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Gooden gets another chance

The former Yankees pitcher was sentenced to probation and community service for fleeing traffic stop.

By CANDACE RONDEAUX
Published November 3, 2005


TAMPA - One more strike for ex-Yankees pitcher Dwight Gooden and he's out. A little more than two months after Gooden fled from a police officer, a Hillsborough judge gave the troubled former athlete another chance Thursday.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente sentenced Gooden, 41, to three years probation and 100 hours of community service after Gooden admitted his guilt.

The admission was part of a plea deal involving charges of reckless driving, opposing a police officer without violence, and felony fleeing and eluding a law enforcement officer. The plea deal calls for Gooden to speak to schools and Little League baseball groups about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.

Fuente also ordered Gooden to submit to random drug and alcohol testing at least three times a week and barred him from going to nightclubs or bars until his probation ends. His probation could end in two years, if he stays out of trouble.

Gooden sped away the night of Aug. 22 after a police officer stopped him for driving erratically near the corner of Howard Avenue and Cleveland Street in South Tampa. The officer said Gooden's eyes were bloodshot and his breath smelled of alcohol. The entire incident was caught on videotape, authorities said.

Gooden turned himself in 31/2 days later and was booked on an outstanding warrant for driving under the influence, fleeing and resisting an officer without violence. Prosecutors later reduced the DUI charge to reckless driving.

Gooden's appearance before Fuente was the first of two at the courthouse Thursday. Gooden also pleaded guilty to a domestic battery charge from March as part of a separate plea deal.

Prosecutor Pam Bondi said Gooden's girlfriend, Monique Moore, did not want to press charges and asked to be able to continue to have contact with the father of her child. Hillsborough Judge Nazaretian ordered Gooden to serve 45 days in the county jail but gave him full credit for the nearly two months Gooden has served in a court ordered drug and alcohol treatment program. Nazaretian said Gooden would be allowed to have contact with Moore but also ordered him to take an anger management class within the next six months.

"They say, in life it's not what you do but what you do next that counts," Nazaretian said. "You look a whole lot better than you did before. You should be commended for trying to straighten out your life."

Tall, fit and dressed in a dark suit with a lavender shirt, Gooden was flanked by his mother and two attorneys during the hearing. He leaned into the podium and quietly expressed his gratitude to the judge.

"Thank you, your honor - I'm very sorry for these actions - and also (thanks to) the state for giving me the opportunity to get on with my life."

Gooden will remain in an inpatient drug and alcohol treatment until counselors say he's ready for outpatient counseling. His progress determines when he'll be released from the program.

During his 17-year career with the New York Mets, Cleveland Indians, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Houston Astros, Gooden signed contracts worth $35-million. But drugs and injuries undercut the Tampa native and onetime Hillsborough High School star.

He was tossed out of baseball three different times for cocaine use. He lost his job as an assistant to Yankees owner George Steinbrenner after he was booked on the March domestic violence charge.

It was unclear Thursday whether he will return to his old job with the Yankees. Asked to comment on his future, Gooden declined.

Gooden's attorney Peter Hobson said his client's first priority is to deal with his treatment and legal issues, but added that he's hopeful that Gooden might return to work soon.

"I think he's got a lot of potential inside and outside of baseball," Hobson said.

Candace Rondeaux can be reached at 813 226-3337 or rondeaux@sptimes.com

[Last modified November 3, 2005, 18:20:04]


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