I wish I’d been able to be there on Saturday watching Darryl Strawberry’s #18 being raised to the rafters. Watching the ceremony after the event, it was noticeable that there many empty seats. When Dwight Gooden’s number 16 was retired back in April, there were fewer empty seats and the weather was less hospitable (Saturday was a beautiful weather day), and the Mets May swoon had not yet occurred. The team’s poor performance kept fans away and that’s a shame. Darryl deserved better, but he displayed nothing but gratitude and grace in his remarks on the field. There was never a love-hate relationship between Darryl Strawberry and the fans and Saturday it was all love.

Having spent my college years in Los Angeles prior to Strawberry being drafted #1 in 1980, I was aware of Darryl Strawberry’s high school exploits at Crenshaw High School which was renowned for baseball.  Strawberry’s 1979 Crenshaw team played for the L.A. city championship. The game was an ‘all-white’ team from Granada Hills whereas Crenshaw had a predominantly an African American student body. In the game, future NFL Hall-of-Famer John Elway (later drafted by the Yankees), came into pitch in the third inning, and threw a shutout the rest of the way, sending Crenshaw down to defeat. The first thing that struck me about Strawberry was the name itself. Who has a name like Strawberry?  Was that some kind of gag? How many people with the last name Strawberry are you aware of other than Darryl and his family? The name was a meme before there were memes.

Strawberry’s life-long friend Eric Davis who was in attendance on Saturday, played for another Crenshaw rival John C. Fremont High School. Like Strawberry, Davis was gifted with gobs of talent. He could run, hit for power, and was a fleet outfielder winning Gold Gloves in 1987-1989. It was difficult to think of one without thinking of the other. It was good to see them together again.   

The Mets had been a bad team for several years prior to drafting Darryl Strawberry. During the ceremony Strawberry thanked the Fred Wilpon, Nelson Doubleday, and Frank Cashen, for drafting him #1 in 1980, the year he graduated from Crenshaw. Having been drafted #1 was and is very important to the Straw-man.

Strawberry played in 44 games the summer of 1980 in Kingsport, TN in the Rookie League. He’d spend two more minor league seasons, one at single A in Lynchburg VA, the other at AA Jackson, MI, before being promoted in 1983 to the Mets after 16 games with AAA Tidewater. He then won the 1983 Rookie of the Year award.

The Mets had never had a player in the organization with Strawberry’s athleticism, power, and potential. Prior to his arrival, the Mets did have a six-year love affair with the young, athletic, and handsome Lee Mazzilli, who himself was a #1 draft pick, (keep in mind the worst teams get a shot at the #1 draft pick), but by 1982 ‘Maz’ had worn out his welcome in New York and was shipped off to the Texas Rangers. When Darryl Strawberry walked into the clubhouse in 1983, he saw a team in transition led by the fleet and exciting Mookie Wilson, and newly acquired all-star and former MVP Keith Hernandez. Those two players were instrumental in helping the 21-year-old Strawberry manage the bright lights and big city of New York. There were of course, ups and downs along the way as everyone knows.

Baseball fans are greedy. Darryl Strawberry was great and exciting to watch, but there was also frustration that he wasn’t even…better!  Fans seemed to think Strawberry should have hit 50 home runs, driven in 125, and hit .300 every year! Strawberry was part of good and great Met teams that ‘owned’ New York baseball during his time mainly because the Yankees were experiencing a rare down period. That led to the lights being even brighter on Darryl and Doc.

Strawberry won a World Series with the Yankees in 1999, his final season, and was also a member of the Yankees 1998 championship team but did not participate in that postseason due to injury. But like Dwight Gooden said during his retirement ceremony, Darryl Strawberry is a Met and he’ll always be a Met.

Strawberry thanked his wife Tracy for insisting he go to the hospital when not feeling well earlier this year. After suffering a massive heart attack, Strawberry is grateful to be alive and credits his faith and good luck that he is still alive. Both Strawberry and Gooden expressed gratitude to the Mets organization for making their number retirement days a reality. It can be said that their ‘days’ are overdue, but that’s now all in the past.

Like Doc’s #16, Strawberry’s #18 is where it has always belonged.

Mark Kolier
Mark Kolierhttps://mlbreport.com/
Mark Kolier along with his son Gordon co-hosts a baseball podcast called ‘Almost Cooperstown’. He also has written baseball-related articles that can be accessed on Medium.com, Substack.com and now MLBReport.com.


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