Mike Bonfiglio is proud to say he and his co-director didn’t leave much on the cutting room floor. But the constraints of television meant something had to go.
So Bonfiglio and Judd Apatow, the men behind ESPN’s latest 30 For 30 film that debuted Thursday night, had to make a few tough decisions. Compiling the stories that led to the downfall of two of the most colorful New York athletes over the last 30 years meant they had plenty of material for the film. But since they only had 90 minutes to play with, they determined the audience could do without a very public tax evasion scandal, and, most unfortunately, a hilarious retelling of the time two teammates started swinging at each other during picture day.
But other than that, you got all the warts you could ask for if you tuned into “Doc & Darryl.” Succinctly and poignantly documenting the ups and many, many, many downs of the former phenoms Doc Gooden and Daryl Strawberry, it had us laughing and cringing.
“One of the things that we said to them before it started is we only want to do this if we can talk about everything and be completely honest and the only thing we can promise you is this film is going to be honest and truthful,” says Bonfiglio. “We’re not going to sugarcoat it or lionize you guys.”
And that’s what viewers got: a raw and exposing look into just how damaged two seemingly invincible athletes really were. While “Doc & Darryl” largely rehashed stories that have been reported and told for decades now—sad, depressing stories about the gripes of addiction—the film’s biggest revelation was that the boys of summer weren’t really boys at all.
By the time we actually shot it there was nothing that we haven’t heard before somewhere with one exception.
“There was this assumption that they’ve been so linked over the years,” says Bonfiglio. “They just aren’t. It was shocking to me when they sat down at the diner and talked about stuff.”
Stuff that both of them had assumed was legit when it was anything but. Bonfiglio and crew brought Strawberry and Gooden to a diner in Queens that just happened to be where they also filmed “Goodfellas” and turned the cameras on for over three hours. That’s when we learned Strawberry never knew what Gooden was doing during the morning of the ticker tape parade in ‘86. “Never asked him,” says Bongiflio. Or how Gooden always thought that Strawberry had tipped off team brass about his coke use in 1987. “He wrote about it in a book and said it in public that Darryl sold him out, but never said it to Darryl,” says Bonfiglio.
But other than that, the crew was so well versed in all things Gooden and Strawberry that “By the time we actually shot it there was nothing that we haven’t heard before somewhere with one exception: there’s a story that Keith Hernandez tells about when he first realized Doc was doing coke,” says Bonfiglio.
From coke to crack to weed to booze, the two got into it all and were drawn into a hole that Strawberry struggled to climb out of for years. After many, many slips and falls, he appears to finally have the upper hand over his addictions. Gooden, meanwhile, still seems to be struggling.
“The reality of addiction and recovery is a day-to-day fight. People are at different places at any given time,” says Bonfiglio. “They’re at different stage of their lives. Their journeys to and journeys through recovery are not exactly same. I can only say I hope for the best for them.”
Seeing Strawberry become so emotional was jarring. Seeing a withered Gooden beaten down by years of relapse and recovery was scary. Selfishly, we wish they had decided to keep the story about how Strawberry and Hernandez were at each other’s throats one spring training. It was March 1989 when Strawberry said something about Hernandez as the team was lining up to take a yearbook picture. Strawberry didn’t want to stand next to Hernandez and before you know it teammates were separating the two. At some point, Strawberry threw a punch.
“Both Darryl and Keith telling that side of the story was pretty funny. It was hilarious,” says Bongiflio. “It was a tough, tough call but we had to lose it for time.”
We could have used one more moment of levity because “Doc & Darryl” gets dark. Gooden and Strawberry will be the first to tell you they screwed up and did some bad things. Bonfiglio will be the first to tell you about their courage, about how brave it was to unflinchingly tell their sides of a sad and depressing saga. Thankfully the gut-wrenching moments made the cut. Without them, this would have been a single. With them, Bonfiglio and Apatow hit it out of the park.