New York baseball icon, former Met and Yankee, and four-time World Series champion Darryl Strawberry takes a swing at some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.
Q: Who are sluggers in today’s game you enjoy watching?
A: Pete [Alonso] was definitely one. I enjoyed watching him last year. To be able to hit the ball the other way with power, that’s a good sign that you can be productive at that level for a very long time.
Q: What advice would you give him during his struggles this season?
A: Go the other way. Work on your weakness. Don’t work on your strength, don’t get in the batter’s box and pull the ball at all. When I struggled, I would hit line drives over the shortstop’s head. Don’t pitch me in, I don’t want anything in. If he does that, that’s working on your mechanics and getting your mechanics right so you could stay on the baseball. Think right-center, right-field line.
Q: Other sluggers you like watching?
A: Aaron Judge. I just like how his approach is as a young player. He’s aggressive, but he’s very selective. When the pitchers make mistakes, he makes ’em pay for it. He attacks the baseball when the mistakes are made, and also at the same time, he’s very quiet and disciplined at the plate. The majority of the time he uses the whole ballfield.
Q: Does he remind you of you?
A: Somewhat. I saw him spread the ball all over, and it’s the same thing I was saying about Pete last year.
Q: If he stays healthy, can he break the home run record in a 162-game season?
A: You see guys come in the league, and you see ’em establish themselves in one or two years and then they kind of fade out. It’s a possibility. When he’s healthy, he can do some serious damage.
Q: Any others you like watching?
A: [Mike] Trout. He does it all. He’s not a showboat or anything, he’s just a hard-nose, gritty player. Kind of reminds me of a Pete Rose-style player.
Q: What do you think of Giancarlo Stanton?
A: His ceiling of who he was was high playing in Miami, but I think it’s different when you play in New York, ’cause the expectations are real when you play in New York, and if you’re not prepared for that emotionally, it can eat you up. And I think it’s a tough place for him to play.
Q: Could no fans in the stands at the Stadium could help him?
A: If he’s playing in front of the fans in New York and you’re not playing well, and you’re getting paid well, the fans are gonna let you have it, I can tell you that right now. New York fans are real, you have to learn how to deal with that.
Q: Why did you thrive in that environment?
A: They’re gonna either make you believe in yourself and you can do it, or they’re gonna break you. I just didn’t believe in allowing to be broken in those situations. I didn’t want to play in front of fans that they’ll say, “That’s OK, you’ll get it next time.” That’s not good for a guy who’s striving to be the best.
Q: Was there a difference between Yankees and Mets fans?
A: Met fans were really hard because when I was younger they wanted me to play at such a high level. Yankee fans were great to me because it was later in my career. They were just really gracious that I was back and playing in New York and playing with them over in The Bronx. But I’m glad the Met fans gave it to me because had it not been for them, I would have probably never been the player that I was. They pushed me into being the kind of player that I needed to be. You can easily fold under the pressure of 30, 40,000 booing you when you strike out and you’re consistently failing to drive in runs. If that doesn’t make you tough, it’s gonna kill you, and I didn’t let it kill me, it made me tough.
Q: As you’ve traveled around the country, why did the evils of opioid addiction become such a cause for you?
A: Well, because young people starting losing their lives like never before. I had a couple of treatment centers down in Florida, and I started seeing the youth of from 18-to-25 and 30 all come in and all addicted to opioids. It was a very sad time. I was sitting at the lunch table and seeing young girls, and I asked them a question, I said, “OK, tell me what happened to you? Drugs are not your problem, but what happened? Something happened. My father rejected me, beat me — what happened to you?” Tears started coming out of their eyes and they said, “I’ve been raped by my uncle,” and “My grandpa molested me,” and stuff like that. No one signs up to be addicted to any type of drug, and I knew that there was something so deep that the opioids were controlling them to escape from their pain so they couldn’t get well. And I just saw so many kids die, and it just broke my heart. I saw the pharmaceutical companies get rich, CEOs and presidents, I saw them buying $25 million homes, and we got kids dying, OD’ing and dying. I just wanted to try to be a voice to try to help.
Q: Black Lives Matter — what was the worst example of racism you endured at any point in your life?
