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Friday, Sept. 9, 2005
Despite troubles, Gooden blessed
I got a bit choked up the other day.
It's funny how as you get older, things that would not have fazed you in the least now have a totally different impact.
Becoming a parent can do this to you, I think.
What set me off was a photo of former star pitcher Dwight Gooden at his first court appearance following his recent arrest for fleeing the scene in his car, after he was pulled over and asked to take a sobriety test by police officers in his hometown of Tampa, Fla.
In the photo, Gooden is flanked by his attorneys on one side and his mother Ella on the other.
As I stared at this picture, I tried to figure out what it was that had triggered this reaction inside of me.
It definitely wasn't the attorneys.
Gooden was standing in an orange prison jumpsuit and, despite the solemnness of the proceedings, looked as if he could step back out on the mound even now at the age of 40.
After several minutes, I decided that it was the look on the face of Gooden's mother that had done it. She appeared totally exhausted and like a person who had run out of answers for why everything had gone so wrong for her famous son.
The amazing highs and lows of his life have clearly led her on a roller coaster that still won't stop.
One need only look at this photo to see the type of damage that drug and alcohol abuse can do to families. It was a heartbreaking scene.
How did this incredibly talented person, blessed with good looks, charm and intelligence, hit rock bottom like this again?
Anybody who ever saw Gooden pitch will tell you what a special player he was, especially before he blew out his throwing shoulder. Talk about gifted, the guy was unbelievable.
He could just blow batters away with his raw speed. He struck out 16 batters twice in one week for the Mets during his first season.
Gooden won the 1984 National League Rookie of the Year award, the 1985 NL Cy Young Award and helped the Mets win the World Series in 1986.
He seemed on the way to a Hall of Fame career. But then it all came undone.
Was it the crowd he fell in with or bad judgment?
Probably a bit of both.
Gooden's plight illustrates just how difficult it is for somebody with a substance abuse problem to kick the habit. He has been in rehab before and has slipped back into old habits again and again.
The sad and ironic twist to this whole tale is that Gooden, who was denied bail and will remain in jail until his next hearing in October, is now incarcerated at the same time as his son -- Dwight Jr. -- who was recently arrested for violating probation on a cocaine possession conviction.
I'm sure that must hurt Gooden more than anything, knowing that the sins of the father have rubbed off on his son.
Alcoholism and drug abuse are diseases, without question. Nobody in their right mind would put themselves or their family through what comes with them if they could possibly help it.
I don't think there is a person anywhere who has not had a family member impacted by a behavioral or chemical problem. When it is the latter type of issue, the indifference of the abuser can lead to incredible frustration for those who care about them most.
I thought New York Yankees slugger Gary Sheffield, who is Dwight Gooden's nephew, said it best when he learned of his uncle's most recent arrest.
"There is nothing left that we (his family) can do. We have done everything we can for him. He has to do it himself now."
What was interesting about this poignant statement, was that Sheffield has long been known as a loose cannon in the baseball world, someone who often seemed to speak without thinking or caring how it might affect others.
Yet on the day he said this, I felt for him. He was clearly at the end of his rope with his well-known uncle.
Despite the fact that he is in jail, Gooden is fortunate to have a family that continues to support him. Which takes me back to that photo.
The author Agatha Christie once wrote: "A mother's love for her child is like nothing else in the world."
In her son's darkest hour, Ella Gooden wasn't hiding behind the door at her house and not answering the phone, she was there for her boy, standing right by his side.
That's what mothers are for.
Jack Gallagher was named a top 10 columnist by the Associated Press Sports Editors for his work in 2004.