For those of you with short memories, the current steroid abuse scandal in baseball is not the first “substance abuse” scandal the sport has faced. No, in the mid 1980s, baseball suffered through a catastrophic cocaine abuse scandal that ultimately took down two of the most prominent players of the era… Dwight Gooden and Daryl Strawberry. The picture below is of Strawberry after his arrest in 1992 for cocaine possession and soliciting a prostitute.
If you don’t know the full lyrics to “Cocaine Blues,” you should. This is the Johnny Cash version. Cocaine turns a man into a raging asshole. I’ve seen plenty of it. One band that I was closely associated with back in college was bankrolled by a coke dealer who later spent five years in Leavenworth.
The 1985 Pittsburgh drug trials revealed that Major League Baseball was buried under a pile of coke. Among the players suspended for a year as a result of the trials’ revelations were Keith Hernandez and Dave Parker. The 1986 World Champion New York Mets were the wildest drugging team in history.
Give young men a ton of money, access to willing women and plenty of coke… well, you’ve got a nightmare on your hands. Gooden and Strawberry couldn’t take the pressure of being the toast of New York City. They both flushed their potential Hall of Fame careers down the toilet in favor of binge drinking, chasing strippers and drugging. Strawberry became an especially pathetic figure, struggling simultaneously with cancer and drug addicition.
Of course, the music business also recorded many cocaine casualties... among them my boyhood friend and, later, neighbor in Woodstock, Paul Butterfield. Paul fell to that potent mix of tequila, cocaine and women when he was 45 years old. His son, Gabe, visited me several times in the decade after his father’s death, wanting to know the story of Paul’s life. Paul was always on tour and always stoned.
So, call me a little cynical, but I doubt that the steroid scandal will be the last drug scandal in baseball. The pressure of performing in the big leagues will drive a strong man to his knees. And temptation surrounds a young, dumb man with his pockets full of money. I’ve only got one question: “What will be the next drug of choice?”
Before you find yourself headed straight to hell, don’t forget to take the advice of “Cocaine Blues:”
Come on you've gotta listen unto me
Lay off that whiskey and let that cocaine be