Thursday, August 25, 2005

Where Have You Gone Doctor K?

At the tender age of 19-years old Dwight Gooden was becoming a baseball legend. He was striking out batters at a dizzying pace. In only his second season (1985) in the major leagues the 20-year old Gooden did something that had only been done four times since 1939 by a Major League pitcher – he won the pitching Triple Crown. But by the age of 22 he was already suspended from baseball and in a drug rehab. And now, at the age of 41 he’s a fugitive on the run. Gooden was pulled over the other night in his hometown of Tampa, Florida and fled. The officer who pulled him over said he could smell alcohol on Dwight's breath, his speech was slurred and his eyes were bloodshot. Gooden fled the scene and hasn’t been found yet.
How did this happen to a guy that people were in such awe of?

Gooden broke onto the baseball scene in his rookie season of 1984 and won 17 games that season for the NL East’s 2nd place New York Mets. Only 19-years old and he led the Major Leagues in strikeouts with 276. The New York media dubbed the kid, “Doctor K” and it stuck. Doc was part of the revitalized Mets team that would have more wins than any other team in baseball from 1984-1990…but unfortunately, the Mets partied more than any other team in baseball too. As the shy kid from Tampa grew bigger and bigger the temptations of the Big Apple and his fame got hold of him.

After winning the 1986 World Series with the Mets Gooden found himself in trouble because of drugs. He missed about ten starts in the ’87 season because he was suspended for 60 days during spring training and was placed in a mandatory drug rehab for cocaine. He came back and finished the season strong with a 15-7 record, a far cry from his ’85 Triple Crown season. His stat line that season: 24-4 with 268 K’s and a 1.53 ERA. But his fortunes were slowly changing. His blazing fastball was losing some of its speed. His incredible curveball was losing some of its break. Doctor K was becoming more hittable.

Doc did win 18 games in ’88 and posted 19 wins in ‘90. He passed up his 35th start that year missing the chance to win 20 games for the second time in his career because the Mets were out of it…he let a September call-up take his start in the last few days of the season.

His career was so promising and many were calling him a “Future Hall of Famer”. He was a four-time National League All-Star in ’84, ’85, ’86 and ’88. He was also a really good hitter too hitting 8 career homeruns and was never an automatic out.

But he could never outrun his addictions. He was suspended again with the Mets and missed more than a year in the ‘94-’95 seasons. Later arrests in his hometown of Tampa didn’t stop him either. And domestic assault charges earlier this year didn’t stop him.

It brings a tear to my eyes as I write this. How did someone who was so great at such a young age and showed so much potential end up like this? I guess Gooden has yet to hit “bottom”…after drugs and alcohol have caused his life so many problems and turned a once “Future Hall of Famer” into a mediocre pitcher he has yet to see the light and realize that he needs to get clean. I hope this is “bottom” for him and that one of the guys I grew up loving is alive and has the chance to make something of his life.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Terrible Tragedy

The National Football League lost another player this past weekend. Only minutes after playing in a preseason game in Denver, Thomas Herrion an offensive lineman for the San Francisco 49ers collapsed near his locker. He was rushed to the hospital and was later pronounced dead at the young age of 23.

After performing an autopsy on Sunday, the coroner's office in Denver said no cause of death could be determined until toxicology tests were performed. Those tests usually take about three to five weeks.

This tragic death came a little more than four years after Minnesota Vikings All-Pro offensive lineman Korey Stringer died of heatstroke following a tough practice that was held in the hot low 90s. Saturday night in Denver it was in the mid-60s and not very humid. What happened only brings us back to the same question…are NFL football players getting too big to remain healthy?

Herrion was listed in the 49ers media guide as 6-foot-3 and 310 pounds – an average size for NFL linemen. Rumor has it that although Herrion was listed at 310, teammates say he was more like 340-350. But if you saw a man like him walking down the street the first thing you’d think of is “obesity”.

Although obesity right now can’t be blamed for Herrion’s death experts are saying it could have been a major contributor. How can’t it be? Most of the NFL’s offensive and defensive linemen are way too big and put a tremendous amount of strain on their hearts. If you look at the roster of a dozen or so teams you’ll notice that most teams have an average offensive line weight of 310+ pounds, which is far too much. And how many of those teams really list players at their true weight?

Teams need to make sure that players who are in the 300-pound range are closely monitored. If a guy is 325 pounds one year and puts on another twenty pounds – you really need to ask yourself what is that twenty pounds going to do for the player’s performance…and will it put added stress on their body? Teams also need to look deeply into the family history of such players. It’s been said in the last few days that Thomas Herrion’s family has had a deep history of heart problems. This should be looked at and he should be a player that should’ve been monitored a little more closely.

Herrion, a former Utah captain was a first-year player with the 49ers, after spending part of last season on the 49ers and Dallas Cowboys practice squads. He also played this past season in NFL Europe for the Hamburg Sea Devils. Playing his college ball at Utah he was comfortable playing in high altitude, like Denver, that can intensify dehydration.

This is just a terrible tragedy. 23-years old is too young…especially when you’re doing something that you love and trying to be a model citizen in this world.