From the Sidelines

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 4, 2000

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / March 4, 2000

In baseball, it’s three strikes and you’re out.

Darryl Strawberry might be finding out that applies to off the field as well.

Strawberry was suspended for one year by commissioner Bud Selig this week after failing a drug test. It was his third cocaine-related suspension in thepast five years. Given his age, 38, this one could be the most crushing.Why did Strawberry do it? Drugs must be a pretty powerful habit to make somebody of Strawberry’s potential and ability to throw it away time and time again.

Here was a player bound for stardom and immortality. National League Rookieof the Year in 1983 and an eight-time all-star. A World Series champion withthe New York Mets in 1986. In his first eight seasons in the league, he hit252 home runs and had 733 runs batted in. He was one of the most visibleplayers on one of the most visible teams in the most visible market in baseball. He seemed destined to one day have his bust in Cooperstown.Now, Strawberry seems destined to be one of the biggest what-ifs? In baseball history. A player who will be remembered more for running down aline of cocaine than one who ran down a baseline with a graceful stride.

Oh, somebody in baseball will probably give Strawberry another chance. Afterhe was suspended for 60 days in 1995 and seemingly unwanted in the Major Leagues, Strawberry played for two months in 1996 with the St. Paul Saintsin the independent Northern League. He signed with the New York Yankeeslater in the season and won a second World Series championship that fall.

Strawberry has had a number of chances to be a hero on and off the field.

He was diagnosed with colon cancer during the 1998 playoffs and had a chance to make a remarkable comeback. Instead, he was suspended for overthree months last April after being arrested for cocaine possession and soliciting a prostitute. He came back to help the Yankees win a secondstraight World Series title and was expected to be the team’s starting DH this season.

Now, the Yankees must look elsewhere. So does Strawberry. Already therehave been independent teams that have expressed interest in signing him.

Strawberry must now decide what is best for him and his family. Does hetake those teams up on those offers or does he take the year off to try to get his life back in order? Only he can make that decision.

Strawberry is not the first baseball player to see a promising career go up in smoke because of drugs. Sadly, it is a tradition that is as old as the gameitself. Back then, it was alcohol that ruined careers. Today, it is cocaine andother illegal drugs. But whatever the substance, the result is still the same.Today, Strawberry should be remembered as one of the greats in baseball history. His name should be up there with the Mays and the Mantles. Heshould be enjoying the twilight of a glorious career, basking in the glow of the final cheers before he heads into a deserved retirement. Instead, it could bea retirement that will darkened by the clouds of what might have been.

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