Strawberry Bashing Goes Overboard

Darryl Strawberry has a history of showing tremendous agility when it comes to sticking his foot in his mouth.

But Strawberry did not deserve the crucifying he received from sports talk radio this week.

He made an insensitive comment before beginning a conference call from Japan with Dodger beat reporters on Tuesday. There were eight newspaper writers in Los Angeles on the call, plus KMPC’s Larry Kahn and an XTRA reporter, who both taped it for airing.


Before the questioning got underway, Strawberry, attempting humor, made a flippant X-rated comment to Terry Johnson of the South Bay Daily Breeze. Then Strawberry, who was in Japan with the Dodgers on tour, asked, “What’s going on?”

Someone mentioned the fires around Los Angeles, and Strawberry said: “Let it burn. I don’t live there any more. Let it all burn down.”

There was an uncomfortable pause of about 15 seconds before Kahn broke the silence with a question about Strawberry playing left field.

“What was I supposed to ask him?” Kahn said later. “Did he mean what he said. Of course he didn’t. It was a bad joke.

“The thing is, if it was Henry Rodriguez who said it, nobody would have paid any attention. But it was Darryl Strawberry. He should have known better, but that’s Darryl. Personally, I like Darryl, but he does things without thinking.”

Toward the end of the eight-minute conference call, there was a break in the questioning. That’s when Strawberry brought the subject back to the fires and this time he apologized and showed genuine concern.

“It’s terrible,” he said. “I have friends who have lost their homes.”

Also, the next day, he issued a full-blown statement of apology.

The Times’ story the next day, written by Dodger beat writer Maryann Hudson after consultation with her editors, appeared on Page 3 of the sports section, carried the insensitive remark by Strawberry in the third paragraph of a five-paragraph story and reported it in the context and perspective with which it was uttered, noting that Strawberry eventually took it all back.

The Los Angeles Daily News had a small box on Page 1 of sports that led with the Strawberry remarks; the Long Beach Press Telegram had a one-column head and a lead on the remarks on Page 1 of sports, and the Orange County Register had a story on the remarks on Page 22 of its A section, a page that dealt with fire stories. The Daily Breeze, Johnson’s paper, never mentioned Strawberry’s remark.


Scott St. James, filling in for host Joe McDonnell on KMPC’s afternoon show, ranted and raved and jumped to all kinds of conclusions while he left Kahn, who knew the details, on hold for 10 minutes.

The next day on XTRA, midday host Jim Rome played the Strawberry sound bite with only the “Let it burn” comment, taking it out of context. That was enough to open the flood gates, and the feeding frenzy was on.

Later on XTRA, Lee Hamilton took the bashing to new heights. He equated Strawberry’s comment to Al Campanis’ 1987 interview on ABC’s “Nightline,” when the Dodger vice president said that blacks “may lack some of the necessities” to succeed as baseball executives.

Hamilton called for the Dodgers to oust Strawberry as swiftly as they ousted Campanis, and in the process inadvertently turned Strawberry’s unfortunate comment into a racial issue.

One of Hamilton’s callers said: “Imagine the reaction if Wayne Gretzky had said, during the riots, ‘I live in Bel-Air and Canada, I don’t live in South Central L.A., so let it burn.’ ”

It turned into that kind of show. It was talk radio at its worst--irresponsible reporting used to create controversy and draw listeners and callers.

Thursday morning, off the air, Hamilton was still hot, saying: “You may think I overreacted, but I stand by what I said. The week before, I had to pack up my family and evacuate my home in Rancho Bernardo.

“This hit home with me, and in my heart I believe, because of the tone of his voice, Strawberry, who is a selfish and sick individual who has never shown respect for the fans of L.A., meant to intentionally slur the city. That was his initial intent.”


KMPC’s Doug Krikorian has been a voice of reason.

“I’m not defending what Strawberry said; that’s indefensible,” Krikorian said. “He made an insensitive and indiscreet remark. But he didn’t mean it literally.

“It wasn’t deserving of the attention it got. I mean, come on, keep things in the proper perspective. Darryl Strawberry is not Darth Vader. He is not a mean person.”

Hamilton, during all his flailing away, did have one good suggestion. He said Strawberry should donate money to help fire victims.

Hamilton’s station has done its part already by collecting sports memorabilia and auctioning it. The station is close to its goal of raising $50,000 for its XTRA Fire Aid Fund. ARCO alone threw in $15,000.

TV-Radio Notes

The big event on a busy sports weekend is the 10th Breeders’ Cup Saturday at Santa Anita. NBC will devote 4 1/2 hours to coverage, beginning at 10:30 a.m. . . . The highest-rated Breeders’ Cup, with a 5.1, was the first, held at Hollywood Park. Last year’s Breeders’ Cup, at Gulfstream in Florida, got a 3.0. . . . Tom Hammond will again serve as host of the telecast on Saturday, with New York’s Tom Durkin calling the races. Santa Anita’s Trevor Denman will serve as one of the six analysts. The director is John Gonzalez, who, along with Hammond, has been a member of the NBC crew, either as the producer or director, on all the Breeders’ Cup telecasts since the event began in 1984.

Gonzalez recalls in 1986, when the Breeders’ Cup was at Santa Anita, the crew was hoping for Santa Ana winds to clear the air and show the beauty of the mountains in the background. “Santa Ana winds is the one thing we don’t want this year,” Gonzalez said. . . . The producer this year will be David Michaels of Agoura, the younger brother of ABC’s Al Michaels. He replaces Terry Ewert, who took a job with the Atlanta Olympic Organizing Committee. Said Michaels: “This track brings back tremendous memories for me. As kids, Al and I spent a lot of time here with our parents.” Michaels said the ultimate would be to work a Breeders’ Cup with Al.

With the NBA season opening tonight, there will be three games on television--the Chicago Bulls and Charlotte Hornets on TNT at 5, the Clippers’ home game against Portland on Channel 13 at 7:30 and the Lakers’ home game against Phoenix on Prime Ticket at 7:30. . . . The Clippers’ four November telecasts on Channel 13 are being offered with Spanish audio. . . . Channel 13 producer Dave Goetz and feature producer Heidi Palarz have put together an outstanding “Clipper Countdown” pregame show that will be on tonight at 7. . . . Prime Ticket’s first 15-minute Laker pregame show, with Paul Sunderland and Marques Johnson, will be on tonight at 7:15.

Saturday’s Riddick Bowe-Evander Holyfield card, to be shown on pay-per-view and at closed-circuit sports-bar locations, begins at 6 p.m., with the main event scheduled for 8. . . . A new KMPC boxing show, “Ringside With Johnny Ortiz,” makes its debut today at 1 p.m. Ortiz, known as the Downey Flash, at one time was co-owner of the Main Street Gym with Carol Steindler. Ortiz will be on periodically with Brian Golden and Doug Krikorian. . . . KMPC’s Joe McDonnell returns from knee surgery on Tuesday. McDonnell said the surgery was more involved than expected--a 20-pound non-malignant tumor was removed from his knee--but he feels fine now.

ESPN announced this week that Chris Berman has been given a contract through 2001. . . . The cable network also announced that president Steve Bornstein has been given the additional title of corporate vice president of Cap Cities/ABC Inc., which owns ESPN. . . . ESPN takes over Sunday night football this weekend with Indianapolis-Washington. . . . The Raiders are on the road and the Rams have a bye on Sunday, so Los Angeles gets an extra NFL telecast: Denver-Cleveland at 10 a.m. on NBC.