| ||Wednesday, March 1|
|TAMPA, Fla. -- A third strike for cocaine landed Darryl Strawberry a one-year suspension Monday, and left the New York
Yankees and most of baseball wondering: Will he ever play again?
Commissioner Bud Selig imposed the penalty and did not make any
provision for the troubled slugger, who turns 38 next month, to
return early for good behavior.
"This was a very difficult and painful decision for me to make," Selig said. "The meeting I had with Darryl and his wife, Charisse, last Tuesday was an emotional experience for all of us. I had no doubt that his remorse and sorrow were genuine, and I worried about the effect my decision would have on his health and the welfare of his family."In the end, I could not ignore Darryl's past infractions and concluded that each of us must be held accountable for his or her actions. I am hopeful that he will use this time away from the game productively and will care for himself and his family." Strawberry has not been at Legends Field since baseball ordered him out of the spring training complex last Wednesday, a day after his latest failed drug test became public. His pinstriped uniform still hangs in his clubhouse locker, along with a batting helmet and spikes. There's also a stack of mail, though there's no telling when he'll ever get to pick it up. Strawberry, an eight-time All-Star, had been expected to be the prime designated hitter for the two-time World Series champions this season. Instead, his third cocaine-related suspension from baseball in five years left his future in doubt. "Bud just told me," Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said when he left the ballpark after an intrasquad game. "We will abide by the decision. I feel badly for Darryl. My hopes and prayers are that he can do the things he needs to do to get his life in order." Said manager Joe Torre, shortly before the penalty was made public: "You don't have to condone what he's done to have a feeling for him. He's not a bad person.
"I think you're always concerned. Obviously, it's a tough thing he's going through. He's fallen off here a couple of times," he said. "Sure, it's easy to say he's suspended. But what happens to him during this time?"
Strawberry must continue to comply with strict counseling, testing and recovery requirements.
"I think there has to be a plan for Darryl," Torre said. "Darryl is going to need a lot of support from friends and family. We will all support him and try to help him through this."
Strawberry is a career .259 hitter with 335 home runs and 1,000 RBI, and a legacy of tape-measure shots. The NL Rookie of the Year with the New York Mets in 1983, his power seemed to have him headed to the Hall of Fame early in his career before multiple setbacks.Legal trouble slowed him while drug and alcohol problems almost derailed him. He had stays in the Smithers Center and the Betty Ford Center and then, during the 1998 playoffs, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. Strawberry returned last season and hit .327 with three homers and six RBI in 24 games. He hit .333 (5-for-15) with two home runs in the postseason, showing the easy swing that made him so dangerous. The Yankees now must decide how to fill the left-handed DH spot Strawberry was supposed to occupy. Chili Davis, the team's top designated hitter last season, has retired. Yankees DHs hit a combined .275 with 23 home runs and 84 RBI last year. "I'm not in a reactionary mode because of Darryl's suspension," general manager Brian Cashman said. "Do I think we have the bats on our roster to at least duplicate that? Yes, I do." Torre has talked about using Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill and Jorge Posada in the slot during their off-days, and Tim Raines is back in camp as a non-roster player. There's also the chance the Yankees might make a deal. In fact, the front office began discussing trade possibilities once Strawberry's problem became known. Anaheim's Darin Erstad and Jim Edmonds and Cincinnati's Dmitri Young are among the players rumored to move. "There's always going to be speculation," Cashman said. "If something presents itself that would help improve the team, we'll look at it." Strawberry's options, however, are more limited. He could perhaps return to the independent Northern League, where he played for two months in the summer of 1996. It's doubtful he could go to Japan, where 1999 All-Stars Tony Fernandez and Dave Nilsson will play this season. More than a decade ago, Steve Howe was not allowed to try out for the Seibu Lions because of past drug problems. Strawberry was suspended in 1995 for 60 days following a positive test for cocaine use. In 1999, Selig banned him again from April 24 to Aug. 4 after Strawberry was arrested for cocaine possession and soliciting a prostitute. Strawberry later pleased no contest to the charges and was undergoing regular drug tests as part of his legal punishment. His Jan. 19 test came back positive and led to the latest penalty. Given Strawberry's age, it's unclear if he ever will return to the game that made him famous. "It's sad," Yankees outfielder Ricky Ledee said before the announcement. "Being older, if it's a one-year suspension, my guess is it would be tough."
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Darryl Strawberry chronology
Baseball drug suspensions
Joe Torre says he wanted closure.
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Paul O'Neill wants the best for Darryl Strawberry.
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