|Wednesday, March 1
|TAMPA, Fla. -- Darryl Strawberry's stall was empty Tuesday. It figures to remain that way for a long time.
"Reality is hitting pretty hard this morning," David Cone said, one day after Strawberry was suspended for one year because he tested positive for cocaine.
"I'm extremely depressed today," said Cone, perhaps the Yankee closest to Strawberry. "It's tough watching close friends stumble again. Because he's suspended and won't be a Yankee this year doesn't affect our friendship. I'm sure everybody in here feels the same."
Commissioner Bud Selig imposed the ban and did not make any provision for the troubled star to return early for good behavior. It is the third cocaine-related penalty of Strawberry's career.
"First and foremost, he's got to get his life on track and get his addiction under control," Cone said. "What we can do as his friends is to try and convince him there are things to look forward to."
While they hope he can come back next year, Strawberry's teammates know there's a chance his baseball career is over.
"I just don't know at his age," first baseman Tino Martinez said. "I think this was going to be his last year anyway. I think it would be hard to miss the whole year and come back."
Martinez said he thought Strawberry would be "intrigued" by a future opportunity to work with one the Yankees' two minor-league teams based in Tampa.
Strawberry, an eight-time All-Star, had been expected to be the primary designated hitter for the two-time World Series champions this season at a salary of $750,000.
"I think we have a designated hitter in camp, even if it's a number of people doing one job," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "We just go on. We're going to miss him, no question, but you don't have him and you can't do anything about it."
Instead, Strawberry's third drug suspension since 1995 left his future in doubt. Family friends who spoke with Strawberry on Tuesday said he was depressed.
"A baseball career means nothing at this point," shortstop Derek Jeter said. "You have to take it one step at a time. He has to do it himself. He has to want to do it, and I feel he wants to do it."
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, he seemed headed toward greatness.
By the end of the 1991 season, at the age of only 29, he already had 280 home runs and 832 RBI.
But legal trouble slowed him while drug and alcohol problems almost stopped him. He had stays in the Smithers Center and the Betty Ford Center. Then, during the 1998 playoffs, he was diagnosed with colon cancer.
"I think his major concern is taking care of his illness before he thinks about doing anything," outfielder Tim Raines said. "He's been having a tough time over the last couple years. We hope he gets help, and that's our main concern."
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, and the Yankees celebrated their second straight Series sweep with nonalcoholic beverages, out of respect to Strawberry.
Strawberry was suspended in 1995 for 60 days after 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 pleaded 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.
"I didn't envy the commissioner," Cone said. "Last year was
supposed to be a year suspension and it was reduced to 120 days.
It's pretty hard to make a strong argument this penalty was too harsh."
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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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