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The straw that stirred the drink

Posted at 12:16 PM on July 23, 2008 by Chris Dall

20080723straw.jpgSome of you may have caught the fact that Darryl Strawberry was in town yesterday for the American Association All-Star Game, where he served as an honorary captain and spoke to players about not giving up on their dreams. Strawberry had a brief stint with the St. Paul Saints back in 1996, when he was trying to get his career back on track after being suspended by MLB for drug use.

It's good to see that Darryl has gotten back on his feet and is giving thanks to all those who helped him, but I'll always have mixed feelings about him as a player. He came up with the New York Mets in 1983, right around the time I was beginning my love affair with the team, and it was he and Dwight Gooden who really embodied the talent and promise that fueled the Mets' rise to prominence. Like all great sluggers, Strawberry was a guy whose at-bats were must-see TV, just on the hope that he might hit one of his titanic home runs, like the one he launched off the scoreboard in St. Louis in September '85 to give the Mets a 1-0 victory over the hated Cardinals. A true five-tool player, he also made highlight plays in the field and on the base paths. When Strawberry played hard, which wasn't all the time, it seemed like he could be one of the greats.

But Strawberry and Gooden both hit rough patches in the late '80s, and the Mets' fortunes seemed to ride with Doc and Straw's meteoric rise and fall . Gooden got involved with drugs, while partying, injuries, and attitude problems plagued Strawberry. He still put up some great numbers with the Mets, but the fans and management soured on him, and he left for the Dodgers after the 1990 season. His problems followed him there, too, and in 1994 he did a stint at the Betty Ford Center. He was eventually cut by the Dodgers. An irritated Tommy Lasorda once said of Darryl, "He's not a dog; a dog is loyal and runs after balls."

Strawberry would make several comebacks after his banishment from baseball in 1996, and was part of two New York Yankee world series teams, before a bout with cancer and several more drug-related incidents. Although I'm not sure if we've seen the last of Darryl's problems, he seems to have pulled things together.

So, while 1986 remains a high point in my life as a New York Met fan, I'll always feel that several more championships should have followed that one, and Darryl Strawberry is a symbol of that failure. On a personal level, I hope he's conquered his demons. But I wish he'd been able to do it a lot sooner.

(Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

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