Dodgers swing steal, getting Strawberry

John Steadman

November 09, 1990|By John Steadman

SEEING DARRYL Strawberry swing a baseball bat is an exhilarating experience. Hit or miss, it's a majestic moment when he extends his forearms, allows the wrists to pronate and completes the follow-through.

Take a picture and preserve it for posterity. This is the personification of precision, power and, certainly for Strawberry, new heights of prosperity.

There's no heresy involved when it's said flat-out he's the smoothest, easiest-to-watch swinger since the classic stylist, Ted Williams. And, to this point, he has only scratched the surface, offering a mere tease as to what he's truly capable of doing.

Strawberry has mood changes. What he says today doesn't reflect what he might be saying and doing tomorrow. But when you can perform you don't necessarily have to conform. That's the luxury of stardom. It has always been that way.

Not that Strawberry is a source of internal trouble, even if he is the first and only player in major-league history, going back well over a century, to get in a fight with a teammate while preparations were being made in spring training to take the team picture.

Strawberry has now defected from the New York Mets to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He believes he'll live there happily ever after. Everything is made to order . . . team, city, salary.

The location, his hometown of Los Angeles, is where he wants to be. And being with the Dodgers is, to him, heaven on earth, after what he perceived as doing time in purgatory with the Mets in New York.

If Strawberry doesn't find happiness with manager Tommy Lasorda then it can't be found. Lasorda understands human nature and will get the most out of a free swinger who drives the ball with authority to all fields, although his primary power is to pull to right.

With the Mets, he was a rightfielder. The Dodgers are saying they need him in center but that's not his position. He has a rightfielder's arm and is uncomfortable in any other position.

The Dodgers didn't spend $20.25 million for Strawberry with the idea of making him unhappy. They'll put him where he wants to be, which means rightfield, and it should result in a career-high year.

He is a streak hitter but that doesn't make him different because this is the norm. Most hitters are. But the reservoir of talent within the man isn't to be minimized -- only extracted.

Lasorda's approach to Strawberry will be to leave him alone; to ease the pressure and, yes, even at this price, soften the expectations. The cheerleader manager of the Dodgers will keep him pumped up when dry spells arrive.

The Dodgers' Lasorda might not be able to handle men on a construction job site, or in an office, but he can relate and motivate ballplayers. There is a difference.

Strawberry is saying now that the Mets created problems when they tried to negotiate with him in midseason. They all but insulted him with a three-year offer of $9.1 million. But he didn't have to listen and only became distraught when he found out the Mets weren't going to grant the kind of terms the Oakland A's gave Jose Canseco, who was given a deal of $23.5 million for five seasons.

But Strawberry came close to getting that much in Los Angeles and, besides, he'll be living at home and playing under the protective shield of a manager who will be sensitive to feeding his psychological and egotistical needs.

The bottom line is Darryl Strawberry is endowed with a baseball swing capable of working wonders. It hasn't come to fruition but it will. The Dodgers got him cheap.

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