One-time baseball superstar shares his story with inner-city youth

By Ken Lay

Throughout his life, Darryl Strawberry has experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.

But the former baseball star lived to tell about it. And early last week, Strawberry shared his story —- the good, the bad and the ugly — with Knoxville’s inner-city youth at the Emerald Youth Foundation in a question and answer session moderated by now-retired sports radio host Jimmy Hyams.

Strawberry unabashedly shared the ups and downs of his life on and off the field.

His success on the baseball diamond can’t be disputed. In a 17-year Major League Baseball career, Strawberry was an eight-time All-Star and a four-time World Series Champion.

He took the baseball world by storm when he broke into the majors in 1983 with the New York Mets in 1983 and was named National League Rookie of the Year. Three years later, he, Gary Carter, Dwight Gooden, Mookie Wilson, Keith Hernandez and a motley crew of characters brought the Mets a World Championship.

“We gave the organization and the Mets fans something they never had, and we gave them something they hadn’t had since 1969,” said Strawberry, who hit 331 home runs and recorded 1,000 RBIs in a 17-year career with the Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants.

In baseball, he made his mark with a team that stole the spotlight from the Bronx Bombers and made New York the Mets’ domain.

“My best memory in baseball was in 1986 when we won the National League East,” he said. “We won it at home and we brought those people something that they never really had before.

“The fans stormed the field and I couldn’t even get from right field to the pitcher’s mound. The fans ran out on the field, and they were tearing the grass off the field, and we had to play a game the next day, and when I grew up, that was always something that I wanted to be a part of. But I ended up going and watching from the bullpen. I didn’t want to get caught up in all that.”

That was on the field. But off the field, Strawberry had to battle his share of demons, including addiction. He grew up in the ghetto of South Central Los Angeles with an abusive father.

“I was broken. I was broken before I ever put the (baseball) uniform on,” he said. “I knew I could play baseball when I was 14 years old.

“But I grew up in an abusive home with a raging alcoholic, and he was abusive to us and our mother, and one night, if my mother hadn’t gotten us – me and my brothers – out of the house, we would’ve killed him. All he ever did was beat us and tell us that we would never amount to anything.”

When the family returned, Darryl’s father was gone, never to return.

“I came from a broken home and my mother raised all five of us by herself,” he said.

Baseball was Darryl’s ticket out of the mean LA streets, but with success came excess, including drugs, alcohol and parties as he played for a team that embodied both the good and the bad from the 1980s.

“When I was in New York after we won the World Series, I was 24 years old, and I never had to pay for anything,” he said.

There was also life in the fast lane, including the drugs, alcohol and sex. His mother cautioned him. But Darryl didn’t listen.

“If I’d listened to my mama, I would’ve made better decisions,” Strawberry said. “She told me to play ball and leave all the girls, drugs and alcohol alone. But I didn’t listen because I wanted to do what I wanted to do.”

Through the years, Strawberry’s success on the field continued. He would become the highest-paid MLB player, signing a lucrative deal with his hometown team, the Dodgers.

But that didn’t alleviate the pain of an abusive childhood.

“I signed the biggest contract (at that time) and I was going to play for the Dodgers. I should’ve been happy,” Strawberry said. “But I wasn’t.

“I was still broken.”

Strawberry’s roller coaster ride of a life continued until he hit rock bottom.

“I was $3 million in debt and I was living with my sister in her kids and her apartment,” he said. “Here’s the great Darryl Strawberry living with his sister and in debt.”

His struggles continued as he had two bouts with cancer and a period of incarceration. But he survived and now, at 61, he is sharing his story as an ordained minister.

“I would tell kids that they can do whatever they want and not let people get inside of their head with negativity,” he said. “God has a plan for everybody. If you’re obedient and follow His plan, He’ll bless you in ways and you’ll be the best you.”