On Thursday night, ESPN debuted the much-ballyhooed "Doc & Darryl," a member of the successful and generally well-executed "30 for 30" sports documentary franchise. As you would expect, it chronicles the now familiar precocious rise of both Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden from difficult circumstances, and then the very New York fall from those same heights.
It's a story of squandered promise, occasional brilliance that punches through, the decline of two men that is somehow at once rapid and methodical, and the halting struggles of those men to cope with what comes after. It's a compelling tale, and even if you know it, it bears watching and hearing again.
From all this, though, I have a couple of takeaways, not entirely related to each other.
1. Darryl Stawberry took amphetamines, and they worked for him.
It's not breaking news that Strawberry used amphetamines, or "greenies," during his playing days, as did many players of his and prior generations. We've also known for a long time that greenies seem especially tailored to the six-month rigors of the season. They wake you up. They sharpen your focus.
It's easy enough to understand how amphetamine use can help baseball performance, but never has a player so succinctly put it, at least that I've heard, as Strawberry did in "Doc & Darryl."
Strawberry of course addressed the frequency with which he used amphetamines ...
But what struck me is what he said moments before the clip above begins:
"You take amphetamines, and the ball looks so big. It's like you could hit anything."
File that under sharpened focus if you wish, but that's a vivid explanation of how the effects of amphetamine use are brought to bear upon the game of baseball. The implication is that, for Strawberry, taking greenies helped him hit the baseball. I take him at his word.
This circles us back to the probably very calculated habit some have of dismissing/waving away the greenie use of players in, say, the 1950s and 1960s -- that heavily romanticized epoch of post-war baseball. Most often, this is done in order to clear the decks for righteous ridicule of the more recent generations who indulged in anabolic steroids. This isn't just an incidence of fan irrationality, though, as the Joint Drug Agreement itself treats amphetamine use as a lesser iniquity than steroid use.
We're light on randomized controlled trials when it comes to how drugs affect sports performance, so most of what we say when we thunder about the validity of certain records is taken on faith. I've long though it was risibly inconsistent to condemn steroid users while laughing off those who used greenies. To hear Strawberry tell it, the efficacy of the latter couldn't be plainer. I'm quite sure steroid use yields benefits, too, but we don't really know which does more for the ballplayer, do we?
2. Dwight Gooden sounds like he's still in trouble.
The other, more important thing that struck me about "Doc & Darryl" is that while Strawberry's story has hints of redemption in it, Gooden's seems to be of ongoing struggle.
Throughout the film, Gooden looked gaunt and by turns tense and exhausted. That could simply be the mien of someone who's deep in unwelcome memories, but it seemed like more than that.
Whereas mention was made of Strawberry's current sobriety, Gooden offered no such closure. There's also this revealing quote that Strawberry made to The Wrap about Gooden's ongoing battle with addiction:
Asked by TheWrap how his former teammate was doing in his years-long battle with cocaine and alcohol, Strawberry said this: "I know it wasn't [addressed], and clearly they didn't probably want to expose that. It seemed like it was a difficult time -- I don't know if it is."
"I know I love him right where he's at," Strawberry continued his response. "Because, you know what, people loved me right where I was at. And I think that's what we've got to always look at."
"It's a struggle, life is a challenge," the tall lefty added.
I wasn't alone in sensing this. In his review of "Doc & Darryl" for the Los Angeles Times, Steve Zeitchik writes that "the film tactfully suggests [that Gooden] continues to struggle with cocaine addiction."
In large part, it's this sense that Gooden hasn't yet loosened the moorings of addiction that keeps "Doc & Darryl" from having anything resembling a happy ending. At best, there's dogged persistence in parts of Strawberry's tale. Gooden's seems more like serialized defeats.
You're left thinking something like this ...