The last Straw
Steinbrenner puts his faith in the wrong man
New York Yankees -- Named Darryl Strawberry player development instructor.
I've seen Ian McKellan do Shakespeare in London and Chekhov in New York. I've stood before the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. And I've seen two camels getting it on at the zoo.
But only now have I seen it all.
In sports, particularly, we are used to being shocked and awed. We've seen Mike Tyson bite off a chunk of Evander Holyfield's ear. We've seen Manute Bol on ice skates. We've seen the U.S. beat the Russians in hockey and Russians beat the U.S. in basketball. We've seen Kirk Gibson and Bill Buckner and Steve Bartman.
We've been shocked and awed so many times, in fact, that you would figure it impossible to shock or awe us anymore.
And then George Steinbrenner hires Darryl Strawberry as a player development instructor.
Sign of the Apocalypse? Hardly. This is the Apocalypse. That sound behind you is the thundering hooves of the Four Horsemen coming to smite you.
Let's put this in the plainest terms possible: Darryl Strawberry has no business instructing anybody about anything. He has never done a thing in his life to warrant a position of guidance. Not on the field. Not off the field.
Read Steinbrenner's statement, then allow me to retort:
"I am pleased that Darryl has shown the strength and the determination to come back and re-establish a decent and productive life for himself and his family. Our young players will learn from his knowledge and talents as a ballplayer as well as from the mistakes he has made. I will not turn my back on a man who has failed and is doing everything possible to turn his life around."
Retort No. 1: Strawberry has NOT "shown the strength and determination to re-establish a decent and productive life." Not yet. He was in jail just six months ago, finishing an 11-month drug sentence after violating his parole. It takes more than six months to straighten out your life, especially when you have repeatedly failed to do so over the previous 15 years. Not getting arrested in six months is a pretty low bar to set in establishing a decent and productive life.
Retort No. 2: Young players will NOT learn from his knowledge and talents as a ballplayer. Strawberry never knew or understood his own talents and he surely never learned how to play baseball. I shudder to think of dozens of prospects standing placidly in one spot in right field waiting to see what happens next.
Retort No. 3: Did Steinbrenner really say he would not turn his back on a man who has failed? Funny, up until now, we all thought that was Steinbrenner's whole philosophy.
Somehow Steinbrenner does not understand the actions of an addict, which is what Strawberry is. An addict will tell his enablers everything they want to hear, knowing they will relish the role of savior and will overlook all the warning signs just to give the addict another chance. Strawberry has been alternately finding trouble and finding God for more than a decade. His act has become unbearably predictable to everybody except Steinbrenner.
As a compassionate human being, I hope Strawberry does get his life together. I hope he overcomes his addictions and the cancer that has tormented him. Why would anybody hope otherwise? But I think it's too soon for Steinbrenner to declare Strawberry fit for duty. If The Boss wants to help, fine. But there must be something that Strawberry can do before he starts having influence over young people. Baby steps, you know?
I understand that reformed individuals have something to offer in their experiences, but there needs to be a period of reformation first. Let Darryl stay sober for a year or two, let him stay out of jail for a while. Let him be Darryl Strawberry the Person before we throw him right back into Darryl Strawberry the Ballplayer, a role that never really brought out the best in him before.
Putting Strawberry in front of young players as an instructor is a little bit like hiring Butch and Sundance to guard the payroll. After the bloody shootout on the mountain pass, the Kid turns to Butch and says, "Well, we went straight. Now what?" For some people, trouble seems to find them regardless of their intentions. And Trouble has Strawberry on his speed dial.
Then again, maybe the old adage is true. Those who can't do, teach.
If strikeout king Rob Deer can become a successful minor league hitting coach and Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams can become a successful minor league pitching coach, maybe Strawberry can become a successful builder of character. If Ozzy Osbourne can become a modern day Ozzie Nelson, well, then, let's just say anything's possible.
But I don't like the idea of Darryl Strawberry being around young athletes with a lot of money and a lot of time on their hands.
Call me a cynic, but I've seen it all before.
David Vecsey's Voice of Reason column appears weekly on SI.com.