serve you anymore alcohol.’
Alec Baldwin: One of the traps of fame is everybody knows who you are and they know who you are on every level.
Dwight Gooden: That’s right.
Alec Baldwin: But so when you’re 19 years old or even when you get drafted at 17, but I would imagine – I’ve gotta believe that even when you were in Triple-A and you were up in the – you were in the minors and you were 17 they protected you more, they shielded you from certain things more. Were you sticking your hand into a cooler and pulling a beer out of there too when you were 17?
Dwight Gooden: Definitely pulling beer out.
Alec Baldwin: You were?
Dwight Gooden: Oh, at that time.
Alec Baldwin: So once you’re in that league, once you’re in with that group of people you’re one of them and you act like them on every level?
Dwight Gooden: At every level. Myself I was a people pleaser. So being a people pleaser you’re trying to fit in. You got new teammates, guys that’s out of college or been in the minors for a while, but here I am a year out of high school. A lot of times, again, alcohol in the club house was available. So at the games that was just like the normal, what you do.
Alec Baldwin: So you started drinking. Now had you been drinking on the streets of Florida when you were hanging out in those neighborhoods you grew up in with your mom and dad?
Dwight Gooden: A lot of times like in high school, like at a football game in Friday night after the game’s over we had this pizza place we would go to and hang out and guys would have drinks and I would be a part of that.
Alec Baldwin: You would?
Dwight Gooden: Yes.
Alec Baldwin: So it’s not like the kid who’s on the mound. When you’re pitching as a little boy, as you describe in the book, and your dad’s teaching the underage kid how to throw the curve ball, you started throwing the curve ball when you were seven years old, correct?
Dwight Gooden: Yes. I was very young.
Alec Baldwin: Your dad taught you against the advice of some people, maybe you were too young, your dad taught you how to throw the curve ball. And then – I think it’s safe to say, I’m only being half cute when I say this, your first addiction was throwing the curve ball, wasn’t it?
Dwight Gooden: Oh, definitely. Exactly [laughs]. That’s where it all started.
Alec Baldwin: That’s your first addiction. Once you learned how to throw the curve ball you couldn’t stop throwing it, could ya?
Dwight Gooden: Couldn’t stop. You wanna do it and I think a lot of times, like I say, now kids are taught not to throw a curve ball till they get in their teen years, 13 or 14. It’s just my opinion. I don’t think nothing’s wrong with a kid throwing a curve ball say at 10 or 11. I wouldn’t recommend throwing 10 or 11 curve balls a game, but if the mechanics are right, if you got your arm in the right position to throw it, 2 or 3 a game I don’t think would hurt.
Alec Baldwin: But that kid who when someone would get a hit off you when you didn’t perform well you admit in the book you got very emotional, you got very upset. You cracked up a few times. You’d get really emotional. You’re a boy who’s learning how to handle this stress and handle this pressure. When does that kid pick up his first drink? When does that kid start in that – you watched your family go through that?
Dwight Gooden: Yeah. Actually um I found out later in my recovery that my dad was actually an alcoholic. At the time growing up I was just thinking it’s a normal thing guys do. They come home from work, they eat dinner, they sit, watch a game, and have some beers. So basically my first sip of alcohol was probably about 10, 11 years old when I took a sip of my dad’s beer when he wasn’t watching.
Alec Baldwin: Oh, he wasn’t watching?
Dwight Gooden: Wasn’t watching and unfortunately I liked the taste and I remember four or five months later after that we had a family picnic and they had a cooler beer and me and a buddy of mine just jumped in the cooler and drunk a beer and that’s the first time my mom jumped me because I was pretty wasted from the one beer at that age.
Alec Baldwin: Now when – did either of your parents – your dad, if I read the book correctly, your dad cared about you a great deal and he invested very heavily in your playing ball.
Dwight Gooden: Oh, 100 percent.
Alec Baldwin: So was he on you about the drug and alcohol thing? Was he riding you about that?
Dwight Gooden: You know what’s amazing, the first time I knew I really hurt my dad was my mom was more the vocal one about that. My dad was – he always participated in my baseball games at an early age as well as my school activities. I remember in 1987 the first time I tested positive I had to come home and tell my parents that I was going to treatment. My mom was like, ‘Okay. That’s good son. Now get the help you need.’ My dad just kind of dropped his head never said a word. That probably hurt me more knowing that I hurt him by him not saying anything. I’d rather for him to say –
Alec Baldwin: That was how he expressed his deepest disappointment was he didn’t say anything.
Dwight Gooden: Well, he didn’t say anything. I would rather for him to say, ‘Son, you’re a loser,’ or whatever. I just wanted something, but he never did. Never said one word.
Alec Baldwin: So you go from sticking your hand in a cooler at a family event and then you’re sticking your hand in a cooler in the Triple-A ball there in the minors when you’re playing for – what organization were you drafted in?
Dwight Gooden: Yeah. I was drafted by the Mets.
Alec Baldwin: You were in Tidewater?
Dwight Gooden: No. Actually my first year when I got drafted I went to Kingsport, Tennessee, which is rookie ball. Tidewater is a Triple-A. I ended up going my second year for the playoffs and the World Series.
Alec Baldwin: And so from club houses describe what happens when you’re gonna go into the big leagues?
Dwight Gooden: I’ll tell you what was amazing. When I was in Triple-A Davey Johnson was the manager and I pitched well for them in the playoffs in the Triple-A World Series. He said, ‘Where ever I manage next year you’re on the team.’ That winter he got the job big league manager. So just jokingly I called him. I said, ‘Davey, remember what you told me.’ He said, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it. You come to spring training. You’re gonna be on the team.’
About two weeks before spring training started I get a call, ‘cause I wouldn’t – at that time you had to have three years in the minors before you get put in the roster. I only had one year and a half. So I get the call, ‘You’re coming to Big League camp as an all roster player.’ So the whole while during spring training the front office kept saying, ‘We’re gonna send him to Double-A or maybe Triple-A,’ but then David come up to me and said, ‘Don’t worry about it. You’re gonna make the team.’
Alec Baldwin: How did they do that? Three years in the minor is recommended or it’s a rule?
Dwight Gooden: It’s a rule for it to be on the roster, but you can add a guy after the first year he’s fully ready, but you don’t technically have to. But after three years in the minors you either got to put the guy on your roster or you got put him through waivers where any team can claim that guy.
Alec Baldwin: Got it.
Dwight Gooden: So at the last game of spring training we’re playing in St. Petersburg and after the game we’re flying out to Cincinnati to start the season. So I didn’t wanna bring my bags into the club house to take with me because I hadn’t officially heard anything. So I kept my bags in the car just in case. So about the fifth inning of the last spring training game Davey Johnson comes there and he shakes my hand and says, ‘Congratulations. You made the team.’ I’m like, ‘Wow.’ At that point you got this great feeling that you’re living your childhood dream, but part of me is thinking, ‘Man, if I’m really ready for this. I’m only 19.’ Then I remember calling my dad. Told him I made the team and just hearing his joy, ‘cause my dad – he didn’t really show any – you couldn’t tell if he was happy.