A: I think when you go back in the history of Jackie Robinson and Dr. Martin Luther King [Jr.], who were peacemakers and did it in such a way where they didn’t do it out of hatred or anything like that. They tried to make it where people could understand that we’re human beings and everything regardless of the color of our skin. I had to experience some of that going through minor leagues in Lynchburg, Va., when I was playing there, and getting called the N-word and being called “Boy” all the time, and even at the home stadium I was playing at. I just remember my manager, Gene Dusan, he was telling me when I was coming back to the dugout, “Don’t look up there.” He knew I wanted to like take the bat and go hammer a couple of people across the head. … Hopefully at this point in time, with all the things that have happened in this country, George Floyd and what happened, hopefully things will change, people will see people as people. We’re not all alike, we don’t talk alike, and hopefully we can understand that we all come from different places. Hopefully we can understand that helping each other brings about a difference in making us understand how to deal with each other. I’m saddened to see that yeah, it totally got crazy, which is not the answer, all the things that happened in burning down the cities and stuff like that, it affects a lot of people’s lives. But at the same time, we need to all stand together for this country to be better.
Q: Was prison your emotional low point?
A: Prison was more of a wake-up call: Look what has happened to you. I think my emotional low was being addicted to drugs like I was, and how powerful and controlling it really is. I wish I understood it, I didn’t at the time. I wish I would have accepted real help. You see all those that have died — from Prince and Elvis, and Michael Jackson. … All those didn’t have to die if someone would have said they have a serious problem, they need to go [get help]. I was so defeated, I can say. But today I don’t live in that darkness. I have such a joy in my life to live to help somebody else.
Q: Were you so defeated that you contemplated suicide?
A: That’s why you see so many young people overdose and die, they’d just rather be dead. I felt that same way, too. I wanted to continue to use, because it does something to you physically, emotionally and mentally that you cannot describe what happens to make you feel that way. I’d rather be dead. … I would lay there … “Let me die, God. Why keep me here? Why leave me here to take up space?”
Q: You never tried, did you?
A: No I never tried, I never got to that place.
Q: When did you become a minister?
A: Seventeen years ago I got into ministry, and then I became a full-time minister about the 10 years ago. God called me full-time, and I started traveling the country and I started preaching in large churches all across the country. And also I started speaking in a lot of places and bringing hope to people who were struggling with addiction.
Q: Is that rewarding for you?
A: It’s very rewarding, yes. So many people are looking for answers in how to get on the other side of a lot of different things in life. And I think they’ve seen me get over a lot of things and wondering how did I overcome all those things. It was through my faith.
Q: You’ve had two colon cancer battles.
A: When you have real scares in life, you’re in reality of you’re not in control, and the sooner you know that the better it will be for you. With me catching cancer the first time in ’98 and for it to reoccur in 2000 then lose my left kidney, you’re really not in control. My mom died at a young age, at 55, and my sister died at a young age. I’m 58 and I’m still here. I’m a living miracle, you could say, and hopefully I can use my living miracle to help somebody else.
Q: If you could test your skills against one pitcher in MLB history, who would it be?
A: Randy Johnson. Having to face a guy like that who dominated left-hand hitters, not a lot of left-handed hitters would come to the ballpark and want to be in the lineup when you’re facing a guy like that. And I understand why, he threw so hard, and plus you never knew sometimes where it was gonna go from the left-hand side.
Q: How would you describe your mentality in the batter’s box?
A: Once I got in it was just like, “OK. Let’s do it.” I know you’re gonna get beat time after time, but also at the same time, I felt like I got the bat in my mind and I can twirl it, and I can swing it, and I can swing it to all fields, and if you make a mistake, I realize that I got you. I used to like go to the catcher, “Don’t worry about this one, I’ll take care of this one for you.”
Q: Did you not like pitchers?
A: I didn’t, because they chirped a lot, ’cause they’d get you out and they had something to say. And they look at you like, “I got you, I got you.” You might have gotten me in that situation, but I have a tape recorder that’s down inside of me that remembers everything, and I know the day will come again that I will have to face you again, and that will be a different story. … I always think about what it would be like facing Doc Gooden when he was Doc Gooden. I used to watch what he used to do to major league hitters, and I used to think, “Wow, I’m glad I don’t have to face him.”
Q: Was there a pitcher that chirped a lot that you disliked more than others?
A: [Rob] Dibble. Him and [Norm] Charlton, they thought they were hot stuff. They called themselves the “Bad Boys.” I just didn’t like those guys for some reason … just didn’t like Tom Browning. They just got really on my last nerve and just wanted to break their face half the time.
