When Dwight “Doc” Gooden was a rookie pitcher for the New York Mets in 1984, teammate Darryl Strawberry gave him some advice.
“I remember you told me, ‘Get you a piece of the apple. Don’t try and eat the whole apple,’ ” Gooden says in “Doc and Darryl,” the latest in ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary series. “And I did try and eat the whole apple.”
Strawberry, sitting across the booth from Gooden at an old-timey diner in Queens, chuckles at his blatant hypocrisy.
“If you try and eat the whole apple,” he remembers saying, “it’ll swallow you up.”
In “Doc and Darryl”, which premieres Thursday at 9 p.m. on ESPN, co-directors Judd Apatow (“Trainwreck”) and Michael Bonfiglio (“You Don’t Know Bo”) reunite Gooden and Strawberry three decades after they exploded on the New York sports scene — only to see their futures eroded by drug and alcohol addictions.
The film is set in a cushioned booth at an empty diner in Queens, just a baseball’s throw from the old Shea Stadium where Gooden and Strawberry helped reinvigorate a stagnant franchise.
Strawberry, clad in a crisp white dress shirt, and Gooden, donning a blue T-shirt with “Doc Gooden” across the chest, reminisce briefly about their dominant stretch of baseball in the mid-1980s; their memories include the Mets’ thrilling 1986 World Series victory over the Boston Red Sox. But the pair spends the majority of the film rehashing the darkest days of their careers, and lives, when crack cocaine and alcohol were more prominent than batting practice and bullpen sessions.
Bonfiglio and Apatow splice in clips of Gooden’s overpowering fastball and Strawberry’s sweet hitting stroke, but Bonfiglio makes it clear that this isn’t a “rah-rah” sports movie. It’s not a documentary about transcendent athletic prowess or a recap of the Mets vastly entertaining teams from the ’80s.
“The film is largely about addiction,” Bonfiglio said in an interview last week. “I think that’s something that every person with a pulse can relate to in one way or another. Most of us who haven’t dealt with addictions personally know or care about someone who had, or is in the midst of it. And we really wanted to try and create a truthful and honest portrayal of what addiction is and can do.”
It is a film, Apatow said in an email to The Post, about real people, real flaws and real, sincere human struggle.
“[Addiction] is an awful disease that doesn’t care that you are a sports superstar,” the co-director wrote.
While Strawberry and Gooden are inextricably linked by their star power and substance-abuse problems, the two have never been close friends. The intimate setting provides an avenue for discussions about events from their past that they had never talked to each other about, such as Gooden’s infamous no-show at the Mets’ 1986 World Series championship parade — a celebration he missed after an all-night alcohol- and drug-fueled bender.
Gooden and Strawberry, often wrought with emotion, detail their myriad transgressions in painstakingly personal terms. The time Gooden, overcome with self-loathing and depression after being suspended from baseball, held a gun to his head and nearly pulled the trigger. The time Strawberry fled a drug treatment facility in Florida, crack pipe glued to one hand, an ankle monitor clasped tightly on one leg.
But in addition to an in-depth look at how two franchise saviors fell from such great heights, the film also tells a more nuanced tale about how these men were made.
Both Gooden and Strawberry grew up with alcoholic fathers, while Strawberry tells harrowing stories of the physical and emotional abuse to which his father subjected him. As a kid, he says, his dad would make him take his shirt off and lay across the bed as he beat him with an extension cord. One night, his father came home drunk and pointed a gun at Strawberry, his mom and his siblings, telling them he was going to kill them all, according to the film. That incident prompted Strawberry’s family to move away from the father, but the traumatic effects of his abusive upbringing appear to have left an indelible mark.
“The scars were there,” Strawberry said in the film. “I was already scarred.”
In “Doc and Darryl,” Bonfiglio and Apatow deftly paint a picture of two men that are far more complicated than the black-and-white stories so often splashed across tabloids during their careers. These men may have had the rarest of athletic gifts bestowed upon them. But that doesn’t make them any less human.
“I think these guys over the years have both been reduced to brief headlines of either their incredible heroics on the field and mind-blowing talent, or their infuriating and often disgusting behavior off the field,” Bonfiglio says. “And there’s more to a person than that simplification. We wanted to really understand the people behind those extremes.”