Alec Baldwin: He was a quiet guy.
Dwight Gooden: Yeah. Very quiet guy. He’s laid back and you didn’t know – he never showed any emotions, but that day he showed some emotion over the phone and we enjoyed that.
Alec Baldwin: So you go to New York when? What month of what year?
Dwight Gooden: We head to New York – we actually – we opened up in Cincinnati, which for me was great for me because I grew up a Cincinnati Reds fan because growing up in Tampa they had spring training down there in the ‘70s. So we play in Cincinnati and I get my first start actually in Houston in the old astrodome. My parents are there watching the game. I get that win. It was great.
Alec Baldwin: The first game you won?
Dwight Gooden: Yes.
Alec Baldwin: Nineteen years old.
Dwight Gooden: Nineteen years old.
Alec Baldwin: How many strike outs you have?
Dwight Gooden: I think I had five. You know what?
Alec Baldwin: [Laughs] it’s funny how people remember this.
Dwight Gooden Oh, certain things you remember.
Alec Baldwin: I can’t believe these athletes are like, ‘I think I hit the ball.’ You talk to golfers, like, ‘I think I double bogeyed that whole back in 1974.’
Dwight Gooden: Yeah. I remember after that game my dad said, ‘How do you feel?’ I said, ‘I feel good. I should win a lot of games.’ My very next start was in Chicago at Wrigley Field. I don’t get out of the third inning.
Alec Baldwin: You get shelled?
Dwight Gooden: I get just – I get shelled. So now my dad says, ‘Well, son, what do you think?’ Now I’m saying, ‘I don’t know if I’m ready.’ Just from two starts you go back and forth. So it’s just amazing.
Alec Baldwin: Yeah. Those are two extremes. How many games did you pitch the first season when you went?
Dwight Gooden: The first season I think I had about 32 starts.
Alec Baldwin: You had 32 starts. So they were all in on you. They wanted you?
Dwight Gooden: Oh, they was there. Yes, definitely in the –
Alec Baldwin: You were in the rotation.
Dwight Gooden: Yeah. I was in the rotation. I got 17 wins, 17 and 9. Made the All Star team my first year. Led the league in strikeouts and it was amazing because as you mentioned when I first got there it wasn’t too much expectation, but after the All Star break it was a lot of expectations. There were more seats – I mean, more fans in the seats the days I would pitch. It was more media there when pitching.
Alec Baldwin: How’d you feel? How’d you feel?
Dwight Gooden: At that time I felt great because I felt –
Alec Baldwin: Did that get you high?
Dwight Gooden: It did.
Alec Baldwin: And then when you’re off you wanna maintain that high? How do you do that?
Dwight Gooden: Yeah. Well, my first year, like you said, it was definitely adrenaline rush having all the fans there cheering for you and you’re striking out guys –
Alec Baldwin: And you’re winning.
Dwight Gooden: – and you’re winning. There was no better feeling than that and plus at my age you’re having fun, you’re pitching against a lot of guys you idolize, you’re just, you’re party to that and then in the next year, 1985, I have an even better year. I have a career year and you go out there. It’s almost like being in concert.
Alec Baldwin: What did you do differently the second year? Were you just more confident?
Dwight Gooden: Second year I was more confident.
Alec Baldwin: More relaxed.
Dwight Gooden: More relaxed and I had another year of experience under my belt and not that I was cocky, but I had a lot of confidence and Gary Carter came over that year. He was the –
Alec Baldwin: Catcher.
Dwight Gooden: – All Star catcher, for me, which is a big plus for me.
Alec Baldwin: What did Carter bring for you as a catcher that helped you?
Dwight Gooden: I think the way he communicated with me. He didn’t wanna just win. He wanted to dominate and me, even though I wanted to dominate, but like say if I was winning the game 2-0 and then – or 15-0 and then I started just messing around with pitches, he’ll come out there and get in my face and say, ‘Don’t lighten up. Just’ –
Alec Baldwin: Stick with what you know.
Dwight Gooden: – ‘go after these guys, stick with what you know. Let’s totally dominate these guys.’
Alec Baldwin: So when you’re facing a batter have you pre-assessed before a game every single batter you’re gonna face in that game?
Dwight Gooden: The thing was I only had two pitches, fastball and curve. So a lot of times they’re like, ‘This guy’s a great fastball hitter and can’t throw this guy curve ball for strikes,’ so I’m thinking, ‘Well, I shouldn’t be pitching. I’m done,’ but basically always pitched to my strength and made the hitters adjust. A lot of times what I would do also I used to like watch in box scores. If I knew I was gonna face the Cardinals say three days from now I also watch the box scores seeing who’s hot, who’s doing what a couple days before that so I have an idea which guy’s swinging the bat well.
Alec Baldwin: So you have – I’m not a baseball player. I love going to the ball game. I love watching a baseball game live. It’s a great treat. So you’re standing there and you’re at the top of your game. Now you’re 20 years old. You’re in your second season, you’re more confident, and you look in your mind at imaginary strikes on the knees, to the shoulders, you got the home plate there. In those four corners, high and tight, high and outside, low and tight, low and outside, can you basically throw the ball in a fastball anywhere you want it? You can make it go where you want it to go?
Dwight Gooden: 1985 without a doubt. 1985 it was right from the first game to the – my last start.
Alec Baldwin: You picked your spot.
Dwight Gooden: I was just right there, didn’t think about it. Everything just came.
Alec Baldwin: And the ball would go where you made it go?
Dwight Gooden: And the ball basically go right there. I would say probably –
Alec Baldwin: How many miles an hour?
Dwight Gooden: Oh, I was anywhere from 95 to 98.
Alec Baldwin: Ninety-five to ninety-eight. Who’s the fastest pitcher in baseball that you know of?
Dwight Gooden: Right now?
Alec Baldwin: Who was at that – at any time. Who’s been the fastest?
Dwight Gooden: At that time I would say – I think Nolan Ryan.
Alec Baldwin: What did he throw, 99?
Dwight Gooden: Supposedly they say topped out at 103. Now you see these guys throwing 100, 99, but also you have to remember all the new stadiums they got the radar guns and they’re turned up three our four miles an hour faster just for the fans.
Alec Baldwin: Oh, I see.
Dwight Gooden: And unfortunately I found out the hard way. I went to Cleveland towards the end of my career and when I left the Yankees in ‘97 I probably was topping out maybe 92, 93. So I go to Cleveland and pitching at home and the game – the clock’s got me at 96, 97. I’m thinking, ‘Wow. My fastball’s back.’
Alec Baldwin: ‘I’m back. I’m back.’
Dwight Gooden: Unfortunately, three –
Alec Baldwin: ‘What did I have for breakfast? Write it down.’
Dwight Gooden: ‘Ready to go.’ Unfortunately, three minutes later I’ve given seven runs, four homeruns, who knows how many hits. So now when I get knocked out of the game I go in the room with the guy that keeps the video and I’m looking at my chart and seeing who did what and then I see like 87, 88, 89 and I’m asking, ‘What are these numbers here?’ He says, ‘That’s your velocity.’ I say, ‘Out there it had me throwing 97.’ He said, ‘No. That was turned up for the fans.’ So I found out the hard way.
