There were times this season, Darryl Strawberry says, when he considered suicide, believing that maybe then people wouldn’t have anything to say about him anymore.
He claims not to read what is written about him, or hear what is said about him, but he does. Strawberry hears the talk about Orel Hershiser having a higher batting average, about Dodger fans hating him, about his being a bust on the field. He reads about his being investigated for possible tax fraud, and he has heard all about the alleged homeless couple that is suing him, claiming he struck one of them. Strawberry says he was trying to help them. But it was Strawberry’s most recent controversy that had the Dodgers combing his contract to see if there was a way to void it. Glendale police came to his home and arrested him in front of his children for striking his live-in girlfriend.
Other times in his storied off-the-field career, Strawberry could, and did, silence his critics with his bat. But this season, trying to come back from back surgery last September, Strawberry only drew more negative attention to himself. Every day he woke up feeling as if he had played football the day before, he says.
He was never a star fielder, but this season, mediocre would have been an improvement.
And at the plate, the quick-wrist shots that propelled balls over fences turned into awkward half-swings that popped balls over backstops. Much of the time, foul balls were the best Strawberry had to offer Dodger fans this season.
In one game in San Diego, he helped a ball over the fence with his glove while in leftfield, a position he felt uncomfortable playing. Three days later, he destroyed a water jug in the dugout after having been scratched from the lineup for skipping his back therapy.
Three games after that, in Colorado, he made some crucial misplays in right field, his normal position. In the same game, he struck out three times.
That was June 16, and that was it for Strawberry, who put himself on the disabled list. He hasn’t played since.
But if his bad back stopped him, it didn’t stop the critics. As the Dodgers’ need for a left-handed power hitter--or any kind of hitter--kept them out of the race, Strawberry says his spirits plummeted.
The Dodgers took a hard-line stance, treating him as one of the pack instead of a superstar. That had not happened before. Fred Claire, Dodger executive vice president, let it be known that Strawberry was considered merely one of 25 players.
And the next time Strawberry was late for his rehabilitation program, Claire fined him a day’s pay--more than $19,000--and issued a news release about it.
Strawberry, although he wasn’t playing, was expected to report before games for two-hour back-therapy sessions. On the day he was late, he had called, but his excuse wasn’t good enough for Claire. Strawberry had finally met his match.
“I thought, ‘What would it be like if I wasn’t around anymore?’ ” Strawberry said Tuesday of his thoughts about suicide. “There wouldn’t be any problems if I wasn’t around. Then people wouldn’t have anything else to say.
“I had been stressed out and in deep depression all year. The one thing I didn’t want to have to do this season is go through everything again after going through it in ’92. And that’s what happened. It was a living nightmare.”
On Monday, the L.A. County District Attorney’s office said it would not seek charges against Strawberry, saying that Charisse Simons had provoked him into hitting her by poking his tender back with a bat.
Strawberry spoke Tuesday from former Dodger Reggie Smith’s office in Phoenix, where Claire sent him to play in the club’s instructional league. Strawberry said it bothered him when he heard that the Dodgers were looking for ways to void the two years left on his contract--but not because of the $8 million he stands to lose. The Dodgers have already paid Strawberry $12.25 million over the last three years.
“I don’t want my money for free,” Strawberry said. “I want to stay a Dodger. I want to pay them back for what they have given to me. And it will happen. Darryl Strawberry will be back, and it will be fun again.”
Baseball apparently is fun again for Strawberry’s pal, Eric Davis, whom Claire traded to Detroit on Aug. 31. The trade didn’t sit well with Strawberry.
“Eric was my best friend and I feel bad that things didn’t pan out,” Strawberry said. “It was a big disappointment, both that things didn’t work out and (that) he got traded and we didn’t get to play for fans in Los Angeles the way we wanted to. But it’s not like he was finished. He went to Detroit and he’s doing well. He’s called me and he’s enjoying the game again. That’s what I want too.”
The arrest is behind him, but Strawberry is well aware of unresolved issues ahead. He says he is concerned about them, but that he has done nothing to defraud the government and did nothing to harm the couple. Still, Claire, who met with Strawberry on Friday before sending him to Arizona, made it clear there can be no more incidents.
“Fred and I had a long talk, and basically he understands the position and the expectations and the demands on me,” Strawberry said. “He cares for me, more than just as a baseball player. He cares for me as a person and he believes in me. He knows that I am a caring person and I respect Fred a lot. He has a lot of pressure on him and he’s been under more since I’ve been hurt.”
The tandem of Davis and Strawberry probably will go down in Dodger lore as Claire’s Folly. To get Davis, he gave up Tim Belcher and John Wetteland. To get rid of Davis on Aug. 31, he got a triple-A pitcher in the trade with the Tigers. And no sooner was that done than Strawberry was arrested.
“I don’t think it should have brought any distraction to the team because I wasn’t even playing,” Strawberry said. “But I feel bad about being hurt, getting hurt and not being able to play for the fans and Fred and Mr. O’Malley and Tommy (Lasorda).
“That’s what people don’t understand--I want to play. . . . It’s nice to know that the organization is behind you 100%, and I have rededicated myself to baseball and the organization.”
Strawberry, whose off-field exploits have made headlines since he played for the New York Mets, is familiar with the word rededication . He has used it often. He says he is confident, though, that he can stay away from further controversy by keeping a low profile.
“I just need more private time now,” he said. “I just plan to remove myself from things around me and just ignore people. That’s something I have never wanted to do, but I have to. I have never wanted to reject people, but I have to, after what has transpired.
“I think that is ridiculous and unfair and there is no justification that I can’t be out there like other people. But people who know me, know that I have a big heart and I am too open to people, I like to help people out, but it can hurt me.
“The fact is that things get blown out of proportion because of who I am. . . . That’s what happened with the incident with Charisse. There was no wrong done, we just both got into it. (The police) forced themselves into the situation because of who I was. Nobody called the police to my house, but they showed up and arrested me in front of my kids and made a big issue of it. Charisse and I are still together--we never weren’t together.”
The police, however, had responded to a call from the hospital, where Simons was treated for a one-inch cut about her eye.
Regardless of who was at fault in the incident, it apparently was one too many for the Dodgers, and clearly the turning point for Strawberry’s relationship with the club and perhaps for his career in baseball. Claire has made it clear to Strawberry that he won’t tolerate any more controversy.
Strawberry, who says he is about a week away from returning to play, says his spirits are high again, and so are his hopes. He says he is not in therapy, except for his long talks in Arizona with Smith, who Strawberry says is helping him immensely.
“As a baseball player, sometimes you are out there all alone, by yourself, and there is no one to talk to, " Strawberry said. “But Reggie is always there for you. I think all the things that have happened have transpired into a good, positive situation.”