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While his New York Mets teammates celebrated their 1986 world championship with a ticker tape parade, Dwight Gooden sat in a drug dealer's apartment, stoned and paranoid.
The onetime superstar pitcher, who famously shortchanged his Hall of Fame skills because of drugs and alcohol, told ESPN the storybook season was when he became a cocaine addict. He was 23 years old, and had already won a Cy Young Award and established himself as one of the game's best pitchers. But as his team was feted by fans in Lower Manhattan, he was in the projects on Long Island. He had partied with teammates the night before, but when they went home, he stayed out with seedier pals until the morning hours.
"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,'" Gooden, now 46, tells the sports network in an interview set to air Wednesday at 8 pm ET. "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," Gooden added. "It's a horrible feeling."
Gooden later told team officials he had simply overslept, but the absence of their ace on the day the Mets communed with their fans raised eyebrows around the baseball world. As Gooden recalls, he was already on a downward spiral that would plague him throughout his career. He would never regain the form he flashed in those early seasons, including his 24-4 campaign in his second year.
"I started hanging out more into the city," Gooden said. "Everybody loves you. Kinda got attracted to it where I started liking it, then it went from events to nightclubs and hanging out, with sometimes hanging with the wrong people that thought they had your best interest. When I look back at it, the trouble kinda started right there."
Inevitably, someone offered him cocaine, "and it was love at first sight, unfortunately," he said.
Gooden tells ESPN he started drinking every night and doing cocaine up until two days before pitching assignments.
"Once I went home in the off-season, totally out of control," he said.
That off-season, Gooden tested positive for cocaine and went into Smithers, a Pennsylvania rehab center. He would bounce around the Major Leagues for the next 15 years, even pitching a no-hitter for the Yankees in 1996 and winning two more world championships with the pinstripes as an extra, not an ace.
Gooden, once considered a sure bet for enshrinement in Cooperstown, never made it. He finished with a 194-112 record and a 3.51 earned run average - good numbers for most, but tragically disappointing for one born with so much talent.
But the drug and alcohol problems followed him out of baseball, and he is currently on probation for a 2010 traffic incident in which he was cited for having his then 5-year-old son in the backseat without a seatbelt. He agreed to a plea deal to enter a treatment program to avoid prison.
Gooden says he has been clean for seven months, since appearing on "Celebrity Rehab."