Alec Baldwin: It’s a little bit of show business thing.
Dwight Gooden: Yeah. So now when you see all these guys throwing 98, 99 –
Alec Baldwin: The laugh track in a comedy. I know the feeling. So when you’re out there when you’re younger give me an example of a batter that always vexed you, that really just drove you crazy.
Dwight Gooden: Chili Davis, hands down. When he was with the San Francisco Giants I was with the Mets. He had me. It didn’t matter if I was on top of my game or not he would get hits off me.
Alec Baldwin: He did? What do you attribute that to?
Dwight Gooden: I think it was just –
Alec Baldwin: Just the way you’re both built.
Dwight Gooden: I think what he –
Alec Baldwin: He was built to hit your ball.
Dwight Gooden: I think he wasn’t intimidated by me, ‘cause a couple times I threw it at his head to try to intimidate him. It didn’t matter. He just would stand. If I didn’t have my good stuff he was hitting home runs. If I had good stuff he was getting base hits.
Alec Baldwin: So when you go high and tight you do it to intimidate them?
Dwight Gooden: Most of the time. You’re just – you’re not doing it.
Alec Baldwin: You wanna brush them back.
Dwight Gooden: Right. You don’t wanna hurt nobody her hit them in the head, but just throw it to try to –
Alec Baldwin: You want them to think.
Dwight Gooden: – to start thinking and keep them from getting comfortable, but Chili, it didn’t faze him and it’s weird because some hitters when you talk to them, some pitchers they just hit a ball a lot better than other pitchers ‘cause like our number five starter, Chili couldn’t get a hit off of him, but I’m like the number one starter and he’s just wearing me out. It’s unreal how that happens sometimes.
Alec Baldwin: What was it like for you, obviously often baseball pitchers are not known as great hitters. Is it just ‘cause the way their musculature and their whole physiognomy is such where they just don’t swing the bat the same way?
Dwight Gooden: No.
Alec Baldwin: You’d imagine that a pitcher just in terms of mechanics would be a very good hitter.
Dwight Gooden: Well, most pitchers, like in little league and high school or college was great hitters, but what happens when you get drafted as a pitcher you don’t get to work on it no more.
Alec Baldwin: They don’t care how you hit. They want you throwing the ball all day.
Dwight Gooden: Right. Just throw the ball and work on your buntin’. So if you were minor league say for five years, well, pick up a bat, you just lose it a little bit. But I was fortunate enough I had eight homeruns in my career, which I was very proud of and I won the Silver Slugger’s Award. That’s like the best hitting pitcher for that year. So I got that. I used to take a lot of pride in my hitting as well.
Alec Baldwin: Well, now I don’t wanna be too reductive about the state of Florida, but Florida back then in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Florida was to cocaine what Detroit is to cars. There was a lot of drugs down there. They were in the Miami Vice era so to speak. Were you into cocaine when you were down there before you came up here?
Dwight Gooden: Not – no. I –
Alec Baldwin: When was your introduction to cocaine, which was your drug of choice, correct?
Dwight Gooden: My introduction to cocaine was actually – yes. My introduction to cocaine was actually I had a cousin who was a dealer and he also was a pimp. So I was going to the house to get some pot.
Alec Baldwin: Where was he?
Dwight Gooden: In Tampa. So I was going to the house. This was the winter of 1985. I go to his house –
Alec Baldwin: So you were already playing?
Dwight Gooden: Yes. So I go to his house to get some pot. He said, ‘I don’t have it right now. Let me run out and get it.’ So when he left the house to go get it I’m moping around his house and now I see two girls in his room making out, and so I was turned on by that. They see me and say, ‘Oh, look here. You wanna come here and have some fun with us.’ And so I’m thinking, ‘Yeah. That’d be nice to have some fun.’ And they say, ‘Well, do a little bit of this what we’re doing and then you can join in with us.’
And at first I was fighting it, I was like nah, I’m not gonna touch that or do it,’ but what they was doing to each other was attracting to me. So I put a bit on my tongue and it was like my whole face just went numb and I was thinking, ‘I’ll just do one. It’s not gonna do anything and I’ll join in with them.’ Unfortunately, that one line I did I fell in love with it.
Alec Baldwin: So in a funny way sex was the gateway to cocaine for you.
Dwight Gooden: Yes, and that’s always been my track record like strip clubs, hanging out at bars, stuff like that. Eventually I get the same results every time. So I had to change my whole way of living.
Alec Baldwin: And why do you think that – one of the things that happened – how old are you now?
Dwight Gooden: Now I’m 48.
Alec Baldwin: You’re 48. I’m 55. Now for you I wonder have you been able to revisit – ‘cause you talk about your childhood and you talk about the contradiction, and you don’t necessarily use that word. I was – I read it very carefully when you talked about the kind of craziness in your household. Your uncle shot your aunt in front of you.
Dwight Gooden: Well, it was my sister – my sister-in-law – brother-in-law.
Alec Baldwin: It was your brother-in-law, but you called them uncle.
Dwight Gooden: Brother-in-law. Yeah. GW.
Alec Baldwin: Uncle GW. But he wasn’t really your uncle. He was your brother-in-law from your much older sister.
Dwight Gooden: Brother-in-law. Yes.
Alec Baldwin: So you were six years old and your sister was 20 years old. There was like a 14 year difference if I read correctly.
Dwight Gooden: Fourteen. Right.
Alec Baldwin: So you’re in that scenario and this guy shoots your sister in the head right in front of you.
Dwight Gooden: Yeah.
Alec Baldwin: You grab that baby. You run into the bathroom and you lock yourself in the bathroom and I’m wondering – you talk about how much your dad cared about you and how much your mom fought to hold on to your dad and put up with a lot of shit from him and you watched all this. And you talk about the love you got and the support you got, but it sounds like your family, like much of my family, there’s love and support and a lot of good things, but there’s a lot of nuttiness going on as well. And did you feel that that’s what you needed to medicate yourself against, sex, drugs, alcohol, all these things? Can you put your finger on why you were doing those things?
Dwight Gooden: I think –
Alec Baldwin: Or was it just boredom?
Dwight Gooden: I think – no. I think it was a situation of early on in my career it was boredom. Like when I would come home – like in 1985 when I would come home from playing my season most of my friends was still in school or they was working. So the boredom was there. ‘Well, I’ll just ride around drinking in a car, trying to pick up women.’
Alec Baldwin: So you ran around with a bunch of your peers, people that were your age, young people?
Dwight Gooden: Yes. They was my age.
Alec Baldwin: When you left the ballpark you went into a world of people that were just hanging out?
Dwight Gooden: Right, but I’m saying when the season was over I would come back to Tampa –
Alec Baldwin: Oh, you did.
Dwight Gooden: – and at that time my friends I grew up with, they was either working or some was in school. The ones that wasn’t working or in school were just hanging on the street corners hanging out.
