Former New York baseball stars Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden are forever linked in the public's mind, but not necessarily their own. That fitting line concludes ESPN's latest "30 for 30" documentary, Doc & Darryl, which examines their relationship. The film premieres tonight at 9.
Both men symbolized the Mets' mid-1980s resurgence, winning back-to-back Rookie of the Year awards. They had freakish talents: Strawberry to hit moon-shot homers and Tampa's Gooden — "Dr. K" — to freeze batters with his fastball and curve. Drug abuse cut short both of their careers, and they eventually served time in jail.
Directors Judd Apatow and Michael Bonfiglio wanted to see what sort of relationship the men had, and the heart of the film is a conversation at a Queens diner, the same one where scenes from Goodfellas were shot. Their body language and lack of eye contact betray a discomfort, reminiscent of get-togethers with friends who hadn't connected in years.
The interview revealed that Strawberry had never asked Gooden why he missed the ticker-tape parade celebrating the 1986 Mets' championship, even though the outfielder had gone to Gooden's house to give him a ride and hadn't found him. Similarly, Gooden had never talked to Strawberry about an incident where teammate Ray Knight approached Strawberry about rumors that one of the Mets' two black superstars was involved in drugs. Knight confronted Strawberry, who said it wasn't him.
"There's a connection and a love between them," Bonfiglio said. "They bonded as teammates. But they're not close. They never had the conversation that they had at the diner."
The film shows how early the seeds of their abuse were planted. Both men dealt with difficult dads. Strawberry's was abusive and alcoholic. Gooden's dad was also alcoholic, and he drove his son relentlessly to achieve his own failed dreams. Both future stars drank and drugged in high school. Gooden recalls being rip-roaring drunk the first time he met Strawberry.
Doc & Darryl is noteworthy, too, in not being a redemption tale. Both men are trying hard to stay clean.
"A lot of times when people tell an addiction story it ends with people who are clean and sober, they're fine, or they're dead," Bonfiglio said.
"A lot of times it's a lot more complex than that. We didn't want to make it easy, because it isn't easy."