Doc & Darryl: Michael Bonfiglio

Doc & Darryl at table 1

Photos By: Michael Bonfiglio 

The new ESPN 30 for 30 film, Doc & Darryl, focuses on the troubled lives and careers of Darryl Strawberry & Doc Gooden. Gooden and Strawberry were teammates on the New York Mets in the 1980s and both achieved super stardom fast. Their careers and lives quickly went down a downward spiral when the fast life that comes with fame caught up to them both. Both men battled not only drug addiction in their past—but also run ins with law enforcement over such troubling matters as domestic violence.

Doc & Darryl is co-directed by Michael Bonfiglio and Judd Apatow. Michael Bonfiglio also directed the 30 for 30 film, You Don’t Know Bo: The Legend of Bo Jackson. I spoke to Michael Bonfiglio about his new film, Doc & Darryl.

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How did you get involved with Doc & Darryl?

I got a call from Judd Apatow about a year and a half ago. Judd had been tweeting with someone at ESPN about how he liked one of the 30 for 30 films or something like that. ESPN then told him they would love to have him direct one. Judd then called me and asked me if I wanted to direct a 30 for 30 with him and I said, ‘Sure.’I asked him what he was thinking and he said, “What about Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry?’ I said, ‘That sounds great!’ From there we started our journey.

What kind of personal memories do you have of Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry during their playing days?

I was aware of them as cultural figures. I’m not a big sports guy. I didn’t follow the Mets, or any specific team, or sport. They were so huge that you would see them on TV commercials and you couldn’t not know who they were. I knew they were Mets superstars. When I got older and they started having their troubles off the field—that was sort of the context I had for them. I remember David Letterman making jokes about them late at night. When Judd first mentioned them that stuff was sort of in my head. These guys were tremendous superstars but they were complete screw-ups. Both Judd and I were interested in, ‘What was it like to live like that?’ These guys aren’t caricatures of heroes or punchlines—they are people. What are they like as people? That is what drew us to it.

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Did your perception of them change after you spent time researching them and speaking with them?

Absolutely. We did a ton of research to prepare for filming with them. That did humanize them. I did start to understand how addiction played out with both of them…where the roots of it were and their childhoods. I saw what they were like as people. Factually, our film doesn’t uncover a lot of new information. I do think that the way they reflect, describe things and talk about their lives is kind of new.

The problems they went through as young athletes and young millionaires, do you think those troubles are less likely to happen today? Has the sport’s world, and our society as a whole, done a good of enough job of trying to avoid those outcomes with athletes today?

I think there is a greater awareness of some of the dangers. A lot of the things these guys got away with then, I don’t think they would get away with now. That does not mean there are no problems in professional sports. The atmosphere was different back then and I don’t think people understood how dangerous the roads these guys went down were. Stuff like domestic violence, I hope we are understanding the seriousness of that now, back then it was sort of brushed off. I think there is room for improvement, but Strawberry and Gooden were sort of canaries in a coalmine in a certain way. Going through what they went through was sort of a cautionary tale. I think things have changed. Even things like allowing beer in the locker room, you don’t see that anymore.

Professional athletes and their personal lives truly fascinate us. What is it about athletes and their missteps that seem to captivate the public, even more so than a lot of the things athletes do on the field of play?

We are fascinated by celebrity as a culture. There is something really interesting about the life of an athlete because they can do things we can’t do. Their job is so capricious that even if you are great, one injury and your career can be over. There is so much at stake at every moment, just like there is in a game. We tend to conflate the athletes with the game itself. We forget they are just people. We tend to put athletes on a pedestal because they can do physical things we can’t do and we forget they are just people.

You can currently catch Doc & Darryl on ESPN.

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