Alec Baldwin: And you came down there with a pocket full of money.
Dwight Gooden: Right. So we’ll hang out –
Alec Baldwin: And everything was on Dwight.
Dwight Gooden: Yes, everything. Definitely. So I would hang out with those guys and so that’s where the boredom came from just riding around every day, just drinking, killing time or whatever, not knowing that it was gonna eventually turn into a problem. So then after the ‘85 season in 1986 I started doing in drugs in New York for the first time. It was more of the peer pressure. It was more of the media pressure and me putting pressure on myself. For example, everything was compared to ‘85. If I won a game 3-0 complete game shutout, but if I only had 5 strikeouts the first question would be, ‘What happened? You only had 5 strikeouts.’
Alec Baldwin: Yeah. They’re picking you apart.
Dwight Gooden: So that’s when I started medicating myself. Then it became premeditated where every game I pitched after that game I was gonna get high. I was either gonna get high to celebrate the win or I was gonna get high because I didn’t pitch that well to forget about the game.
Alec Baldwin: Right. Put the loss behind you.
Dwight Gooden: Right, and then like as you mentioned earlier about me with my sister being shot, she got six times and the one time she got shot in the head. The bullet’s still actually in her head, which she have seizures from it. Well, I grabbed my nephew, went into the bathroom, got in the tub and I pulled the curtain thinking he’s gonna come in there and get us next. The thing that was weird, I didn’t find out until basically 2011 when I was in my last treatment, every time I would get high I would always go to a bathroom whether I was at home by myself, whether it was a restaurant, whether it was whatever.
Alec Baldwin: That’s what I’m talking about.
Dwight Gooden: Yeah. I would go to the bathroom so –
Alec Baldwin: These ghosts and these echoes of what we put up with.
Dwight Gooden: Definitely. Definitely. So I totally relate to that and I always go to the bathroom and it was pointed out to me and I never realized that and put it together.
Alec Baldwin: For me I remember when I started to work, oddly when I was thinking about your life and your book it’s similar ‘cause in terms of acting I was in Tidewater. I was in the Port St. Lucie of acting. I did a daytime TV show, a soap opera here in New York for a couple of years, then I went to LA, and you get called up into the big leagues so to speak. And then you start to make big league money. You and I have more in common than I thought because as I was reading the book I realized – and then I got called up to do other things and I started to make more money and when I was focused on that work the high that I got – I got high from the work.
And when I would go home there was this low, like my adrenaline – I was high all day from the energy of being a young working actor. I went from one studio to the next. I’d go shoot for this movie. I’d get a part. In 1983 to 1985 that period was my white hot period, ‘cause I’m in LA. My dad died. My dad died of cancer. He was 55 years old, April of 1983 and I’m out there and I’m booked, man. I signed deals. I can’t come back. I go to work and when I left work I felt this tremendous kind of depression, like this low, like I had to go do something else to get high. Did you feel that way?
Dwight Gooden: I had the same thing. My problem was trying to fill that void, like you’re talking about. A lot of times the downtime of being bored is a dangerous spot for me to be in ‘cause I never had a hobby. When baseball season would be over, now you come home to Tampa. It’s not like in New York you can go to concerts, you can go to plays, you can go to movies, there’s stuff to do, but Tampa is totally opposite. You just come down and there’s nothing going on. So I totally relate to what you’re saying. I would fill that time –
Alec Baldwin: You weren’t taking photography classes down in Tampa?
Dwight Gooden: No [laughs].
Alec Baldwin: At the Tampa Institute of Photography.
Dwight Gooden: Yeah. So you come home and you got all this time. You got six months of the off season, four months before you start training. I started hanging out in the clubs, doing my drugs, and just basically trying to fill that void and not knowing – you’re thinking, ‘This is fun.’ Looking back at it it wasn’t fun. It caused more trouble than anything.
Alec Baldwin: Did money cause you trouble too?
Dwight Gooden: Money caused me trouble too. I would say –
Alec Baldwin: How much money did you make your first – this is all public record. How much money did you make your first season throwing in professional baseball? Not the Triple-A, not the farm.
Dwight Gooden: When I first got drafted?
Alec Baldwin: When you first got drafted, how much?
Dwight Gooden: I got $85,000.00.
Alec Baldwin: You got $85,000.00 at 17. For how long did that last, for how many years?
Dwight Gooden: For a year and a half ‘cause then I was in the majors.
Alec Baldwin: Right. Then you went to the majors and how much did they pay you?
Dwight Gooden: My rookie year I think the minimum at that time was $60,000.00, but my rookie year once after the All Star break, I made more money off the field than I did my contract.
Alec Baldwin: How much money did you make?
Dwight Gooden: Off the field that year I probably made about $1.5 million, plus the minimum that I was getting, the $60,000.00.
Alec Baldwin: And when did they renegotiate your contract with the Mets?
Dwight Gooden: Well, I didn’t get a long term deal until 1988. At that point I got like I think it was $5.5 million for 3 years and at that point I was the highest paid player at that time.
Alec Baldwin: For the first decade of his career anyone driving along 42nd Street would be greeted by a towering multistory mural of Gooden painted on the side of a building by Nike. He was young, arms outstretched, mid pitch. Dwight Gooden was in complete control.
Dwight Gooden: That was amazing. At that point that’s when I knew the things I was doing was –
Alec Baldwin: It was working [laughs].
Dwight Gooden: – it was working. Yeah, ‘cause as a player, a young player, when you’re going through that you’re not aware of the – what you’re really doing. You’re aware that you’re winning games and you’re getting strike outs, but you’re not really aware of the impact that you have on the game.
Alec Baldwin: You’re the king.
Dwight Gooden: At the time –
Alec Baldwin: You’re the king. Did you feel like the king?
Dwight Gooden: Not really. The only time I felt like the king was the day that I pitched in 1985. That day I just felt like –
Alec Baldwin: That season was a good year.
Dwight Gooden: Yeah. That season was a good year in 1985.
Alec Baldwin: You felt really strong that year.
Dwight Gooden: Right. So even coming to the ballpark just felt like, ‘This is my time,’ ‘cause pulling into the –
Alec Baldwin: Why do you think you didn’t do so well in ‘86? What happened?
Dwight Gooden: Well, ‘86 I did good. I won 17 games in ‘86, but it wasn’t ‘85.
Male: [Audio playing] R.J. Reynolds on the warning track. He jumps and it is gone. Good-bye. Dwight Gooden with his first major league homerun.
Alec Baldwin: [Music playing] in a moment Doc Gooden gets questionable advice from a doctor and takes it. This is Alec Baldwin. Here’s the Thing is supported by the Venture Card from Capital One. Card holders get two miles per dollar spent on every purchase every day. What’s in your wallet? More at www.capitaloneventure.com.
Here’s The Thing is supported by GoToMeeting, with HD Faces from Citrix, designed to be a fast and simple way to meet and collaborate online to get work done. GoToMeeting allows users to share screens, change presenters, and see each other in high definition by turning on their webcams. GoToMeeting lets clients and co-workers stay connected from wherever they are using any computer or mobile device. Visit GoToMeeting dot com, click on the Try It Free button, and enter promo code “The Thing” for a free 30-day trial.
