The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

The Demons That Haunt Even Doctors

He arrived at the old brownstone as if ejected from a garbage disposal, dirty, sore and squalid.  The little black girls jumping rope on the sidewalk recognized him, again.  No way he could look them in the eye.  Uh, uh.  Not like this.  No autographs today, kids.  Not here on the Island.

His face was that of a high school kid searching for a way to avoid afternoon English Lit ennui, second-lunch flowing into third, then a furtive sneak out the back door towards the bus stop on 48th Street.  Fuck Fitzgerald and his jazz-age jerk-off friends.  Their type was always hanging out for a handout, flashing fat wads of cash and gold teeth, like so many shark-gypsies.

The Crack House

The Crack House (Photo credit: Hryck.)

The lower floor vacant like the soul of a disposed evangelist, the upper floor tangy with piss-smell and live vermin.  Crawling out of the shadows under cracked, spinal-cord plaster, black teeth like moldy graves on a new-moon night, those who would sooth this jaded specter, spooning out the crack.  Bottles of brandy, vodka and rum, like a Christmas bell-chime chorus, littered and glittered on the floor in the fading, late-afternoon light.

Now an unlikely bonus companion, a working T.V. set, tuned to a parade not all that distant, though another world away.  Ticker tape and NY logos and limos rolling down the canyon avenues, ten miles an hour, kicked a hole in his soul.

He could be there in the enchanted din, flashing that boyish grin, small chin and curly hair, stooping next to the mayor, profiling postponed so a brother could flow while let alone.  Millions of faces, mostly white, gratified now in the land of the Dow, hoping to hold on to the wave, as it tossed back the day, already a ghost under the shade of the elms along 54th.

But not there, instead, smoking and weeping, definitely not sleeping, as the pain lingered just beyond the fringes of the high, too, too many eyes on him all the time.  His effortless grace always one pitch from disgrace, no vanity but all childhood fear and demons now here, and how does a kid bear it night after night, when love bleeds cash, and nowhere to go once the lights are turned down low, and mom’s not aware that her boy’s dream has nightmares of its own in the silent noise of the street?

Better to bury those parts of himself that aren’t the fastball unseen, the curve that buckles the knees, the three strikes and you’re just another sit down now and think about why you even thought you’d ever get a hit off this kid, a 4-0, one-hit shutout, two balls hit to the outfield at all, Dykstra grabbing one on the track, Straw clearing them all with a granny in the eighth.  Sorry-ass Pirates not knowing what just hit them, and what they didn’t hit at all.

Now darkness falls, and he drifts in the lull of a cool, empty night.  Bold newspaper headline screaming “We Clinch” cover his bare feet, keeping his warm heart beating as he lies on the cool, dirty floor, dreaming of locker-room lights, and mom’s hugs so tight, while the flies sing in his ear and a dark clouded  moon shines no light on this room where fear claws at the walls, for those who listen, it always calls, like a banshee at the death of a dream.

Or, in his own words:

“When the party started winding down, for myself, a lot of times I get to a certain point of using drugs, the paranoia sticks in,” said Gooden. “So I end up leaving the party with the team, going to the projects, of all places, on Long Island.  Hang out there.

“Then you know what time you have to be at the ballpark to go into the city for the {1986 World Series} parade, but I’m thinking ‘OK, I’ve got time.’ Then the next thing you know, the parade’s on and I’m watching the parade on TV. … Horrible, horrible feeling.”

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18 thoughts on “The Demons That Haunt Even Doctors

  1. Last night I happened to watch Robin Williams get interviewed in about 1991, and he expressed a similar sentiment to Gooden’s: using cocaine and partying every night in the ’70s would result in Williams crashing and withdrawing, becoming catatonic, I think was the word he used. Eventually-and here Robin quotes Satchel’s Paige’s “The social ramble ain’t restful” line-he mellowed out and the highs and lows leveled off.

  2. Bill, what a phenomenal piece. I hesitate to call it your best, because I’ve enjoyed so many, but this is certainly near if not at the top. A superbly written account of a supremely cautionary tale.

    Well done my friend,

  3. Allan G. Smorra on said:


    You knocked this one out of the park, man. I really enjoyed reading this one—it inspires me to do better.

    I have nominated you for an award:

    If you choose to accept it, please pass it along. If not, please know that you are an inspiration to us and we appreciate your blog.


  4. Pingback: Guiding Light | Ohm Sweet Ohm

  5. That, sir, is some top-shelf writing.

  6. Thanks for sharing, Bill. This was a treat.

  7. Nice writing….well, at least he didn’t hang himself or shoot himself in the head. The anti back alley authorities that round up waywards and stigmatize them as problem child, turn them into stray dogs as if the rest of us have all our shit together.

    Are there really cures for demons? God forbid, anyone should struggle or live an edgy lifestyle. Jerry Garcia parked an ambulance outside his home. He knew the overdose day would come.

    They just busted and suspended Jonathan Singleton for almost the same malarkey…marijuana and booze. His confession and rehabilitation is forthcoming. I’m not looking forward to it, but Gooden sounds sincere in sort of regretting the short cut of a crack high and missing the parade.

    But then again, those parades seem like a bore. Maybe next time, he could smuggle in a crack pipe and share with with the baseball boys. Hernandez and Dykstra woulda been on board.

    • Thanks, Steve. No question that the mid-’80’s Mets were not “America’s Team” during that period of the so-called War on Drugs. Another thing I read was that it has been estimated that Gooden threw nearly 11,000 pitches before his 21st-birthday. That, as much as anything else, probably contributed to his lack of long-term success.
      Thanks for reading,

      • Maybe it’s better to get injured early on like Harvey and avoid the 10 years and out. I guess Gooden had those 3 or 4 superman years and 6 or 7 really good ones with the rest of them below average.

        Maybe he just never learned how to pitch when that invincible fastball was gone.

      • You might very well be right.
        Thanks, man

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