Q: What kind of Mets owner would Alex Rodriguez be?
A: He would be incredible. I would hope a guy like him would be able to get a team like the Mets and really come in there and work well in New York City. He’s a guy that understands New York City, he’s played there … has had great success as a player, and everything that he’s been through. … We all have shortcomings, and for him to come in and represent New York City would be incredible. Just like [Derek] Jeter owning [the Marlins].
Q: Describe George Steinbrenner.
A: The best owner in sports. … All those years with all the teams that he had, no matter if they were good or bad, he always wanted to win. He adored us, he didn’t care what anybody else thought of us, and he thought more highly of us than anybody else did, and just have nothing but great respect for that.
Q: You could pick the brain of any slugger in MLB history, who would it be?
A: Probably Barry Bonds. The discipline he had at the plate was just incredible. Tony Gwynn was another guy I really idolized.
Q: Do you think Bonds and Roger Clemens belong in the Hall of Fame?
A: Yes, I do. I think it’s unfair that other people you know that’s in the Hall of Fame that did some of the same things [steroids]. They had a phenomenal career before all that even took place, and hopefully one day people will consider them to be players who should be in the Hall of Fame.
Q: Do you have a single favorite home run?
A: It was in a playoff game, it was against Nolan Ryan to tie the ballgame, and we go on to win that ballgame. He was sticking it to us, and had we not beat one of them, ’cause we never were gonna beat [Mike] Scott, we would have never been ‘86 World Series champs.
Q: How would you have handled playing in front of no fans?
A: It would be terrible. I feel for the players. Players are motivated by fans, good or bad. It’s probably good for some players that don’t like to be booed. I never really cared about being booed, it was part of the game. Some players today, it’s probably like paradise for them. I think it would be very challenging for me to play like these guys are today.
Q: What are your thoughts on a 60-game season?
A: Every team is good enough to win in a 60-game season. You can have a team, say, like the Marlins, they can play good through 50 games, and they could sneak in the backdoor and beat everybody.
Q: How do you think the ’86 Mets would have handled the pandemic protocols on the road?
A: I don’t know if we would have made it. We didn’t go by the guidelines anyway, so it would have been real hard to say that we would have made it through it.
Q: Describe Jacob deGrom and Gerrit Cole.
A: They’re not afraid to come after you. It’s like, “If you’re gonna beat me here, you’re gonna beat me with my best stuff.”
Q: Who wins a seven-game series: the ’86 Mets versus the ’98 Yankees?
A: I just think the ’86 Mets had a different type of swagger about ’em. We were never intimidated by anybody, we can get behind and always come back in a ballgame. The ’98 Yankees, we were explosive, we had so much talent, we’d just blow people out. It would be a tight, tight ballgame, but I would give the edge to the ’86 Mets .
Q: So the ’86 Mets in seven games?
A: It wound be a toss-up, who would they throw and who would we throw? I think our best pitcher at that time in ’86 was Bob Ojeda, I believe. He wasn’t an overpowering pitcher, but that guy was one smart guy on the mound, and he used to always keep us in the ballgame. You think about that series, Doc struggled a bit in that series. Who’s on the ’98 Yankee team that you’re liking to stop? Probably more than anything, left-hand hitting. You gotta stop guys like Tino [Martinez] and [Paul] O’Neill, those guys we’re pretty big in games like that.
Q: So ’86 Mets in 7?
Q: Three dinner guests?
A: Jackie Robinson, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan.
Q: Favorite movie?
A: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
Q: Favorite actor?
A: Redd Foxx from “Sanford & Son.”
Q: Favorite actress?
A: Jennifer Aniston.
Q: Favorite singer/entertainer?
A: Michael Jackson.
Q: Favorite meal?
Q: Are you proud you’ve been able to overcome everything you’ve had to overcome?
A: I am. I’m grateful for my wife [Tracy]. When everybody else was gone, and there was no money and there was no success and trophies, she was the one that loved me at the lowest point, that she’s been the blessing of my life that helped me change my life more than anything. She made me see myself. She said something that was very real to me when I was struggling. She said, “When you are you gonna take off this uniform? You’re identifying yourself as the wrong person. You need to take your baseball uniform off. That is over.” She was right.