Another Dodgers-Giants angle: A player of high stature who played for each team, at one point and another in his fractured career:
The book: “Straw: Finding My Way”
The author: Darryl Strawberry (with John Strausbaugh)
How to find it: Ecco Books, 256 pages, $26.99
The scoop: The book, scheduled for release today, is pretty straight forward: Darryl Strawberry was a very, very good baseball player who, according to the HarperCollins press notes, led the 1986 Mets to “108 victories with Strawberry scoring 27 home runs.”
Er, OK…. At least mention his appearance on “The Simpsons” in 1992 … which made him cry. Maybe it’s best to leave that one alone.
We interrupt this review with a quote: “Now this is decadent. And I’ve been to Miami with Darryl Strawberry.” – Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin), on the April 23, ’09 episode of the NBC show “30 Rock,” in a nightclub with Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) with lots of women and drinking.
Review continued: The revelation as to why Strawberry ended up with a fractured finish go back to his upbringing — and abusive, alcoholic father; an immaturity in dealing with fame, especially in New York with a team that liked to party … and then a couple of bouts with cancer that kind of made him see the light, especially after some prison time, rehab and finding God.
The early part of the book circles to his father’s treatment of him and the family early on.
“I’m not blaming him for the all the mistakes and stupid decisions I made, or for the pain and sorrow I caused myself and others,” Strawberry writes in the introduction. “I take full responsibility for everything I have ever done. I know ‘My father beat me’ is a cliched excuse for bad behavior. I’m not using it as an excuse. There are no excuses. There are only explanations.”
Which doesn’t really explain how Chapter one beings:
“I’ll kill all y’all,” the drunk with the shotgun raged.
“All y’all” was my mother, my two younger sisters, my two older brothers, and me. I was thirteen. The drunk with the shotgun was my father.
Strawberry makes it clear that his upbrining in the Crenshaw area of L.A. wasn’t “the ghetto” of South Central L.A., but it wasn’t without its major character flaws. And that’s really what we need to know when we’re trying to piece together a career that came through Dodger Stadium with a flash between 1991 and 1993 after he left the New York Mets as a free agent following his first eight seasons.
Those years with the Dodgers (career stats linked here) show a 28-homer, 99 RBI season in ’91 in 139 games. He played in just 43 games the next year; 32 the next. He was a member of the San Francisco Giants in ’94 for 29 games. Then with the Yankees ’95 to ’99 for a total of 231 games.
The fact he lasted 17 seasons is incredible. Considering …
Numbers hardly scratch the surface of what happened.
The kid who in 1979 was called “The Black Ted Williams” by Sports Illustrated seemed doomed to eventually fail.
“Do you even know who Ted Williams is?” someone asked him.
“Nope,” he said.
“I think the only one around (in high school) who wasn’t impressed with me was me.”
Strawberry details much of his early days as a “mean drunk … I can see it now. I was one of those Jekyll and Hyde drunks. … Laid-back and quiet and polite, but when I got some beers in me I got nasty and obnoxious … all my anger, my frustrations with my personal life and marriage, my constant feeling of self-doubt …” It led, of course, to a spousal abuse altercation where he pointed a gun in the face of his wife, Lisa, which led to an arrest.
He details an Esquire magazine story that Mike Luipica wrote about him in early 1988, giving him a chance even after the New York sportswriter had defamed him in previous stories. And how Lupica still trashed him, causing more friction for him with his teammates.
One of the heartbreaking moments (page 117) is when Strawberry writes about trying to reach out to his estranged father during a time of need during alcohol rehab. “It was really stiff and awkward. We mumbled a little small talk at each other with uncomfortable silences in between .. And then we hung up . … We never really got to any of the enormous issues between us. I tried in my heart. But we never had a personal relationship where the man could give me any guidance.”
If you’re looking for his mindset coming to L.A. to play, it begins in Chapter 10:
“I never should have gone to Los Angeles. I should have taken the Mets offer and stayed.”
He blames himself for taking his agent’s advice.
“Playing in L.A. was a huge letdown after a decade in New York. The sports atmosphere in New York was insane and intense and that was what I was used to. Lunatic fans screaming at you when you lost and tearing up the joint when you won. In Dodger Stadium, the fans were much more, you know, Californian. Laid back. Drifted into the park late, filtered out early. They had no fire, no passion. When you got a hit they gave you a smattering of polite applause. When you struck out, they were like, ‘Oh, bummer, man. Better luck next time.’
“It was, to be honest, boring. I never would have thought I could have missed those insane New York fans booing me, but I did.
“On a personal level, moving back to L.A. was absolutely jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. I was still a hometown hero in L.A. Everyone was happy to see me back. I couldn’t set foot anywhere in L.A. without people offering me drinks, drugs, themselves. I knew everybody, including all the bad, bad influences. … It was in L.A., in 1991 that I was introduced to smoking crack. …
“Now I was a drunk and a crackhead … How could this possibly be? I might have been the game’s greatest ballplayer in history. What more did I want?”
He failed to show up for a Dodgers’ Freeway Series exhibiton game in Anaheim in March, ’94. “I was out partying all the night before,” he wrote. “That next day I could nto even get up off my back, let alone go play baseball. Nobody even knew where I was.” The Dodgers sent him for more rehab at the Betty Ford Center. The Dodgers released him in May. “Manager Tommy Lasorda and some of the Dodgers blasted me in the media,” he wrote. “They were all over me, and I couldn’t really blame them.” The Giants picked him up in July, to play for Dusty Baker. That didn’t work either. IRS problems. The MLB suspended him for cocaine use. Somehow, he was on the ’96 Yankees World Series team, then fought off colon cancer.
“Picture a man falling downa long, long flight of steps. Bang. Crash. Boom. Bang. He falls and falls, head over heels. Sometimes he throws out his hands, grabs the railing, slows his fall for an instant. But momentum, gravity and his own weight are against him. He keeps crashing down those steps, down and down and down. Until he finally lands at the very bottom. Cut, bruised, broken, his head swimming, he lies there flat on his back.
“That’s me, from 1994 into the 2000s.”
At least, Strawberry’s awkening seems to have made him a better person, a more loving father, a tragic figure that has risen from his own self-induced demise. It was acutally his ex-wife’s uncle who steered him toward a religious release to all these problems. He was a lost soul.
What a string of lives he’s lived. So far.
He concludes: “Do I know I’ll never fall again? I only know that for today. … I used to wake up dreading my day, unhappy, unfulfilled … I don’t have to spread any wild oats anymore. I have real joy in my life.”
Read a story from a publication in St. Louis, where he now lives, wondering the same thing about his future in 2007: (linked here)
How it goes down in the scorebook: A time to remember, reflect and forgive the man who brought so much excitement to the ballpark. Now we know why it didn’t all work out the way we thought it could. There’s a nice family portrait included with his new wife, Tracy, and their five kids — except for DJ, the most famous offspring who’s playing pro basketball overseas now. Proceeds from the book also go The Darryl Strawberry Foundation for Autism (linked here).
Find Darryl yourself: He’ll be at the Barnes and Noble at the Grove signing on May 5 at 7:30 p.m., and at Vroman’s Bookstore in L.A. on May 6 at 6 p.m.