my pissant two cents

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

between the lines

i learned from listening to n.w.a. that a "strawberry" was the neighborhood crack whore, the woman who would do anything for a rock. no act was too shameful, too degrading, for that moment of excruciating high. there was no respect to be had for a person in that position. just use, abuse, and disposal.

i don't know the etymology of the term, but it may very well have come from a man who should have been a baseball legend, but gave it all up for cocaine.

daryl strawberry, a former member of such storied teams as the n.y. mets, los angeles dodgers, and n.y. yankees, is on the list of nominees for baseball's hall of fame in cooperstown, n.y. the only way he'll get in is with a very closely supervised tour. he can blame it all on the seductive white powder.

strawberry was a menace at the plate, launching home runs that interfered with flight paths of planes approaching la guardia over shea stadium. he was a rocket on the basepaths and a terror in the outfield. he was also a coke addict.

it's widely known that the 1986 world champion mets had more than their share of drug abusers, including a powerful 1-2 punch on the pitching mound, david cone and dwight gooden. did the coke make them a better team? maybe... who knows? but it made them trouble in the "just say no" '80s.

strawberry, more than any other ballplayer of his stature, will never get past the drug problem that marred his career, because he had so much to offer. and because he fell so far. he was suspended for drug use several times, arrested for domestic violence, cocaine possession and soliciting a prostitute, and had numerous arrests for violating terms of his probation. he did time on a couple of occasions.

not that he was the only one, or even the most troubled. steve howe, a fireball-throwing closer who won rookie of the year honors with the dodgers in 1980, was suspended five times by 1991. in june of the next year, the left-hander was permanently banned from baseball for drug use. the ban was later overturned in arbitration, on the grounds that it was too severe. in a sports law class at usc, taught by superagents arn tellem and dick moss, i asked whether a right-handed middle reliever with a fastball in the mid-80s would get as many chances. i never got a satisfactory answer.

drug use isn't necessarily a bar to the hallowed halls, as evidenced by edmonton oilers great grant fuhr. he was inducted to the hockey hall of fame in 2003, despite a six-month suspension for cocaine abuse in 1990. fuhr, however, never let drugs get in the way of his on-ice performance, which yielding five stanley cups, a vezina trophy as the nhl's best goaltender, and 400+ nhl victories.

And lawrence taylor's cocaine problem was as epic as the sacks that earned him entree into the football hall of fame in 1999.

some of the greats and not-so-greats have had feet of clay. mickey mantle was an admitted drunk for most of his career. denny mclain won two cy young awards and was sentenced to 25 years for racketeering and extortion. st. louis blues forward mike danton plead guilty to conspiring to murder his agent and got 7-1/2 years in prison. look no further than jim bouton's great 1971 classic ball four to see the seedy underbelly of professional sports, with its drug and alcohol abuse, groupies and wholesale degradation. look no further than "america's team," the dallas cowboys, for a laundry list of random felonies, misdemeanors and behavior that would shame karl rove. and don't even bring up kobe bryant (who, let's acknowledge it well, never faced trial for lack of evidence).

the drug problem still exists in sports, but it is a very different type from the tootsky in the mets clubhouse. i hate to agree with president bush about anything at all, but there is a huge, and growing problem (no pun intended) with performance enhancing drugs.

as a seven-time mvp, barry bonds will get into the hall of fame without a doubt. but i, for one, have many doubts about whether he deserves to be hailed as the home run king. will he pass babe ruth and hank aaron on the all-time home run list? probably. but the bambino was never under the influence of anything stronger than ballpark hot dogs and bathtub gin. hammerin' hank walked on water.

bonds denies it again and again, but there is plenty of reason to suspect him of steroid use. i know as well as anyone that a man puts on weight as he ages. but unlike most men, bonds went from a lithe 185 pounds to a rock-hard 235 pounds in his major league career. he has been called to testify in a federal investigation of balco labs, a bay area maker of performance enhancing concoctions. before joining the giants in 1993, he never hit more than 34 home runs. since then, he's averaged just under 44, including a 73-dinger outburst in 2001.

football legend lyle alzado died of a brain tumor that he swore was related to his steroid use. yankee slugger jason giambi was diagnosed with a tumor on his pituitary gland this season, after shedding 30 pounds in the off-season while the balco investigation was underway. a doctor friend of mine says you don't need to be an endocrinologist to make a prima facie diagnosis.

the dangers of steroids are obvious. the dangers of cocaine no less so. but the penalties for the two are so widely disparate as to be laughable. reams have been written about major league baseball's pathetic steroid testing policy.

daryl strawberry was a cokehead, and he will never get into the hall of fame. true, his career numbers would have made it iffy, at best. but those who obviously have abused 'roids do not bear the same stigma. in fact, i suspect the way is being paved for at least one already.


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