Sports, particularly within the last 20 years, have had their share of prominent athletes who have ruined or, at the very least, tarnished their careers through indiscretions of various natures.
The list would be a veritable “Who’s Who” of incredible athletes who, either through problems with the law, personal problems with drugs, alcohol, or adulterous liaisons, or just plain stupidity have seen their careers take a downward spiral.
I guess it really started with OJ Simpson but it certainly didn’t end there. Without using any reference material at all, I can think of the following just off the top of my head: Kobe Bryant, Mike Tyson, Marion Jones, Ben Roethilesberger, Floyd Landis, Ben Johnson, Tonya Harding, Martina Hingis, Rae Carruth, Michael Vick, Plaxico Burress, and, of course, Tiger Woods. And there are dozens more that I’m sure come to your minds.
I hear you saying, “Surely there couldn’t have been this many idiots.” And I say, “I’m afraid so and don’t call me Shirley.” Terribly sad when you stop and think about it that these great young men and women wasted their potential or harmed their image by their indiscretions. Admittedly, the general public has let some of them off the hook, so to speak, but their reputations are forever smudged by what they did.
Two others came to mind that I want to focus this column on today. Both of them could have been Hall of Famers but they let drugs get the best of them and that powerful curse shortened what would have been incredible careers based on the way they began. Ironically, both men gained most of their fame and notoriety with the same teamthe NewYork Mets. The two men in question are Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry.
Let’s begin with Gooden. He began his major league career in 1984 after spending only one season in the minor leagues. He was immediately dubbed “Dr. K” for his 98 mph fastball and a curveball that astounded hitters. That same year he became the youngest player ever to appear in an All-Star Game and he easily won the Rookie of theYear Award. In 1985 he topped that achievement by winning the Cy Young Award.Gooden posted one of the statistically best seasons by a pitcher in the history of the game. He won 24 games, struck out 268, and had an ERA of 1.53.
It should also be noted that he threw three other 9-inning shutouts in which he didn’t get a decision so his win total could have approached 30.
Just two short years later, the bottom dropped out of his life.
In 1987 Gooden was arrested for cocaine possession and, little by little, his baseball life began to diminish. I won’t go into all his problems with drugs, alcohol, police, and family disputes except to say that Gooden had his name in just about as many police reports as box scores after that.
He continued to try and play through these problems and as a testimony to his amazing talent, he threw a no-hitter while pitching for the Yankees in 1996.
His problems continue. He was arrested earlier this year for leaving the scene of an accident and endangering the welfare of a child that was with him. He was accused of abandoning his family just days before being inducted into the New York Mets Hall of Fame.
The story is similar with Darryl Strawberry. Strawberry began his career one year earlier than Gooden with the Mets and won Rookie of the Year honors in ’83. A feared hitter who was imposing at the plate with his 6-6 stature, he led the Mets to a World Series championship in 1986 and later, with the Yankees, won three more rings. Strawberry finished his career as a .259 lifetime hitter with 339 home rums and exactly 1,000 RBI.
While it was rumored that he had been a druguser long before, Strawberry was first arrested for cocaine possession in 1995. Along with his addiction problems and run-ins with the law, Strawberry has also had some serious health issues. He was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1998 that required extensive colon surgery. The cancer later spread to his lymph nodes, which required the removal of one of his kidneys. He has had a series of legal issues in recent years but seems to be battling his demons successfully.
He met the woman who would be his third wife while in rehab (she was a counselor) and is a bornagain Christian. He appeared on TheApprecntice and, along with Gooden, was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame earlier this year.
These stories came to my mind because I recently lost a high school buddy who fell into the same traps as these two but, in his case, he couldn’t find his way out. To protect his family I’ll just call him E. E played football for us and was the catcher on our baseball team. E wasn’t great but he was a solid hitter and steady behind the plate. He had potential to play above the high school level though. E also loved to sing. I was once an old rock n’ roller and the first “garage band” I ever played in was with E. We were the Four JERKs (Jimmy, E, Randy, Kenny). E was our lead singer and guitarist and he did have a pretty good voice.
After high school, as is so often the case, we drifted apart. I went off to college and E went, well, I don’t know where E went but wherever it was, it wasn’t good. I lost touch with him until one of our high school reunions some years back. He showed up with his long hair and spaced-out speech and we hardly recognized him. E had gotten involved with drugs and they were eating him up. We heard that E passed away a few weeks ago. He had been homeless, living on the street for the last few years. My sadness goes far beyond his death. I’m sad for his lost potential.
Many of these athletes have enough money to fight their problems and, hopefully, conquer them. E didn’t. His life, once full of promise, sank in the quicksand of drugs. Young people- learn a lesson from this, please.
And E- remember what Coach Mock said, “Always wear your cup!”
Randy Blalock is a columnist for the Barrow Journal. Send comments about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.