Mets family doesn't miss Strawberry nearly as much as fans do

November 18, 1990|By Steve Jacobson | Steve Jacobson,Newsday

Perhaps they had used some of that remarkable drying agent that they spread on the field on rainy days, but I didn't see any signs of salty tears on the blue carpet around Frank Cashen's desk.

His office has been under siege, what with the jackhammers rattling like machine guns on the Shea Stadium concrete below and the fans howling blue murder over the loss of Darryl Strawberry, and all. But it wasn't exactly the Atlanta railroad station in "Gone With the Wind."

It was not a scene of devastation. Perhaps it was in the ear of the beholder, but the impression was that the Mets had not lost quite as much as the fans felt. If you listen to the call-in shows it's quickly brought to mind that even in the midst of a wonderful Giants season, with the Knickerbockers playing and all those hockey teams playing, the passion of New York is baseball.

Love is blind. And Straw is gone, unrequited love. The fans want it all; they're quick to say the Mets ought to trade a mood ring for a Cartier, which is what makes them fans. But when the passions rise up, the brain flies away.

"One thing I have learned in my business career," Cashen said, "is that you can't give people everything they want whether you're running a brewery or a race track or a baseball franchise."

Bear in mind that this, like all other baseball decisions, is a business decision: What is the potential compared to the risk? And there we are with that old bugaboo buzzword "potential."

Cashen is careful not to squash sour grapes on that carpet.

"I have never demeaned him as an athlete," Cashen said. "I said a long time ago that the man had such marvelous potential that he never realized. He's been a good player, not a great player. We will miss that."

From the sound of the fans wailing, you'd think they were mourning the dynasty Strawberry built.

For five years or so the Mets were built around Strawberry's performance. If they were underachievers, as they have been described, how do we explain that?

Listen carefully to the commentary from Los Angeles, before the first bat has been dropped in dismay.

"The pressure in New York affects anybody's game, not only my game," Strawberry said. "Having to look at the headlines every day, if the Mets didn't win, it was one player's fault."

Funny he should mention that. The biggest player makes the biggest splash when he falls. Was it Keith Miller's fault that the Mets didn't win, because he drove in only 12 runs? Whatd'ya expect from Keith Miller?

The big man carries the biggest responsibility. And with Strawberry's $20,250,000 for five years biggest salary in the National League goes the biggest burden of responsibility. Carry it if you can, but face up to it.

"Two years from now, if he has good years, people are going to say the Mets made a terrible mistake," Cashen said. "If he doesn't, they'll say, 'Wasn't that a terrible decision the Dodgers made?' "

Of course, it's his burden to make the decision in advance. One school of thought says Cashen's department was asleep at the switch until the midnight call from Strawberry's agent, that Cashen's department blundered Strawberry away because it didn't know what it was doing.

This school thinks Cashen's department made a conscious evaluation and judgment that Strawberry was worth so much, but not so much more. They didn't say, "Don't let the doorknob hit you on the way out," but they didn't barricade the door, either.

Remember, the Mets were terminally lethargic this season, the chemistry that of a bad egg. Strawberry's presence didn't elevate, activate or propel them. He gave them a brilliant fire in June and a false alarm in September. This was what the players call his walk year. He had the best total statistics of his career.

"When you give a long-term contract to say a 27-year-old who has been in the big leagues four or five years on the basis of the last year when he bore down, hit .285 with 18 homers and 90 RBI," Cashen said, "if you think he's going to give you that, you're kidding yourself.

"The only thing you have a right to expect is an average year. If that's .240, 10 homers and 49 RBI, that's what you should expect."

Then Darren Daulton's big figure is a big risk for the Phillies. And Jose Canseco's five-year deal, the only one bigger than Strawberry's, is a bigger risk.

At mid-season, Cashen said, the Mets offered $9 million for three years, same as Strawberry's best pal, Eric Davis, got in Cincinnati. Considering New York's deep pockets, that was a low figure. Strawberry called it an "insult." Come, come.

"They came back with $21 million for four years," Cashen said. "That was their gambit. We were farther apart than the offer made."

Cashen's policy had been a three-year limit, which he was willing to extend to four years for Strawberry to meet the '90s marketplace at a rate about equal to the Dodgers contract.

"I could not in good conscience go to five years," Cashen said.

Five-year contracts rarely are good investments. Even if the player has Don Mattingly's quest for excellence, he might get hurt, as Canseco did. He might get hurt falling off the wagon.

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