Most of all, it seems, he's grateful for his new rightfielder. "Darryl Strawberry is the most talented player in baseball," says Lasorda. Not to mention one of the most tempestuous. During his eight roller-coaster years with the Mets, Strawberry's bouts with alcohol, his wife, Lisa, and his teammates were well documented, but Lasorda shrugs all that off. "I know one thing," Lasorda says, losing count. "Darryl's a good guy, he's a friend of mine and he's a tremendous player."
The sentiment is mutual. Strawberry adores Lasorda, so much so that he made a commercial for Lasorda's spaghetti sauce. He did it for free, and, according to Lasorda, he did it last fall, before he signed a five-year, $20.25 million contract with the Dodgers in November.
"I really respect him," Strawberry says of his new boss. "I really admire him. Tommy never launders a player in the press or puts down a player. When you see that in a manager, you can't help but have a good time."
What's more, Strawberry loves L.A., his hometown. "The people in New York never knew me," he says. "They never sat down and had a conversation with me. They didn't know the person. The people in LA. are very friendly. Here they know who you really are. They know your heart. This year will be different."
The difference is more than one of geography. The new Darryl became a born-again Christian in January and spent much of the winter living in a room at the Sherman Oaks home of Bill Payne, who is an uncle of Strawberry's wife. Payne has served as a kind of spiritual adviser to Strawberry; during their time together, Strawberry read the Bible daily, went to bed early, got up early and worked out regularly. (He also regularly visited Lisa and their two children at their house in nearby Encino.)
On Feb. 14, his uniform's number, 8, was retired by his alma mater, Crenshaw High, in Los Angeles. Strawberry wept during the ceremony and said, "I'm so happy the Lord saved my life."
Only hours after his arrival in Vero Beach on Sunday, Strawberry unveiled the new man: "I've been set free. Jealousy, bitterness, anger, I've been removed from that. It's a totally different experience. But most people can't see it because they're blinded by sin. My life is at peace now. It's not a bunch of confusion like before. I'm not worried now about what is written by the media, or how to prepare for a game, or what the response will be when I go to New York. I'm going in a straight direction. I have nothing but faith and blessings. There will be a lot of glory for the Lord, and glory for the Dodgers."
Strawberry, though, isn't the only Dodger who comes to camp with a history of conflict. Daniels, L.A.'s fragile left-fielder, has offended his teammates before, allegedly by showing more concern about his hitting than about winning. Murray, the first baseman, cares greatly about winning, but can be moody and incommunicative, especially when his team is losing. Even Butler, who has a three-year, $10 million deal and will take over centerfield, was recently described by a rival manager as "weird." Butler created a stir in the San Francisco clubhouse last year when he intimated that the Giants' losing had something to do with Satan.
"I don't see the diverse personalities being a problem at all," says Butler, who was born in Los Angeles. "Take Darryl. It's always been his dream to play in L.A. Me, it's always been my dream, too. Kevin Gross says to me, 'I can't believe I'm home.' He lives right down the street. We have a bunch of homeboys on this club. So many of these guys are happy. The first time I put on the uniform, I sat down, felt my chest and legs and said, 'Am I here? Is this real?' I thought, 'Golly, can it get any better than this?' "
Golly, it actually could—if Hershiser proves capable of pitching anywhere near his old Cy Young form. Hershiser claims that at the very least he's stronger after a winter of weights. "I have a chest now," he says. "I used to be able to palm a basketball with my shoulders."