Mark McGwire’s admission that he used steroids is both a black eye and a small weight off Major League Baseball’s collective shoulder at the same time. I mean, this wasn’t something we all didn’t know, but at the same time, it’s important for guys like Mac to come clean. After thrilling us with the Great Home Run Chase of 1998, we were owed the truth. I’m looking in your direction, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, because McGwire’s admission puts both of you next in line at the hot dog stand.
Naturally I don’t condone what those guys did, but in a small way I definitely appreciate McGwire admitting it and wanting to move on. All of which reminded me of the 1987 season, and specifically when a young Mets pitcher named Dwight Gooden failed a drug test and shed light on what many of us suspected–that something had affected his performance in 1986. He began that season 5-0 with a 1.04 ERA before the wheels began to fall off and he finished the campaign a more pedestrian 17-6 with a 2.84 ERA. Gooden was even more pedestrian in the postseason, including Game 5 of the World Series when he was visibly sweating in frigid Boston, while giving up four runs on nine hits in four innings. I had gone to almost every home game Gooden pitched from 1984 to 1986, so I knew something with him was not right.
Then he failed that whiz quiz in April of 1987, and while it was shocking and disappointing, we as fans were a bit relieved that Gooden’s recent shortcomings were now easier to explain. He probably wouldn’t have admitted guilt on his own, but before being admitted to the Smithers Clinic he at least showed remorse, and seemed relieved to be able to rehab from cocaine addiction and get on with his life and career, and I respected that.
Gooden didn’t pitch again until June 5, 1987, a Friday night game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Shea. Dick Young of the New York Daily News, who was never afraid to stir up controversy, offered this advice to fans: “Stand Up and Boo!” Well I was there, and that’s not what happened….we all gave Doc a standing ovation for like five minutes, and had chills when he struck out Bonds to start the game. He then went on to beat the Pirates in what was, despite four walks, vintage Gooden.
Gooden’s career would have plenty more ups and downs, and he’s still battling the demons that caused him to use drugs in the first place. But I remember June 5, 1987, and I remember it because, after accepting Gooden’s shortcomings, I and many others forgave him and welcomed him back with open arms.