The bad part about winning is that at some point it usually stops. And after a while, it wouldn’t be much fun if it didn’t– we require the contrast of the shadow to appreciate the sunlight.

But sometimes those shadows are awfully long, and sometimes your comfort is availalbe in no other form than, “Well, that loss everyone predicted wasn’t as bad as it could have been!”

That was the L many locals had to take on New Year’s Eve. The University of Cincinnati failed to advance in the NCAA National Championship– but then just getting there was the trick, wasn’t it?

But now we endure the rapid leak of a team that took quite some time to build. Coaches leap to the NFL and other schools, and the players aren’t far behind. And who could blame them? Much the same would likely have happened in the event of a win.

This is why hope is dangerous, dangerous thing. It makes the everyday more endurable but the letdowns worse. That is why baseball has ever functioned as the sport of hope. Hope stays alive much more easily when spread over 162 games. Football? Lose the first six or so and you’re done.

Unrealized potential is perhaps the most unendurable form of letdown. This week my working company was an hour and a half of Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden taking the L. When I saw the description for “Doc and Darryl,” two players I don’t much think about since they are out of the wishbone C orbit, my initial reaction was probably the same as every non-Mets baseball fan who was sentient in that era:


And: “Arrests.”

The two words popped in my head pretty much simultaneously. The documentary spent scant time on their background, a few minutes zoomed in on the ’86 Mets, and the bulk of the time on their struggles with drug abuse and entanglements with various legal systems. They shared details of their lowest moments with straightforward expressions and unaffected speech. Gooden talked about missing his own team’s World Series ticker tape parade due to a bender in much the same tone as he did his changeup.

They didn’t rush through the recounting, but nor did they linger. The story of how these two supremely talented men threw away the W’s that were their lives, grasping for damaging comforts to ease their stress and childhood traumas, forced some perspective into the UC situation.

That both players are still here to tell their story is a win of itself. At some point, in the depths of their addiction and court dates, both of them likely preferred it otherwise. But that wasn’t the plan. Some strand of survival kept Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden alive, and both seemed somewhat baffled by this.

But they both managed to turn their questions into positive action: Strawberry is now an evangelical speaker who works with children diagnosed with autism. Gooden, eliminated from Hall of Fame consideration by failing to garner enough votes, still struggles, and more ostensibly. Mentions of him mostly recall his past feats or concentrate on his son’s own potential.

But he’s still here. Last season he sat for an interview about how he never misses a start by Jacob deGrom. He is at least acknowledging the possibility of a future.

That is how you take an L. It’s easier for some than it is for others. I used to think it was romantic and wonderfully telling to let something break you, to stay down when pushed, because you cared so much about what did the pushing.

But the opposite is true. Taking the L is tougher, but it grants at least the possibility of the renewal of dangerous, dangerous hope.

8 Responses

  1. LDS

    Josh Hamilton is another example. But when one is young and “immortal”, making money that most of us never will, canonized in the media, with the ready availability of women, cars, booze, and drugs, and innumerable leeches pushing them on you, it takes a strong character to resist all the temptations. Coming from a relatively small town and going to a major college where the freshman enrollment exceeded my town’s population, I discovered all kinds of distractions that negatively impacted my classes. And that’s microscopic compared to what professional athletes experience. I’m surprised the list of those who have crashed and burned isn’t far, far longer.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      It seems like this happens more to those who experienced trauma or family instability. Combine that with being surrounded by those who are out only for their own good… not a good combination. (But I like the way you put it better– “innumerable leeches.”)

  2. Scott C

    “L’s” are a part of life and are opportunities for us to learn. This is a great reminder to all of us of what really matters, as disappointing as losses are in sports, they are just that, “losses in what most of us see as entertainment. The great coach Dean Smith said “If you make every game a life and death proposition, you’re going to have problems. For one thing, you’ll be dead a lot.”
    The two men you mentioned their losses came due their wins. So many great athletes don’t know how to handle success, either due to a number of different intangibles that are either in their background or perhaps in their personalities, or maybe they are taught that winning is the most important thing. Don’t get me wrong, I think winning is great and would never endeavor to play any sport if winning was not my goal. Gooden and Strawberry are just two examples though of young men that got fouled up by their success. I am glad for these two men that they have found a way to survive. I don’t often quote Arnold Schwarzenegger but I think this is true “Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.” As each of us move into 2022 perhaps we should take to heart the words of an even greater mind Benjamin Franklin
    “Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better person.”

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      yes, exactly. And as I’ve grown older (and more cynical), sports has attained a much different perspective.

  3. David

    Success walks hand – in – hand with failure
    Along Hollywood Boulevard….

    I think most of us, especially early in life, are looking at the wrong things (or as they might now say….metrics) to measure success and failure.
    My biggest successes? Raising two sons who have become decent grown men, who I am proud of.
    My biggest failure? A broken marriage, followed by divorce.

    Most of the other things in my life look pretty small as successes and failures in comparison. It took over 20 years to raise the boys. The marriage was even longer.
    So “hitting a home run today” , either in real life or metaphorically, doesn’t always seem like that big a deal.

    Watching professional sports (and amateur college sports) is entertaining, only as long as it is entertaining. When it ceases to seem a little interesting and entertaining, I walk away. I have really walked away from watching most sports now, as they have largely ceased to be an entertaining diversion.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      It sounds as if your boys are indeed a big W! How difficult it is to be a good dad. You should be forever proud of that.

  4. Mark Moore

    So many thoughts and feels reading this … thanks for taking us down this path, MBE.

    The 1986 WS was watched by my extended family as we grieved over the loss of my Dad that October. It was a galvanizing event, to say the least.

    The UC loss was tough, but the UofM team also “failed to show up” and those losses make me pretty indifferent to the SEC championship rematch game. I suspect many others feel the same way.

    I saw Gooden pitch when I was in Chicago (for a traffic court visit). My one and only visit to Wrigley and I got to see Keith Hernandez ejected as well. If memory serves correctly, the Stupid Cubs one 9-6 and a foul liner almost clipped me (the guy behind me got the ball).

    I heard Strawberry speak a few years ago at a men’s retreat. He’s not an eloquent man, but his passion is very evident. He has definitely move beyond this playing days and troubles.

    Losses are difficult, as you wrote. Let’s hope we get to experience a couple this season for our Queen City Redlegs because that would mean we’re playing ball.

  5. Votto4life

    The other day, ESPN analyst, Rex Ryan said “Joe Burrow and the Bengals will win multiple Super Bowls.”

    Imagine that, the Bengals.

    I hope I live long enough to hear one of these talking heads say “This Reds team will win multiple World Series”

    Another excellent article Mary Beth. Thank you.