I’d like to say I wasn’t nervous walking over to shake Darryl Strawberry’s hand before we spoke, but that would be a big old lie. The 1986 Mets were the first team I was truly passionate about. And Strawberry was a key cog to that bunch of bad guys. And when he grabbed my hand and said hello, my first thought was, “Holy shit, this is what a ballplayer should look like,” quickly followed by, “Holy crap, he’s got some huge hands” and then “Wow, he looks like he could still play today.” Strawberry and I then sat down to talk about his book Straw: Finding My Way. It’s a fascinating read about one of the most compelling New York sports figures of all-time. In it, Strawberry pulls no punches talking about how he messed his own life and the lives of his family. We spoke about taking responsibility, Derek Jeter’s star power, and one very unlikely best friend.
SR: Towards the end of the book you talk about gradually coming back into the public eye and having people propose book and movie deals, which you turned down. Why was now the right time to write down your story? What made you think you were in the right place mentally to do it?
DS: Well, I think because I’m finally committed to doing it. I think that’s the first step you have to do. You have to be able to commit to it and say you wanna do it, because when you have to go back and revisit things—I mean, there’s a lot of painful things there. It takes a person time to think through it and see that these painful things are gonna come up. And these feelings, you think about your children and the relationships that you were in and your part that you played in that that made a difference of affecting lives. It’s never easy. And when I reached that point I said this is pretty much a good time in my life. And it wasn’t all about me. My wife convinced me that it was also about helping other people. It’s a message to help other people because when people have loved and cared for you, there are people hurting to and they need to hear this message of hope. Of why you don’t quit. People say, “Why shouldn’t I quit?” And I can say that you just don’t, you should never give up.
SR: One thing that I found interesting in the book is that you really don’t put the blame on anybody else for anything in your life. You’re very direct in saying, “This was my fault.” How did you get to point in your life where you can say it’s your fault and you’re not here to blame anyone else when describing your life?
DS: Well, it’s about taking action and taking full responsibility for your life. I took action on the field and excelled there. Well it was time I took actions for my mistakes off the field too. You need take responsibility for those things. And doing that it allows people to see who you really are. Instead of what’s been created and written about you, they’re able to see from your side who you really are. And that’s what I wanted people to see more than anything. I wanted them to see the real heart that I have and the real understanding I have about life—life challenges and life mistakes and taking full responsibility for it. Because that gives people a clearer understanding that when things occur in your life and you take responsibility, you have a chance of getting on the right path. You’ll never get there if you don’t take responsibility. And you know, it took me a good while to understand that. I was taught a lot of that through my wife and I’m grateful for that. Because behind every good story there’s a good woman pushing you. If they tell you there’s not and they did it on their own, they’re lying! (Laughs)
SR: I really found it fascinating when you talk about signing with the Yankees in 1995 and you and Derek Jeter were riding the bench as the team was making their playoff run. You talk about giving Derek advice about not letting the city eat him up when you would be on the bench. Could you tell at the time that he would be someone who would thrive in New York and be able to survive the pressure cooker?
DS: Oh yes, I could tell he would be okay because I saw him play before down in Columbus. When I saw him play I said to myself, “He’s got the potential to go to New York and they’re going to love him and he’s going to be a star.” I could see it. Why? Because I’ve experienced it myself. And I wanted to share it with him. I told him, “You’re going to have a lot of opportunities in this town. You’re gonna be a star in this town.” I said, “Just take care of yourself. Don’t make mistakes like I did. Because there’s gonna be a lot of people pulling at you and there’s gonna be a lot of opportunities for you. Just be careful about what you do.”
SR: You also talk about coming back to the Mets to work on SNY and to work with some younger players. How important is it to you to be able to share your experience with these players just starting out, not offering just baseball advice but also advice on how to act when you’re in a New York organization?
DS: It’s about dealing with your life properly when you play in New York and dealing with the pressure and dealing with the media. I just try to explain to some of the younger guys that come along, don’t get caught up the hype of how good you are—or how horrible you are. Because it’s going to come at you from both ways. I tell them to try and keep balance and stay focused. All that outside pressure, it is what it is. Don’t lose yourself in it. That’s what’s important for young players. Don’t lose yourself in it and think you’re great immediately, because you could have a chance to play a long time in this city if you are successful.
SR: Was part of your healing process coming back to the Mets? Did working on SNY and coming back to Shea feel like coming full circle?
DS: That definitely was a major part of the healing process. I walked away from a place I admired and adored the fans and the winning tradition that I learned playing here in New York. I mean, it all happened in Queens for me. I may have gone over to The Bronx and played, but I knew how to win because I was a winner in Queens.
SR: You were part of two of the most beloved teams ever in New York—the 1986 Mets and the 1998 Yankees. What was it about them that make them so loved in New York? Why do fans think they were so special?
DS: Well, attitude. Swagger. Belief. We came to the ballpark with a purpose. We came to the ballpark believing we could win everyday. There was always excitement. I think fans could feel the excitement in the air when they came to the ballpark. I mean, you came to the ball park and you knew those teams were ferocious! They took a lot of pride in what they were doing. And people could see that.
SR: You also talk about your friendship with Eric Davis, who had his own battle with cancer before you did. You two didn’t have the exact same disease, but was it important to have someone you grew up with and shared your experiences as a ballplayer? Did that strengthen your bond?
DS: Oh, we had a very strong bond. We grew up together, played little league together. Along the way we realized we both had the same intentions and the same goals and same passions, to get to the majors league and be successful. And we did it. And it was very special for to stay close, to be like brothers through everything, and for both of us overcome everything, and be successful as professional athletes.
SR: Finally, I have to ask about George Steinbrenner. You write in the book about how he gave you multiple chances. Obviously a lot has been written—both good and bad—about him over the years. What kind of friend was he to you?
DS: Remarkable. I mean, he was someone I could have a personal conversation with when most people were scared to talk to me. I could just go to him and talk to him about anything. He was the kindest person to me and my family that I’ve ever known. Even with all the things that happened and things that were written about me during that time, he never turned his back on me. When everybody else told him, “don’t do it, don’t do it,” he was like, “I’m doing it. I care for him. I care for his family. I wanna see that they’re taken care of.” He took care of me and my family and I will always thank God for him.