Inside Baseball: The Best of Tom Verducci

Free Inside Baseball: The Best of Tom Verducci by Tom Verducci

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Authors: Tom Verducci
hung over from the night before and overslept. He called off his engagement to Carlene Pearson and fathered a son, Dwight Jr., by another woman, Debra Hamilton of Tampa. Then he had a brawl with the Tampa police after they stopped his car.
    So on March 24, 1987, at Gooden’s urging, his agent, Jim Neader, met with Mets vice president Al Harazin to work out a voluntary drug-testing plan. Gooden was supposed to attend the meeting but did not show. “Test for everything,” Neader said. The next day, Neader told Harazin, “Go ahead, test away.” So the following day, the Mets took a urine sample and sent it to St. Petersburg General Hospital.
    “I feel like I have to do it,” Gooden said at the time. “I want to convince the Mets more than I do anyone else.”
    On March 30 a test came up positive for cocaine. On April Fools’ Day the Mets confronted Gooden with the test result. His first reaction was to deny it. Then he broke down and cried. “It was an absolute bombshell,” Johnson says. “I thought it wasn’t true. He was on time, worked hard and set a good example for the other pitchers. He had one of the best work ethics I’ve seen.”
    Gooden’s life was a lie, and the Mets unwittingly helped perpetuate it. Under the overzealous mothering of the front office and its publicity staff, Gooden was told when to speak, whom to speak to and, sometimes, what to say. Such was management’s paranoia that during Gooden’s first workout at Shea Stadium after his first drug rehabilitation, reporters were sequestered in an auxiliary locker room with a guard posted at the door. The press was even refused access to the press box. The Mets weren’t about to let Gooden become a loose cannon like Strawberry. Problem was, they failed to let Gooden be himself.
    “I became this person I really wasn’t,” he says. “People said I was this quiet, nice, shy kid. Sometimes I just wanted to yell, ‘s---’ or ‘f---’ or just blow somebody out. But I’d always stop myself and say, ‘I’m not supposed to be like this.’ Jay [Horwitz, the team’s public relations director] would ask me to do an interview, and even if I didn’t want to do it, I’d say, ‘O.K., I’ll do it.’”
    “The problem with Dwight,” Johnson says, “is he couldn’t say no. He was too nice. Evidently he knew people in Tampa who could get you in trouble. It was like he was the lucky one, and it would be wrong for him not to be their friend, like he wanted to prove to them he wasn’t acting like a big shot and turning his back on them.”
    Says Gooden, “That’s 100 percent true. I have to be more vocal—in any situation.” Gooden, despite Horwitz’s concern, decided on his own to be interviewed for this story. “I’m not going to sit back and just take things in anymore,” he says. “I have to be me. I’m going to be a little more selfish.”
    Gooden checked into Smithers in April 1987 immediately after testing positive for cocaine. He felt awkward being there and refused to open up to Lans. I can handle this by myself, he thought. You’re not much of a man if you have to go to someone else with your problems.
    The counselors tried to teach him how alcohol acted as his gateway to cocaine, but the lesson didn’t stick. Three weeks after he checked out of Smithers he was drinking again. “If I won, I went out drinking to celebrate,” he says. “And if I lost, I went out drinking to forget about it.”
    After Gooden’s four weeks in Smithers, Major League Baseball began testing him for drugs as often as three times per week. As he continued to test clean over the years, baseball officials relaxed their vigilance. First they stopped taking samples on the days that he pitched. Eventually the frequency of the testing shrank to four random tests over each half of the baseball season. And, Gooden says, Lans began cutting back on Gooden’s aftercare, excusing him from Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in New York because Gooden was such a

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