NY Sports Dog: Mets Baseball Card of the Day: 1984 Darryl Strawberry

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mets Baseball Card of the Day: 1984 Darryl Strawberry

Today's entry is the 1984 Darryl Strawberry.

1984 was Strawberry's second year in the big leagues, and it was a great one. After winning rookie of the year in 1983, Strawberry had anything but a sophomore lump, with 27 doubles, 26 homeruns, and 27 stolen bases.

His 127 OPS+ was excellent, and he led the National League in Power/Speed.

These terrific numbers for the 22-year old Strawberry led to his first All-Star game and confirmed what everyone knew--Strawberry was one of the most gifted players the Mets had ever seen.

His career with the Mets seemed destined for Hall of Fame greatness, though sadly, drugs and alcohol issues would haunt Darryl for decades.

I have never publicly told this story, and at the time I didn't believe it.

In the Fall of 1986 I was home on my first military leave after joining the Air Force.

My friend and I went to the Mets v. Cubs game in which the Mets clinched the pennant...it was pandemonium. I met a girl at the game and quickly ditched my buddy (we're still friends to this day). The girl's friend was dating one of the Cubs, and they invited me to go out with the three of them after the game. The player wasn't a star, but if I printed his name you would know it.

After the four of us had dinner, we started partying and drinking and drinking and drinking some more, and the conversation got real loose. By this time the player and I were in "buddies for life" mode and quite impressed with ourselves. He thought I was a pilot (and I did nothing to disabuse him of this notion--remember, this was when "Top Gun" was all the rage), and I was thrilled to hang out with a ballplayer and two very nice looking ladies at an upscale Manhattan drinking establishment.

I asked the player about the Mets, and he told me about Strawberry and Gooden's heavy partying--everything, including out of control cocaine use--but I was 19, very naive, they were my heroes, and I didn't believe a word of it.

It was a great night, and at the time the closest I had ever been to hanging out with baseball players. As for the girl, well, the long distance thing didn't work out since I left shortly thereafter for a few months of training in California, and then went on to Korea for a two-year assignment.

When I found out Gooden entered rehab a few months later, in early 1987, I realized every word the player had told me was true. It was devastating to all Mets fans, and most us believe to this day that the drug and alcohol problems on those teams certainly prevented them from winning another World Series title or two.

Strawberry's best years, 1987 and 1988, were just tremendous, and he absolutely should have won the MVP award in 1988--Kirk Gibson's numbers pale in comparison.

We all remember Darryl fondly, but in the backs of our minds, we also always think, "What could have been?"

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