To look back at the dawning of Dwight Gooden's career is to see not just potential but also brilliance. Gooden roared onto the scene, a quiet teenage marvel with a loud adult arm, stringing together a pair of inaugural seasons with the Mets--Rookie of the Year in '84, Cy Young Award in '85--that burst at the seams of his unhittable heater. New pages were prepped for the record books. But those pages were never filled in.
That Gooden self-imploded on a volatile cocktail of drugs and alcohol certainly isn't news. What is news is that his smart memoir goes beyond some smart analysis of the pitcher's craft to candidly dive into the wreck Gooden created for himself. Instead of mining for excuses, Gooden resurfaces with the requisite self-awareness--"The worst part about being an addict," he admits, "is that you lie all the time"--to probe the great expectations placed on him, the early triumphs and the way success went to his head, the pressures of New York and its nightlife, his sometimes difficult relationships with teammates, his personal inferno and its repercussions, his suspensions, his humiliations, his addiction treatments, and his comeback. Gooden made a splendid name for himself throwing heat; here, he gracefully humbles himself in a cautionary tale that displays the perspective and maturity that's required to be able to take the heat.
As fans of the 1986 New York Mets slept happily on the night after the team's dramatic 16-inning pennant-clinching victory over the Houston Astros, members of the team were 30,000 feet in the air downing booze, snorting drugs and eventually trashing the plane taking them back to the city that loved them. It is this juxtaposition of greatness and depravity that Gooden, with Klapisch (The Worst Team Money Could Buy), recounts so potently in a forthright sketch of his journey from public adoration to disgrace and back to triumph. The book explains the process by which this gifted pitcherAwho won the 1984 Rookie of the Year Award, the 1985 Cy Young Award and a 1996 World Series ringAfound himself, in 1994, sitting on the edge of his bed with a nine-millimeter handgun pressed to his temple. The story is ultimately one of redemption, but Gooden is quite candid about his painfully senseless relapses and their ramifications for those around him.
Beyond the tale of Gooden's addiction, there's plenty of standard sports autobiography fare, including articulate descriptions of how the game is played and frank portrayals of other players. Also, spliced throughout the book's nine chapters, is a running account of May 14, 1996, the day Gooden's father lay in a Tampa hospital awaiting open-heart surgery while his recovering son affirmed his new life by pitching a no-hitter for the New York Yankees. With an absorbing, straightforward story and Klapisch's hand to polish it, Gooden delivers without trying to put one past readers.
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