By Stacy M. Brown
Just as it did when he first arrived in the major leagues 38 years ago, Darryl Strawberry’s name still evokes awe.
His picture-perfect left-handed swing that launched 335 home runs and drove in 1,000 runs, remains one of baseball’s all-time pleasing memories.
But even at the height of his superstardom, the South Los Angeles-born athlete suffered.
“My life was fractured,” Strawberry revealed in an interview with the National Newspaper Publishers Association and the Black Press of America’s live morning news program, “Let It Be Known.”
“Like many who come from the inner city who didn’t have a male figure in their life — I didn’t have a father — my pain led me to my greatness, but my greatness would eventually lead me to destructive behavior,” the candid former slugger revealed.
Strawberry opens up even more in his new book, “Turn Your Season Around: How God Transforms Your Life.”
In the book that he wrote with author Lee Weeks, Strawberry, now an evangelist, explains how individuals heading in the wrong direction can move positively.
He is candid in writing about tragedy, personal failure and transforming injustice.
Despite winning four world championships with the New York Mets and New York Yankees, Strawberry fell victim to drug addiction, spent time in prison and battled cancer.
His co-author noted that “Strawberry’s life story is proof that you can overcome life’s adversities one decision, one step at a time. It’s time to turn your season around.”
There were “lots of expectations about me when I first came up to the big leagues in 1983,” Strawberry recalled. “I always tell young people that expectations are not who you are. The only expectations you should have are for yourself and not what others put on you.”
With the sweetest of swings and five-tool talent, Strawberry faced the pressure of mounting expectations even as a teen.
Strawberry grew up in South Los Angeles where he became a baseball prodigy at a young age. He starred in both basketball and baseball at Crenshaw High School. The 1979 Crenshaw team lost to Granada Hills in the L.A. City championship game, John Elway, who layer had a Hall of Fame career in the NFL, was a star for Granada Hills.
The 1980 Crenshaw baseball produced nine players who were drafted by Major League teams. Only Strawberry and Chris Brown made it to the Major Leagues.
That team was profiled in the 2004 book, “The Ticket Out: Darryl Strawberry and the Boys of Crenshaw.” The book not only told the story of the 1979 and 1980 Crenshaw baseball teams but also followed the players through the next 24 years of their lives.
Drafted by the Mets as the No. 1 overall draft choice in the 1980 Major League draft, Strawberry reached the Major Leagues in 1983, winning National League Rookie of the Year honors by hitting 26 home runs and driving in 74 runs.
“I was the Black Ted Williams, the next Willie McCovey,” he told the Black Press during his 25-minute interview. “It got to a place where I had to have confidence in myself and just be myself. You can’t be anyone else. God has made each of us unique.”
His best season in the majors was 1988 when he 39 home runs and drove in 101 runs and was second to Kirk Gibson in the National league most valuable player voting. But the Dodgers knocked the Mets out of the playoffs in a tight seven-game series and went on to defeat Oakland in the World Series.
Three years later, Strawberry signed a five-year, $22.25 million free agent contract with the Dodgers, but he had only one successful season with the Dodgers and was released was in June 1994. He spent the last few years of his career playing for the New York Yankees, helping them win the World Series in 1996 and 1998.
That year he was diagnosed with colon cancer. After treatment, he returned to the Yankees for 24 games and hit a dramatic home run against the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series, but his career was over at the end of the season.
Because of his off-the-field challenges, Strawberry didn’t make the Hall of Fame. Now, as focused and determined to help others as he’s ever been, Strawberry shrugs off those who remind him of what he could have accomplished.
“I’m glad for my walk, my road,” Strawberry said. “People say ‘you could have been in the Hall of Fame,’ but look at me now. I am an evangelist, and I’m encouraging people about life. It all works out as long as we don’t quit.”
Strawberry’s new book, “Turn Your Season Around,” is available at most book sellers, including amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.