I’m Alec Baldwin and you’re listening to Here’s the Thing from WNYC radio. Major league baseball was hardly immune to the cultural excesses of the 1980’s and the ‘86 Mets were known as a hard partying team. Even so Dwight Gooden was able to set limits in a sense.
Dwight Gooden: I went from ‘87 to ‘94 with just drinking. How I did that I have no idea, without using. I think part of me would help me do that because I was being tested and so –
Alec Baldwin: So talk about what it was like back in the test policy. How did that work?
Dwight Gooden: The test policy was once you test positive for something or if you get in trouble sometime with alcohol or drugs –
Alec Baldwin: And you did.
Dwight Gooden: – then you get into this testing program.
Alec Baldwin: So how did they know you were in trouble with drugs and alcohol?
Dwight Gooden: Well, I went to rehab in ‘87.
Alec Baldwin: Right. So describe that. What happened?
Dwight Gooden: Obviously in ‘86 missing the parade and I go to spring training in 1987. I’m doing coke, not obviously during the games, but I’m doing coke like say at night and spring training you have to be in the ball park really early. So I did. I’m coming in there. I’m sure I look like I been up all day, all night. So then they call me in and say, ‘Well, all these rumors going – let’s put the rumors to rest. Can we test you?’ I say, ‘Sure. You can test me,’ ‘cause I know I hadn’t did anything the night before.
So obviously the test come back positive. So they give me an option. They say, ‘You go to rehab and we’ll continue paying your salary or we can suspend you without pay.’ So that was easy. So I said, ‘I’ll go to rehab so I can continue being paid,’ even though still at that time I’m in treatment, but I’m still thinking I don’t have a problem. So I was just marking days off the calendar till the 30 days was up. Get out of rehab. Now I’m back working out with the minor league teams and then when I get on the plane to go and join the team I’m right back to drinking. So from ‘87 to ‘94 I didn’t use drugs, but I was still drinking.
Alec Baldwin: So testing kind of scared you?
Dwight Gooden: Testing scared me and plus it helped me for a little bit of period of time, but it was just amount of time when I was gonna go back because I was still drinking and –
Alec Baldwin: So when testing helped to keep you in line and then after ‘94 it didn’t, where were you that season?
Dwight Gooden: Right. Well, what happened was in ‘94 the situation where – like I say, it was already premeditated that I would definitely use again given the opportunity. So in ‘94 the first game of the season I break my toe. So I get put on the DL. So now I’m rehabbing and getting back and shape and so when the doctor’s give me clearance to start playing I go down to the minor leagues just to get some innings in and build my arm strength up and then right away the disease tell me, ‘Hey, they’re not testing you down here. I can get high while I’m down here.’ I relapsed and now when I join the team in Cincinnati there’s the guy from Major League Baseball waiting to test me.
He tests me. Obviously it’s positive. I get suspended. Then I go to Betty Ford for 30 days. I get out of there. So they wanted me to come back to New York to meet with the team, the major league baseball doctors before I went to Tampa. All I had to hear was that one doctor says, ‘Why don’t you just drink, but don’t do drugs?’ As soon as he said that I’m thinking, ‘Even though I know I shouldn’t. I’ve been to two treatments at that time and I know I can’t drink.’ So I say, ‘Wow, man. I could do it different this time.’ Obviously when I leave that meeting then I’m on a plane flying home to Tampa to see my family. I’m drinking on the plane. When I get off that plane I don’t see my family for three days.
Alec Baldwin: You pick up right where you left off.
Dwight Gooden: Definitely. Definitely.
Alec Baldwin: You pick up right – which is what they say. For me, I – when I got sober, when I stopped drinking and I stopped taking drugs, which was many years ago when I was very young, it changed a lot of things for me. It really changed my attitude toward what I do for a living. I began to see the potential and I don’t wanna say that it made me overwhelmingly cynical. That may be true nonetheless, but it definitely made me more thoughtful and it made me more aware of where there was the unhealthiness of a lot of things we do, relationships with people. What was a healthy relationship? What was the healthy relationship with my family? And what was the relationship like with your parents now that you’re rich and famous and honored and you have all these awards and you’re coming apart?
Dwight Gooden: My mom, she didn’t care about none of that fame and still today she didn’t care about sports.
Alec Baldwin: Did she come and see you? Did you spend time with your mom?
Dwight Gooden: She would come up during the season to see me, but she wouldn’t – she maybe came to two games. She came to one in Houston, my very first start. She came to the All Star game in 1986 and maybe two starts in New York. My mom is a real southern girl. She’s from Georgia where they grow their own vegetables and fruit and work on a cotton field and all that stuff. So baseball she enjoyed it more when I was a kid than professionally ‘cause she didn’t like all the commotion that went with it.
Alec Baldwin: Hoopla.
Dwight Gooden: Right. So for my dad, he kinda treated me the same, but at the same time he was enjoying all the stuff that was going on. He liked that because when I started playing baseball initially it was his dream and then it became my dream. And as I mention in the book where a lot – where my parents, like they had me at a later time and stage. Like I have five siblings, three brothers and two sisters, and I’m the youngest by 13 years. So I came later on. So obviously I was a spoiled kid. My mom was very strict, very direct with stuff where my dad kind of gave me a pass with a lot of things as long as I was playing baseball.
Alec Baldwin: Without naming names obviously, would you say that drug usage, alcohol, that’s always been the case throughout history, but would you say that drug usage, in particularly cocaine usage, what was the cocaine and drug usage like among professional athletes during the – from when you started to when you finally got sober in 2000?
Dwight Gooden: I think that obviously in the ‘80s it was available pretty much any time you wanted it.
Alec Baldwin: And a lot of people you knew were doing it.
Dwight Gooden: There was a lot of people doing it and unfortunately the ‘86 Mets got labeled as a party team. At that time in the early ‘80s all teams was partying, but because we was successful and we was in New York we got pointed out. A lot of stuff they said was true, but other teams in that place was doing the same thing.
Alec Baldwin: Who was the person that didn’t party who was a straight arrow? Who was the Boy Scout on the team who would come up to you, if any, and wag their finger in your face and say, ‘Shame on you, don’t you do that’?
Dwight Gooden: We had several guys that didn’t drink and didn’t party, but they never pointed the finger or thought they was better or –
Alec Baldwin: So no one came to you like a patriarchal figure and put his hand on you and said, ‘Hey, man. You gotta slow down’?
Dwight Gooden: No. Prime example, Gary Carter, great guy.
Alec Baldwin: Straight arrow?
Dwight Gooden: Obviously he was a great player, but even a better person off the field. He never drink. He never hung out with us or anything like that. He would go out to eat with us, but once we were saying we were going out on the strip he’d say, ‘Okay. If you guys need me or whatever I’m in my room,’ but the next day you would come in with a red eyes, you’re hung over. He never judged you. He just said, ‘You okay? Everything’s good? You had a good time? Good. Okay, let’s get back to work.’ That was it.
