Doc & Darryl is the first baseball-related installment of ESPN’s “30 For 30” documentary series since 2014’s Brothers In Exile, but America’s pastime takes a back seat to drug addiction in this survey of Darryl Strawberry and Dwight “Doc” Gooden’s lives and careers. The two former ballplayers are inextricably linked in the minds of New York Mets fans after having spent seven seasons as teammates from 1984-1990, during which they each endured public struggles with alcohol and cocaine abuse. The documentary contains plenty of sordid tales of partying and hitting rock bottom that make one wonder if old episodes of “Behind The Music” are available to stream somewhere, but doesn’t do enough to overcome the conventions of similar films past.
Joining Michael Bonfiglio as co-director is Frat Pack magnate Judd Apatow, who has considerably fewer sex jokes in his arsenal here than he did in The 40-Year-Old Virgin or Knocked Up. Despite Apatow’s comedic chops, Doc and Darryl is fairly serious in tone, save for Jon Stewart, who appears as one of the film’s talking heads (he fills the role of “witty nostalgic Mets fan” to great effect).
Still, Apatow is a fitting director for a film about the happy-go-lucky, hard-partying group of young men that was the 1980s New York Mets. As drug users, Gooden and Strawberry were hardly in the minority on a team that seemingly relied on drugs and alcohol to fuel itself toward a 1986 World Series victory. This was a fun team, the film shows us with carefully chosen archival footage. But the high of addictive drugs comes with an inevitable fall.
After both players’ careers get off to promising starts (Gooden’s 1985 Cy Young-winning season remains one of the greatest in baseball history), there is a laundry list of arrests, suspensions, and other incidents that eventually led both Gooden and Strawberry away from the Mets for good. There are occasional bright spots in later seasons; as a member of the Yankees in 1996, Gooden threw a no-hitter while his father watched the broadcast on his deathbed. But the story is mostly one of what could have been.
The documentary stumbles in telling its story whenever the action moves away from the baseball diamond. Gooden and Strawberry are both interviewed, but it never feels like they’ve truly opened up. Maybe it’s because this reviewer has watched a few too many hours of “Intervention”–an intensely graphic and borderline exploitative reality series on drug abuse–but precious little material in the film is specific enough, raw enough, to make either man’s story stand out from other addiction narratives.
In the interview segments, both men speak eloquently and are engaging presences. They’re clearly good guys, and you can’t help but root for them. But there’s a coldness to the proceedings, as if there are deeper levels to both Doc and Darryl that the interviewers couldn’t quite tap into. There’s a powerful moment toward the end of the film, where it’s revealed that one of the players still struggles to maintain any long-term sobriety. It’s a devastating turn, but it’s left alone in favor of an addiction counselor (who comes across a bit like a cult leader) reeling off platitudes on abuse.
There’s also some cringeworthy footage in which Gooden and Strawberry talk over lunch at a small diner. Somehow, the diner seems to have become a trope of documentaries about middle-age men and/or sports, and it doesn’t do the film any favors. Gooden and Strawberry explore a few interesting elements of their past relationship, but the cameras make everything stilted. Worse, attempts to wring atmosphere out of the setting are overwrought. One can only tolerate so many shots of griddles, ketchup bottles, and half-eaten sandwiches, especially when more pertinent material has been left on the table.
Flaws and all, Doc & Darryl will scratch an itch for baseball fans, and should be tolerable enough for everyone else. But when compared to other “30 For 30” offerings, “tolerable” doesn’t quite measure up.
Dustin Petzold is the editor-in-chief of Crooked Scoreboard. Follow CSB on Twitter.