New York mayor Bill de Blasio today staged a ceremony outside City Hall in order to redeem what he apparently believes was a stain on the history of the city: the fact that Dwight “Doc” Gooden missed the 1986 tickertape parade celebrating the Mets’ World Series victory. To “right that wrong,” the mayor announced plans to “celebrate [Gooden], who was unable to attend” the original parade, and to “honor” him, with the Key to the City no less.
Why was Gooden “unable to attend” the original celebration, necessitating a reenactment 31 years later? As the famed pitcher explained to ESPN in 2011, he was holed up in a drug den, gripped by paranoid hallucinations from doing too much cocaine:
. . . a lot of times I get to a certain point of using drugs, the paranoia sticks in. So I end up leaving the party with the team, going to these projects, of all places in Long Island. Hang out there. Then you know what time you have to be at the ballpark to go into the city for the parade, but I’m thinking, “OK, I got time.” And the clocks, I mean the rooms are spinning. I said, “OK, I’ll leave in another hour.” Then the next thing you know the parade’s on and I’m watching the parade on TV. Here I am in the projects in a drug dealer’s apartment with guys I don’t even know, with drugs in the house, watching it. It’s a horrible feeling.
Not to rub it in, but Gooden’s life since 1986 has not exactly made him a poster child for recovery from drug addiction. During his baseball career—notable for phenomenal early success followed by rapid decline—Gooden was suspended repeatedly for cocaine use. He has relapsed serially since then, getting arrested and convicted many times for driving drunk, punching his girlfriend, and endangering a child, most recently in 2010. In 2006, Gooden volunteered to serve time in prison instead of going on probation, because he didn’t trust himself not to relapse.
Throughout these years, Gooden was offered extensive help, checking himself in to elite rehab centers. In 2011, he was offered a spot on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab, where famous people receive on-air therapy from Dr. Drew Pinsky. As Gooden explained at the time, “I’ve been through different rehabs before but this is a celebrity rehab situation. So people who maybe have dealt with some of the same issues I have had to deal with—how to deal with different pressures, how to deal with different family situations—will be there with me to help.” Gooden appears not to have had any public incidents with drug use or the law since his appearance on the program, so maybe it took televised group-therapy sessions with other celebrities, such as “Long Island Lolita” Amy Fisher and Lindsay Lohan’s father Michael, to make his sobriety stick.
The mayor calls Gooden’s tale “a story of redemption,” and complains that “there wasn’t necessarily the opportunity back in 1986 for [him] to enjoy everything [he] had achieved”—including an opportunity to attend the parade—because “other issues were roiling about.” By de Blasio’s logic, Gooden had nothing to do with his own cocaine binge: it somehow intervened and made him “unable” to show up for the parade. In fact, the mayor touts Gooden’s story as representative of “the ThriveNYC program that my wife, Chirlane, has put together,” a demonstration of “the power of redemption.”
If Gooden had been sober for the last 30 years, and perhaps spent some time helping people overcome their addictions, one might make sense of today’s gesture. Even if Mayor de Blasio felt that it was somehow sad and undeserved that Gooden had missed the parade in 1986, let us recall that he won two more World Series rings, in 1996 and 2000, when he pitched for the Yankees. Is it really so important that his triumph qua Met receive official, mayoral commemoration?
Today’s event was ostensibly staged because sports journalist Amy Heart is making a documentary about Gooden and his teammate Darryl Strawberry, who has also struggled with drug and legal problems. Heart wanted to recreate the 1986 celebration, this time including Gooden—and de Blasio has obliged. City Hall was decked out with bunting and replicas of the original banners and signage that Mayor Ed Koch posted to salute the ‘86 Mets. Heart is entitled to pursue her aesthetic vision, but why did de Blasio use his time and city resources to assist in this weird historical reenactment?
A glance at the 2013 electoral map gives us the likely answer. Outside of Staten Island, Queens was de Blasio’s weakest borough, and he did particularly poorly with white voters in central and eastern Queens—Mets territory. The image of de Blasio embracing the heroes of 1986 will raise a lump in the throat of even the most hardened Giuliani Democrat in Middle Village or Bayside—just in time for the 2017 mayoral campaign.
In Bill de Blasio’s New York City, everyone, including baseball superstars who squander their talent and resist getting sober for decades, is a victim of circumstance.
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