Alec Baldwin: But nobody came to you and said – and tried to intervene is what I mean?
Dwight Gooden: I think one time obviously when the rumors started –
Alec Baldwin: Even coaches or management.
Dwight Gooden: No, but the –
Alec Baldwin: Who you felt cared. It wasn’t about you.
Dwight Gooden: Right. The one time that happened with me was in ‘86 when the rumors started flying around that I was partying, whatever. Actually Ray Knight, he came up to me and said, ‘Doc, I’m hearing all the stuff that’s going on and rumors about they say there’s a black player on the team that’s out doing drugs, hanging out,’ and again, I denied it to him. I said, ‘No. That’s not me.’ He said, ‘Okay. I’ll take your word to that.’
Alec Baldwin: Sports is dominated on every level from major league baseball and basketball obviously and football, every great sport and team sport and many individual sports are dominated by African American players, but did you find that when you got into the world of major league ball was racism ever a quality you had to deal with ever?
Dwight Gooden: Maybe just a little bit my first year—like I grew up in a neighborhood in Tampa where there’s a lot of Hispanics, there’s a lot of whites, whatever. So I grew up accustomed to that. So I remember getting drafted –
Alec Baldwin: You grew accustomed to what? Everybody kept to themselves?
Dwight Gooden: No, just different cultures living in the same neighborhood. So I was aware of that even in school, school activities. That’s just the way it was. Obviously I was aware of the Jackie Robinson story, but I never witnessed that. So I couldn’t relate until 1982 when I got drafted I go to Kingsport, Tennessee. So I’m there and I remember walking through the mall and it was me, this guy, Floyd Youmans, who’s another black player that was on the team, and you could hear people looking and staring. I remember this one guy who was working at this vendor says, ‘It must be baseball season.’ So I know what he meant ‘cause there’s not really that many blacks in Kingsport, Tennessee.
The only other time was we would go to Johnson City. It’s in the Appalachian League. Before the game we’re taking batting practice or whatever and I’m warming up on the side and you can hear these guys over there and I remember like it was today. He goes, ‘Watch that N chunk that watermelon,’ ‘cause I’m throwing. So now when I get done throwing I’m hanging out in the outfield shagging balls and they’re yelling all kinds of stuff at me and these other guys and I remember this guy Leon Williams was in center field. He goes, ‘Doc, if they say one more word we’re going up there to get them.’ I said, ‘No, no. You go up there and get them. I’m not going up there,’ but that was really the only time I ever experienced anything like that.
Alec Baldwin: Yeah. So when you came to New York –
Dwight Gooden: No. I never got none of that in New York.
Alec Baldwin: –in your years in pro-ball, none of that?
Dwight Gooden: None of that. No. Never had any of that.
Alec Baldwin: Everybody was an equal?
Dwight Gooden: Everybody was equal. Yes. Everybody – it was great.
Alec Baldwin: And even among the players everybody was a brother in arms?
Dwight Gooden: Yes. Definitely. I never had problems up here.
Alec Baldwin: In my life I’ve always accorded a certain kind of respect and a kind of glory to pro-athletes that I don’t give to people in my business. If you said to me, ‘Who’s an actor you’d love to meet?’ I’d say, ‘Well, Humphrey Bogart I’d love to meet. I wanna meet William Holden,’ but to me, athletes have always been just magnetic to me. We used to play a game. We’d say if you could be any athlete, if you could play any pro position and you were guaranteed ten years healthy, you wouldn’t get a debilitating injury, you’d be healthy for ten years. You’d get the crap beat out of you and you’ve never – you’d have to work hard, but if you could have any ten years in any individual sport or team sport, any position, what would you take? And if you couldn’t play baseball, and I hate this question because it’s a hokey question, but if you couldn’t play baseball what would you be? What sport would you dominate?
Dwight Gooden: For dominate? I don’t know about dominate, but I guess if – football is my sport. Even though I play baseball obviously, but I’m more of a football fan.
Alec Baldwin: You’re an NFL fan?
Dwight Gooden: Oh, definitely.
Alec Baldwin: Me too.
Dwight Gooden: On Sundays I go to church, hit a meeting, and then I’m in my basement the rest of the night. That’s just the way it is.
Alec Baldwin: Who’s your team?
Dwight Gooden: Giants. I’m a big Giant fan.
Alec Baldwin: Me too.
Dwight Gooden: I would say I would like to be on the defensive end, a safety.
Alec Baldwin: You would?
Dwight Gooden: The thing is I played a quarterback when I was very young –
Alec Baldwin: You did?
Dwight Gooden: – but I didn’t like contact. I was a real thin kid, so I didn’t like contact. I like to hit guys on defense where you just run – get an interception and run it in. I would definitely say safety.
Alec Baldwin: You wanna hit people, not be hit.
Dwight Gooden: Exactly.
Alec Baldwin: Well, well, well.
Dwight Gooden: That’s like pitching. You’re on the defensive side. You don’t have to worry about the hitting part, especially in American League.
Alec Baldwin: Right, right, right.
Dwight Gooden: See my guy would have been Lawrence Taylor on the field and the reason I say that because I never seen a defensive guy just change the game, just change the entire game and you can see the fear in the quarterback eyes and he’s talking smash to him. Like watch some of the highlights and the sounds of the game, watching him how he’s just talking smack to the quarterbacks and then doing it. So I would just love to know – get that feeling one time on a defensive side like Lawrence Taylor had, just totally dominate.
Alec Baldwin: What do you say to your kids? Your kids are how old?
Dwight Gooden: My kids are from 3 to 27.
Alec Baldwin: So you have kids and know – your top three oldest are how old, 27?
Dwight Gooden: Yeah, 27, 23, 21, then I have an 18 and 16.
Alec Baldwin: Right. So from 16 and above let’s say, of that age when they might be sticking their hand in a cooler down there in Tidewater, what do you say to them when they – ‘cause they know all about you. It’s in the book.
Dwight Gooden: They know about me with the book and even before the book came out I would talk to my kids. When they drink or whatever I say, ‘Look, use me as an example.’ I look at my older kids when I got to the point and felt comfortable I had a talk with them. I said, ‘Basically to tell you how powerful drugs and alcohol is, I basically divorced you guys and your mother for drugs.’ I said, ‘So just picture that.’ I said, ‘You guys know how I felt when I wasn’t around’ –
Alec Baldwin: That’s how insidious it is.
Dwight Gooden: – right – ‘and when I wasn’t at your school activities, when I wasn’t at your game, or if I was there I really wasn’t there.’
Alec Baldwin: Did you miss a lot of that?
Dwight Gooden: Missed a lot of that and I say, ‘Just think what that did to me,’ and I said, ‘and you guys know my heart. You guys know the type of person I was.’ I said, ‘But once you get involved with that, you’re not the same, and not only do you hurt yourself, but you hurt your loved ones, like I hurt you guys.’
Alec Baldwin: Did they forgive you?
