NEW YORK — Dwight Gooden checked into a New York drug rehabilitation center Thursday to begin treatment for cocaine use while the World Series champion New York Mets juggled their plans to start the season.
Gooden, dressed in a brown pinstripe suit, walked briskly into the Smithers Alcoholism and Treatment Center accompanied by men who kept reporters from talking with him. A van met Gooden's flight from his home in Tampa to LaGuardia Airport on the tarmac and whisked him to the facility on Manhattan's fashionable East Side, a block from Central Park.
It was not known how long Gooden, 22, will remain at the center. The average rehabilitation period at Smithers is 28 days, according to Joyce Walker, in charge of community liaison for the center.
Gooden was placed on the 15-day disabled list. His attorney, Charles Ehrlich, said the pitcher "hopefully will be back in four to six weeks," while Met General Manager Frank Cashen said his "gut feeling" was Gooden will miss at least two months.
"Cocaine is a very serious thing and not easy to conquer," said Met first baseman Keith Hernandez, among 11 players who were conditionally suspended by Commissioner Peter Ueberroth in March 1986 for cocaine use. Gooden checked into Smithers a day after the Mets, in a surprise statement, said a voluntary test revealed their ace had a "drug use problem." Gooden sought treatment rather than face suspension by Ueberroth.
The announcement came less than a week before Gooden was scheduled to start on opening day against Pittsburgh at sold-out Shea Stadium. Bobby Ojeda, 4-0 with an 0.68 earned-run average against the Pirates last season, will pitch Tuesday in place of Gooden, who is 6-0 with a 1.49 ERA in his career against Pittsburgh.
Gooden's trouble, along with hernia surgery Monday that will put reliever Roger McDowell out of action for two months, took a big chunk out of the best pitching staff in baseball.
Gooden sat in the front row aboard the flight to New York and "kept a low profile," another passenger said. "He just read a book. He was very quiet."
The Smithers center, affiliated with St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, is located in one of the most celebrated mansions on New York's posh East Side. The house, once owned by showman Billy Rose, is a 43-bed facility where abusers of alcohol and drugs receive counseling and therapy in a closed, supervised setting.
There is indoor physical exercise and supervised exercise in Central Park.