- The Washington Times - Friday, March 3, 2000

For the second consecutive year the baseball season will open without the sarcastic chants of "Dar-ryl … Dar-ryl" echoing through major league ball parks. In January, he tested positive for cocaine, his third cocaine-related offense. On Monday Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig handed out the punishment: Strawberry is out of the game until Feb. 28, 2001.

The punishment is firm but fair. If the commissioner's office felt John Rocker should be suspended for a month for unpleasant speech, Strawberry's one-year suspension for breaking the law three times seems reasonable.

Unfortunately for Strawberry, the professional life of a baseball player is short. Playing until age 40 is a rarity. Strawberry will be 39 when the 2001 regular season opens. Fans and Major League Baseball will give him another chance. Heck, major league pitcher Steve Howe was suspended seven times for drugs. However, Father Time and the patience of team owners will dictate whether he plays again.

Both fans and Strawberry are the losers here. During the infancy of his career, Darryl Strawberry looked to be a Hall of Fame caliber player. He won the National League Rookie of the Year in 1983 en route to nine consecutive years of hitting at least 26 home runs and knocking in at least 74 for the New York Mets. Strawberry played a pivotal role in the team's 1986 World series championship too. If the numbers of his first nine years had been sustained over his 17 years in the big leagues, he would have career numbers of 529 home runs and 1,572 runs batted in. Hall of Fame numbers indeed.

Injuries helped cause his numbers to dwindle, but it is his off-the-field behavior that caused him the most problems and is ultimately the reason he will be remembered in baseball history. Last year during spring training, while a member of the New York Yankees, Strawberry solicited a female undercover police officer for sex and was found with cocaine, his second drug offense since 1995.

The offense came at a particularly bad time in the hitter's career. Strawberry was recovering from colon cancer. This made him an instant underdog to make it back to the big leagues. Fans had always been hard on Strawberry, but there is nothing sports fans root for more than an underdog. They were finally with him until his arrest. Major League Baseball suspended him for 120 days, and many wrote Strawberry off. But he made it back for the final few weeks of last season, hitting a robust .327 in 49 at bats and hitting two home runs in the postseason. He seemed healthy and repentant. Baseball and the forgiving fans were willing to give him another chance. Then came the January offense.

Strawberry has suffered from financial as well as legal irresponsibility in recent years, notwithstanding the generosity of Yankee's owner George Steinbrenner, who has continued to pay the player despite his lapses. "Straw" may be tempted to accept offers from independent minor league teams to play for them this summer. But for the sake of his wife, four children (a fifth is on the way) and himself, perhaps it is time for Strawberry to put the bat away. Mending his personal life should be his No. 1 priority. It is too bad, though. With a commitment to the game and his well-being he could have been one of the greats.

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