Dwight Gooden: Yes. That was one of the things. They forgave me. All they want me to be is healthy and be accountable to them. I don’t make any promises to them obviously, but I’m always there. I talk to them daily now and –
Alec Baldwin: Are they mostly – where do they live mostly? Are they spread out all over?
Dwight Gooden: Yeah. My oldest daughter lives up here with me and my two little ones – I have a three and eight that’s with me and the rest of them are out of town.
Alec Baldwin: Are you married now?
Dwight Gooden: Yes.
Alec Baldwin: What does your wife do?
Dwight Gooden: She’s a school teacher.
Alec Baldwin: Where does she teach?
Dwight Gooden: Math and art.
Alec Baldwin: In a school, a public school? –
Dwight Gooden: Yeah. So mostly art and things.
Alec Baldwin: Out in Jersey?
Dwight Gooden: In Jersey and then like now this summer she’s doing something in Maryland.
Alec Baldwin: Where did you meet her?
Dwight Gooden: I actually met her – the first time I met her was in Detroit and we met through a mutual friend. She was a flight attendant and a guy I grew up with was a flight attendant.
Alec Baldwin: What is it with you pro-athletes and flight attendants, man? My God. Such a cliché. She was a flight attendant.
Dwight Gooden: Yeah. She was a flight attendant and a mutual introduced us.
Alec Baldwin: How long have you been married?
Dwight Gooden: I’ve been married four years.
Alec Baldwin: And how many kids you have with her?
Dwight Gooden: Two.
Alec Baldwin: What are you doing with yourself now?
Dwight Gooden: Now what I do –
Alec Baldwin: Other than – I know what you’re doing during the NFL season. You go to church, you hit a meeting, you’re down in the basement on a big jumbo screen watching TV all day. You and me both.
Dwight Gooden: Definitely. That’s it. Now I – actually my eight-year-old son he plays baseball and football.
Alec Baldwin: Where is he?
Dwight Gooden: At Englewood Cliffs. He’s here. So I – when I have the opportunity I help coach his team. I do work with the Mets and Yankees. I couldn’t do that when Mr. Steinbrenner was living. It was only Yankee or nothing. So now unfortunately he’s passed. I get to work a little bit with both teams. I do that. I do a lot of stuff with the youth program and my true passion is anything with kids.
Alec Baldwin: You ever throw a baseball anymore?
Dwight Gooden: Very little.
Alec Baldwin: I can’t believe you said that ‘cause I went to a golf tournament the other day and Doug Flutie was there and I’m a huge Flutie fan. I said, ‘You ever throw a football anymore?’ He says, ‘No.’
Dwight Gooden: They don’t do it. Yeah.
Alec Baldwin: He never throws a football anymore. I said, ‘You gotta be kidding me. You must have thrown a football – you must have thrown a million footballs.’
Dwight Gooden: I saw Flutie on his show, his reality show with Tim Wakefield, learning how to throw a knuckle ball. That’s pretty interesting.
Alec Baldwin: And you know never throw a baseball anymore?
Dwight Gooden: I throw a little bit with my kids, but nothing off the mound, nothing like that.
Alec Baldwin: Nothing. No throwing out a ball in a first game, first ball in a game?
Dwight Gooden: Well, I did the old timers game. Yeah. I’ve done the first ball. I’ve done that. That’s fun and actually about two weeks ago I played in a Dodgers Yankee old timers game at Dodgers Stadium, was pretty cool.
Alec Baldwin: If the Doc Gooden you are now or I should say the Dwight Gooden you are now, could go back and talk to the Doc Gooden then, what would you say to him?
Dwight Gooden: The main thing I would say, ‘Be honest with yourself. Remove that mask. Speak your mind. Put yourself in a good position instead of pleasing others, even though it’s dangerous for myself.’
Alec Baldwin: And you felt you did a lot of people pleasing?
Dwight Gooden: A lot of people pleasing. I still struggle with that today. Not as bad as I was, but there’s still room for improvement.
Alec Baldwin: Why do you think you do that?
Dwight Gooden: I think it just started when I was a kid and part of me –
Alec Baldwin: To survive in that household?
Dwight Gooden: To survive in the household and not only that, I have a genuine heart, but I also gotta understand you gotta draw the line somewhere. You can’t put yourself in danger way.
Alec Baldwin: Your dad died when?
Dwight Gooden: Oh, he passed away in 1997.
Alec Baldwin: 1997. Were where you when your dad died?
Dwight Gooden: Actually I was in Tampa when it happened. Actually the last game my dad saw me pitch was a no hitter and I talk about that in the book where he had been struggling for a while with his kidney failure. He was on dialysis for like 15 years. His health was deteriorating and they felt – he had to have emergency heart surgery. They felt if he didn’t have the surgery he probably wouldn’t last a month or two and even if he had the surgery they can’t guarantee if he’s gonna last a month or two, but definitely had to have the surgery.
The day I pitched the no hitter I was supposed to fly home to be with him that day ‘cause he was having the surgery next morning. Had my flight reservation and everything, but when I woke up that morning I remember taking a shower and brushing my teeth and I just started reminiscing of all the days we spent at the park, him teaching me the drills, me and him going to the spring training games, me and him watching games on TV.
Alec Baldwin: What’d you learn from him?
Dwight Gooden: I learned from him how to pitch basically. I knew – everything I learned about baseball is from him and –
Alec Baldwin: What’d you learn from him as a father?
Dwight Gooden: As a father just putting family first, understanding that –
Alec Baldwin: You believe he did that?
Dwight Gooden: Yes. Definitely. Understanding that –
Alec Baldwin: In his way.
Dwight Gooden: In his way. Yeah. He might have didn’t live it, but just telling me, ‘Family comes first, family values, set a good example for your kids as well.’ So that day I felt he’ll probably –
Alec Baldwin: But in some ways he didn’t set a good example for you.
Dwight Gooden: Well, with the womanizing, whatever, even though I probably –
Alec Baldwin: But that’s what I’m saying. I wonder if sometimes that’s part of what happened was you trying to make peace with those two, ‘cause that’s where I came to in my life. Once I got sober and I started to examine what was bothering me, what I began to realize was that my parents were people. Did you find that that was a part of what aided you, the contradictions inside your dad?
Dwight Gooden: No. With him, no. I would say not at all. He was there. Like a lot of things that he was doing I thought was a normal thing.
Alec Baldwin: But you became a womanizer.
Dwight Gooden: Yeah. I became a womanizer and the thing my dad was doing with the drinking, I never actually saw him with a woman or whatever. So he kept it away from the house. My parents never argued in front of me so I just thought everything was great.
Alec Baldwin: Until you sang that song daddy’s got a girlfriend. You outed your father [laughs].
Dwight Gooden: Right. He was getting a water or something so I threw him under the bus.
Alec Baldwin: You accidently threw him under the bus. That’s a wild thing you described in the back. That’s really, really cool. Well, I just wanna say that I really am very grateful to you that you wrote that book. I really, really commend you for writing that book.
Dwight Gooden: Thank you. I appreciate it.
