2005-03-18 / Sports

Strawberry Comes Back To New York Mets With Mixed Memories

By Michael Avallone Sports Columnist

By Michael Avallone
Sports Columnist

“Swung on, hit in the air to rightfield, Evans going back...near the wall... goodbye homerun....Darryl Strawberry!!!! 7-5 New York!!!!” Most baseball fans don’t know the significance of that call or when it was even said. However, a few diehard fans of the New York Mets sure remember...and always will. Gary Thorne, a broadcaster for the Mets at the time, said those words 19 years ago during the seventh game of the 1986 World Series. Straw’s homerun was the final nail in the coffin of the Boston Red Sox, giving the Mets their second, and now almost 20 years later, last World Series Championship.

Love him or hate him, any fan had to admit that Darryl Strawberry was an immense talent. Playing in the spotlight of New York City for a colorful team, he basked in the glow of his newfound stardom. With a tall and lean, yet muscular build, Strawberry’s long swing would generate immense power, resulting in majestic homeruns off Shea Stadium’s rightfield scoreboard.

What everyone failed to realize was that 1986, only Strawberry’s fourth season in the bigs, would be his crowing achievement as a ballplayer. While several more years in New York would cement his status as one of the premier sluggers in the Majors, off-field problems began to plague him. By 1991, Straw had left the bright lights of New York for his hometown of Los Angeles. Its funny how leaving the pressure cooker of the Big Apple for the laid-back lifestyle in LA would be Strawberry’s ultimate undoing.

Fast forward to March 2005. The “New” Mets have begun camp but an old face dons the orange and blue for the first time in 15 years. Seemingly having conquered his personal demons, Straw recently completed a 5-day stretch as a special instructor with New York. He said he was glad to be back, that he wishes he had never left to begin with. Maybe if he had stayed with the Mets, his drug abuse would have stopped….or maybe not.

Dwight Gooden, another young Mets superstar destined for the Hall of Fame, suffered the same fate as his former teammate. How can men barely out of their teens be expected to handle the pressures of playing in New York? These two were just old enough to drink, yet they had more money than they had ever seen before and the world at their fingertips. For both of them, the fame and fortune was too much, too soon.

Strawberry’s final numbers: a career .259 average, 335 homeruns and 1000 RBIs, look decent enough. That is until you realize more than half of those stats were compiled during his first nine seasons of play. By the time Strawberry took a nose-dive; he was only 29 years old. The man once called the “black Ted Williams” hit less than 100 homers and had fewer than 300 RBIs after his last monster season with the Mets in 1990. He had one more big power year with the Yankees in 1998, but by then, he was no more than a part-time player.

Those 19 years since Strawberry helped the Mets defeat the Red Sox seem like an eternity. A lot has changed in the world since then, as anyone who has lived through those years can attest. However, one thing hasn’t changed: Strawberry’s love for baseball.

He may have failed as a professional ballplayer, but he seems to have won the battle that really counts. It’s unfortunate that No. 18 isn’t painted on the leftfield wall at Shea. It’s even more unfortunate that fans won’t hear his acceptance speech in Cooperstown this July, holding a plaque bearing his likeness….with a Mets cap. It once seemed such a sure thing.

Mets fans will never forget the eight wonderful years he gave us during those fun times in the ‘80s. It was a simpler time to be sure. Close your eyes and listen….you can still hear the “thwack” of ball meeting bat. A tall, lean, 21-year old deposits another shot in the rightfield bullpen at Shea. Time flies, but if you try really hard, you can make it stand still.

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