Gooden & Strawberry Update
According to Bob Klapisch, Daryl Strawberry has found peace and contentment as a Mets hitting instructor and advocate for autistic children. Doc Gooden, on the other hand, is apparently still struggling with his demons.
I can still remember watching Strawberry during batting practice at Shea shortly after his rookie callup, in 1983. Only 21 years old, he had a dazed look in his eyes, as if he wasn’t exactly sure how he’d ended up in New York City. That expression went from vulnerable to hangdog over the years, as the fans turned on him, mockingly chanting “Darrr-ylll” in a Nelson Muntz singsong. Like Michael Jackson, Linsey Lohan, or Britney Spears, he grew up in public. When it falls apart for somebody like that, I find it hard not to, well, blame the public, myself included – hey, I may not read Perez Hilton, but I do watch Best Week Ever, which launders celebrity rumors just as newscasts launder Matt Drudge’s political snark.
In the classic Simpsons baseball episode, the opposing fans go into the “Darrr-ylll” chant when Strawberry steps to the plate. A teammate comments that Strawberry’s a professional, so it’ll roll right off him – then we cut to Strawberry, a single tear trickling down his face. I always thought that joke held more truth than we fans would like to admit. (Actually, that whole episode is worth rewatching – remember Ken Griffey’s “grotesquely swollen head”? In the show, it’s caused by drinking too much of a Springfield patent medicine, but after all we’ve learned about the changes in Barry Bonds’s hat size, it comes off a lot differently today.)
Some people just aren’t built for the media glare. From George Foster to Ed Whitson to Chuck Knoblauch to Roberto Alamar to Jeff Weaver, many established vetrans come to New York and wilt. I guess that means they “don’t have what it takes,” compared to the heroes with icewater in their veins, like Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. But every player – every person – is a bundle of strengths and limitations. Jeter doesn’t have great range at short. Mo can’t get through a season any more without a few trips to the DL. And some players just don’t click with the hyperactive media culture of New York City. (I guess I can relate – I lived in NYC for one year after college, then hightailed it to grad school in North Carolina.) Those players probably just shouldn’t play in markets where dozens of reporters hound you after every game when you’re just trying to clean up and go home – just as righthanded pull hitters like Don Baylor probably shouldn’t play in a ballpark that’s 430′ to left center. Paul O’Neil, a lefty who thrives under pressure, was a much better fit.
Savvy management maximizes its players’ strengths and minimizes their weaknesses, while keeping its eye on the long term. But Strawberry and Gooden were just squeezed for everything they had, future be damned – Doc’s arm was never the same after he’d pitched a boggling 35 complete games by the age of 21.
Stawberry told Klapisch that he helps autistic children because they “have that pain in their eyes that I can relate to.” I think that’s the look I saw in Strawberry’s eyes back in 1983. I’m so glad to hear that after years of injury, addiction, and a battle with cancer, he’s finally in such a good place. And when I hear about Gooden, I feel sorry – and guilty.
Peter Gammons Leans to Obama
“The Angels know who they got in Torii Hunter — a man who drips energy and preaches hope and potential. There are numbers that will quantify what Hunter is or isn’t worth, just as there are politicians who try to tell us that “experience” is far more important than the foundation of hope and potential. Those numbers don’t matter as much as Hunter’s ability to energize and inspire his teammates, with character that cannot be quantified.”
As an Obama fan, I’m tickled, but I’m perturbed to see him equated with an aging, overpriced outfielder, however much of a mensch Hunter is. Who does that make Hillary – maybe an uninspiring sabermetric fave like Jack Cust?