If you’re a black man who was growing up in the 80s, especially in NYC, Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry represented so much.
It wasn’t just that the lowly New York Mets finally had developed real superstar players from their minor league system. Oh, no. It was bigger than that.
Peep this. When I was in high school, you couldn’t wear a Mets cap to school. Crazy when you realized I went to H.S. in Queens, home of the Mets.
If you did try to rock the Met royal blue and orange cap – with the N higher than the Y (The Yankees’ cap has the Y higher than the N) – you would be clowned. That’s how bad the team was back then.
But with Doc and Darryl on the roster, it got me to buy Mets’ season tickets with my high school buddies. It was the first and only time I ever owned season tickets .
Indeed, Doc and Darryl moved the needle.
The Mets had two of the biggest black MLB stars on the same team at the same time. It was a dream come true for African Americans. One, Doc, had the big arm, was a strikeout machine. And the other, Darryl, was a sweet, lefty-swinging bona fide home run hitter. His monster homers amazed. He was Bonds before Bonds.
It was impossible not to want to watch both ply their trade every night. If you saw either on the TV screen, you stopped and watched that Darryl at-bat or Gooden in a tough spot.
Going to Shea Stadium to watch them in person was must-see. They were a two-man version of the Beatles.
That’s the reason Sports America went crazy, more than 30 years later for the duo after the ESPN’s 30-for-30 “Doc and Darryl” aired on Thursday night.
Twitter was abuzz about the pair and how both their careers and lives went awry due to drugs and alcohol.
On the surface, it’s easy to paint the duo as failures, guys who ever reached their full potential.
Most think because neither reached the Hall of Fame or stayed out of jail, the pair let us down.
It’s not true.
Doc and Darryl made us proud more than they disappointed.
I remember more of the good times than the bad times. I remember the All-Star uniforms, not the orange prison jumpsuits both wore.
In no way am I making excuses for either Doc and Darryl. You always want people you admire to succeed and have nothing bad happen to them.
It just wasn’t the case. Both were as flawed as they were super. The ballgame is only 2-3 hours a night, leaving a lot more time for both to get into trouble.
And through it all, people to this day still love these guys. They weren’t written off and forgotten.
If you brought up either, no one would say, “Forget those bums, I don’t want to talk about them.”
It’s the exact opposite.
You can’t love sports and not love Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. It’s impossible.
I got to know both. First, as just a fan who admired their ability. And later as a sports writer, covering them for the Daily News in New York. I first interviewed Darryl in 1983. I was a 19-year-old college sports writer and he was just 21.
(College Student Rob Parker Interviewing Darryl Strawberry)
Both left their marks on the game – even without making it to the Hall of Fame.
Their numbers aren’t disappointing or also-ran. At times, they were actually prolific.
In fact, you could take their stats and use the modern way of valuing a player’s worth and both rank.
According to ESPN research, Gooden has the second-most wins above replacement (53.2) for a pitcher who was a top-five pick. In Straw’s case, he would rank 6th (42.0 WAR) among players selected No. 1 overall in the MLB draft.
Want more? Strawberry hit 335 homers, just outside the top 100 of all-time. Gooden ranks in the top 50 all-time among pitchers in win percentage and strikeouts.
Both also won – and won big. Doc and Darryl delivered to Mets’ fans that famous 1986 World Series championship.
(Photo Credit: newsday.com)
And after both took a fall, they both returned to New York to shine again. As New York Yankees, Gooden pitched a no-hitter and won two World Series and Straw won three World Series in Da Bronx.
In the end, Doc and Darryl might have failed themselves ultimately. But they didn’t fail us. I have the memories and goose bumps to prove it. And if you watched these guys play at all, you do, too.