I’m going to start as series of articles where I talk about some of the biggest baseball stars of their time and then their eventual fall from grace.
Some players either made a huge splash in the majors for a couple of years, then stuck around and did horribly for the rest of their career; or some players appeared for a year or two and then disappeared, never to be heard from again.
I’m going to start my series off with one of the brightest stars to ever play the game, at his time, but his label of a “lazy underachiever” was spot on.
What if I told you, either a major league manager or a fantasy manager, that I could give you a player that would average: 83 runs, 31 home runs, 92 RBI, 22 stolen bases, and .263 batting for the first nine years of his career; what would you think of this player?
Before you answer, let me give you some more stats to gawk at: he won the rookie of year in his selection year; was an eight time all-star selection; won a World Series championship (won three more later in his career); won the Silver Slugger Award twice; and hit 39 home runs and stole 36 bases, joining the exclusive 30-30 club, at the time becoming one of only 10 players in baseball history to accomplish the feat.
If you have half a brain, you would want this guy on your team. He’s consistently put up numbers for nine years and is just getting to the prime of his career.
So, who is this guy?
Well, beyond what the title tells you, it’s Darryl Strawberry.
Strawberry, a native of Los Angeles, was drafted first overall in the 1980 draft by the New York Mets.
Strawberry rose through the Mets system and reached the major league level in 1983, posting 26 home runs, 7 triples, and 74 RBIs, while hitting for a .257 average. He was easily named the National League’s Rookie of the Year.
From 1983-1991 Strawberry was one of the most feared sluggers in the game, known for his prodigious home runs and his intimidating presence in the batter’s box, he’s 6-foot-6. He had such a distinctive batting stance, with a high leg kick and a long, looping swing; posting those numbers you see above.
After his many years as a Met, Strawberry signed as a free agent with the Dodgers in 1991, inking a lucrative five-year $22.25 million contract.
Before the beginning of his second year as a Dodger he was only 29 years old, he had 280 lifetime homers, and was drawing comparisons to home run king Hank Aaron. After that season his personal problems escalated and he would not hit his 300th homer for another six years.
In 1994, he was released in May by the Dodgers and signed with the San Francisco Giants, where he saw limited playing time as he tried to make a comeback, hitting only four home runs and driving in 17 runs that year.
After a suspension from the league in 1995, due to his involvement with cocaine, Strawberry signed with the Saint Paul Saints of the Northern League in an attempt to rehabilitate.
When Strawberry hit his first home run for the Saints, at a distance of 522 feet, he soon found himself back in New York, this time as a Yankee.
With the Yankees, he showed flashes of his former brilliance, as he hit only three homers in his first shorten year. But had 11 homer runs in his second year and posted a .417 average with three home runs while driving in five in the League Championship Series, which eventually led to a World Series victory for the Yankees.
In 1997, he didn’t have any home runs, with his playing time limited by injuries. But in 1998, he had 24 home runs, once again helping the Yankees win the World Series. This was also the year he was diagnosed with colon cancer.
In 1999, he made a courageous comeback from his cancer treatment, but saw limited playing time, hitting only three home runs. Though he was unable to perform in the playoffs, the Yankees rallied around their fallen teammate and played inspired baseball to win another World Series.
Of the 10 postseason series Strawberry played in, he was on the winning team eight times. In 40 postseason games, Strawberry belted nine home runs with 22 RBIs and 20 runs scored.
Many believe, including me, that if Strawberry would have had his personal life straighten out, then he could have been considered one of the greatest players ever. His off the field personal problems were extremely big in the media, some of which I’ll share with you:
- 1987, accused of beating his wife during an extremely messy divorce
- 1989, he was sued by a woman claiming that he is the father of her son (blood test proved positive)
- 1990, accused of slapping and threatening his wife with a gun-during this time he checked himself into alcoholic rehab
- 1993, Strawberry was arrested for hitting his three-month pregnant girlfriend
- 1994, Strawberry confesses to substance abuse and checks himself into a rehabilitation center for five weeks
- 1994-1995, Strawberry and his agent were indicted for failing to report more than $300,000 of income from autograph and memorabilia shows-he is ordered to repay $450,000 in back taxes and sentenced to six months of home confinement
- February 1995, tested positive for cocaine and is suspended by MLB for 75 days and released by the Giants on the same day
- December 1995, charged in California with failing to make child support payments; when he missed the June 1996 deadline, he agreed to use his signing bonus from the Yankees to pay the debt
- August 1998, was sued by his attorney for unpaid legal fees related to baseball contract negotiations
- October 1998, Strawberry is diagnosed with colon cancer-two days later, he had surgery to remove a tumor and 24 inches of his colon, he still had to undergo chemotherapy
- 1999, arrested in Tampa, Florida for soliciting sex from a police woman posing as a prostitute and for having a small amount of cocaine; MLB suspended him for 140 days
- January 2000, tested positive for cocaine again; MLB suspends him for one year
- July 2000, has surgery again to remove the cancer which had spread to his lymph nodes
- September 2000, tried to drive to see his probation officer after taking painkillers, while driving, he blacked out, rear-ended another car, and then tried to drive away; he was arrested at gunpoint
- October 2000, leaves a Tampa drug treatment center to use drugs with a female friend, which violates his house arrest and parole
- November 2000, told a judge that he had lost his will to live and had stopped chemotherapy
- 2001, arrested again for disappearing from his house arrest drug treatment center in Tampa
- 2002, was back in jail for violating several non-drug rules at the drug treatment center where he was on probation in Ocala, Florida
- September 2005, reported his SUV had been stolen from a gas station but the station’s surveillance video showed Strawberry leaving as a passenger in another vehicle; tipster then told police that Strawberry had earlier left his SUV behind a sports bar and given her the keys; he was later charged with filing a false police report
- December 2005, his second wife filed for divorce
As you can see Strawberry had a lot of distractions off the field and yet was still able to put up extremely good numbers.
One can only wonder how good he would have been if he didn’t have all the other distractions in his life?