Alec Baldwin: You did the Dr. Drew thing what year?
Dwight Gooden: That was 2011.
Alec Baldwin: So you went back, ‘cause you went out again.
Dwight Gooden: Yes.
Alec Baldwin: And went out when? You were sober from when to when?
Dwight Gooden: From the last time from 2010 I was very active in my addiction when I was going through this divorce.
Alec Baldwin: But you were sober 2000 till when?
Dwight Gooden: Yes. 2000 to 2003 and then I went back out there and I was basically –
Alec Baldwin: In and out.
Dwight Gooden: – in and out of my addiction until 2011.
Alec Baldwin: From 2003 to 2011.
Dwight Gooden: Yes.
Alec Baldwin: So you’re in and out for eight more years and you got busted.
Dwight Gooden: 2010, yes.
Alec Baldwin: 2010 you got busted where?
Dwight Gooden: Well, what happened was in Franklin Lakes in New Jersey I had got charged with child endangerment where I took Ambien the night before, woke up to take my son to school, and obviously hit a car and they wanted to get me out and do the field sobriety test, which as they’re talking to me I’m dozing off and –
Alec Baldwin: You must have taken a couple of Ambien [laughs].
Dwight Gooden: Yes. Definitely.
Alec Baldwin: Sounds like you took more than one Ambien.
Dwight Gooden: Right.
Alec Baldwin: So then you get charged.
Dwight Gooden: Get charged.
Alec Baldwin: And it’s child endangerment ‘cause you were in a vehicle with the child.
Dwight Gooden: Yes.
Alec Baldwin: How old was the child?
Dwight Gooden: My son at that time – that was 2010 – he would have been 5.
Alec Baldwin: So you were married to your wife then?
Dwight Gooden: Yes.
Alec Baldwin: You were newly married almost.
Dwight Gooden: Yes.
Alec Baldwin: And what happened? Did you go to prison, to jail?
Dwight Gooden: No. No time. Got probation and that’s when I went to the Dr. Drew show.
Alec Baldwin: What did you think was unique about that? What helped you about that?
Dwight Gooden: Going to Dr. Drew?
Alec Baldwin: Yeah. Did it help you?
Dwight Gooden: It definitely helped me, but I think the thing was I was ready to get help. The times before in the treatment I was just basically there doing my time. As you know, in treatment what you put in is what you get out. I was just ready. It was a time in my life where I knew I had been to rehabs, I’d been to institutions, I’d been to jail, I’d been to prison. The only thing waiting was the cemetery.
Alec Baldwin: When did you go to prison?
Dwight Gooden: I went to prison in ‘06.
Alec Baldwin: For?
Dwight Gooden: For a technical violation for – it was a relapse.
Alec Baldwin: How long were you in there?
Dwight Gooden: Ten and a half months.
Alec Baldwin: What was that like?
Dwight Gooden: Horrible. That was horrible.
Alec Baldwin: Where were you?
Dwight Gooden: In Gainesville, Florida. That was horrible. Any time you get locked up, incarceration is horrible.
Alec Baldwin: What facility? You were in a state prison?
Dwight Gooden: But going there at the age 40 is horrible.
Alec Baldwin: State prison?
Dwight Gooden: Yes.
Alec Baldwin: You were in a state prison in Gainesville, Florida for ten months?
Dwight Gooden: Yes.
Alec Baldwin: And they all knew who you were?
Dwight Gooden: Yes.
Alec Baldwin: And did all like the biggest – I’m making a joke here, but the biggest, toughest guys in the prison who could probably beat the crap out of you come up and tell you that they would protect you if you taught them the secret of how to throw the fastball?
Dwight Gooden: I didn’t get any of that, but –
Alec Baldwin: Did you take a ball and show them how the fingers go over the laces and they’d leave you alone?
Dwight Gooden: No. There was none of that.
Alec Baldwin: You’d look at some guy and go, ‘Listen, Ray. I’m gonna show this to you one time and then that’s it and I want you to promise me you’re gonna leave.’
Dwight Gooden: No. In there you found – the first day you was there you just a number. You’re not even a name. It’s horrible.
Alec Baldwin: Really?
Dwight Gooden: Yes.
Alec Baldwin: Did you become friends with – did you have any – what kind of time did you have?
Dwight Gooden: Well, there was a couple guys that I knew from – as kids that I hadn’t seen since childhood and –
Alec Baldwin: [Laughs] and you found them in there?
Dwight Gooden: Found them in there ‘cause they had been in and out their whole life.
Alec Baldwin: Jesus.
Dwight Gooden: So but that didn’t help the time go by fast. It was just a horrible, horrible time, horrible experience.
Alec Baldwin: And when you got out of there how did you feel?
Dwight Gooden: It was different and I totally agree. A guy was telling me when guys get incarcerated and you’re there for basically ten months or longer it takes that same amount of time when you get out to get back to yourself and I found that once I got out I was still living like I was in prison. I wasn’t go anywhere. I was just staying in the house. I was just basically doing time on the streets. So it was a horrible, horrible time till I could get comfortable again.
Alec Baldwin: Who helped you?
Dwight Gooden: I had – I started going to the meetings after that. Got a sponsor, this guy, Ron Dock, who now works with –
Alec Baldwin: That’s when you first went to meetings after that?
Dwight Gooden: No. I went to meeting before, but I just got totally locked into meetings.
Alec Baldwin: So back into the program and the program saved you?
Dwight Gooden: Yeah. They got me going and got me feeling good about myself again.
Alec Baldwin: So 2011 you Franklin Lakes, the car thing, Ambien, the child, child endangerment, you don’t do any time?
Dwight Gooden: No, and I got five months’ probation and basically had to go to treatment, went to Dr. Drew. I was three for three weeks and when I got out I went to a treatment here.
Alec Baldwin: How did he strike you? How did he help you?
Dwight Gooden: He was a nice guy. And when I got out I went to Henry Jersey for a year, outpatient, and that’s what’s been keeping me going.
Alec Baldwin: Right. How is your wife? Is she cool about it, supporting you?
Dwight Gooden: No. No. That was –
Alec Baldwin: That was a tough time [laughs].
Dwight Gooden: Yeah. That was tough. That’s a story for another day, but it was okay.
Alec Baldwin: It’s a tough thing though.
Dwight Gooden: Oh, it’s very tough. That’s the thing I tell my kids is it’s tough not only on you, but it’s tough on all your loved ones.
Alec Baldwin: Yeah. You put everybody else through it.
Dwight Gooden: Yes. Definitely.
Alec Baldwin: I got people in my family, man, it’s like they got a lot of wreckage in their past. They got a lot.
Dwight Gooden: A lot of stuff is on their times. You can’t have them forgive you on your time ‘cause we’ll do it right now. So they have to work through their things and get to a point where they accept what happened. We can’t force them. That’s the thing that I found out [music playing].
Alec Baldwin: You can learn more about Dwight Gooden’s life in his recently released autobiography Doc: A Memoir. This is Alec Baldwin. Here’s the thing comes from WNYC Radio.