Born-again, but will Strawberry ever hit again?

MIKE LITTWIN

July 17, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

"Fight, fight for the inner light. Kill, little Quakers, kill."

-- Swarthmore College cheer

Darryl Strawberry -- God bless him -- is in a slump, hitting about .220. Do you want to know why?

It isn't his stance. It isn't the curveball. He didn't forget how to hit. He's just too happy to hit. (I'm not making this up.)

He's so happy it hurts.

He's so relaxed he can't swing a bat.

If a smile is your umbrella, the Straw Man never has to worry about a rain-out.

The old Darryl, the one who could hit, used to have a drinking problem and was mean and nasty and angry and always in what you'd call a really foul mood. Let's just say you wouldn't have wanted to run into him at a "Boyz N The Hood" premiere. Of course, he also used to be an All-Star who hit about 35 homers a year for the Mets.

Now, he's so happy and relaxed and calm and mellow and just plained zonked out on life, he's practically comatose. Which would explain his batting average. At least, that's how he explains it.

Last off-season, Strawberry signed a five-year contract worth $20.25 million to play for the Dodgers. About the same time he became a born-again Christian and found inner peace. You've seen the results. He's hit one homer since May 31.

Who says: Don't worry, be happy?

Brett Butler, his own teammate, yelled at Strawberry the other day while they were on the field. Told him to get mean, to get mad, to get a hit.

Darryl smiled. Gave him a flower. Struck out.

Here's what Strawberry says: "When I get frustrated, I see the plate better, I have more concentration, and I don't have that now."

He really said that. You get the idea we've heard all the excuses now? The dog didn't eat his homework. He didn't lose the ball in the sun. Nothing popped in his thigh. The check -- believe me, a big one, a huge one -- is in the mail.

L No, Darryl's problem is he feels good. I knew that he would.

You've heard this before, right? All the time. I won the lottery; I forgot how to bowl.

What are we talking about here? We all take stock in our lives from time to time (mine, as an example, is down about 14 points). You take a piece of loose-leaf paper, draw a line down the middle and list the positives on one side and the negatives on the other. But no one has ever used the positives in quite this way.

Strawberry is a pioneer in this field. He's the Lewis and Clark of applying positive excuses for negative performance.

My bank failed because my investments were too good.

This girl turned me down because I was too good looking.

I can't hit because I'm at total peace with myself.

Gary Carter told the Los Angeles Times: "I don't see any anger in his swing."

Maybe he doesn't want to hurt the ball. He's just that nice a person. Come to think of it, who was the last Miss America to hit her weight? And Ty Cobb was the meanest man who ever lived.

Strawberry says he has felt no anger for the longest time. He told the Times: "My whole life just feels different, and it's been difficult to deal with. I've got to get used to how I feel. I've got to get over this."

But how can he get over it when pitchers keep giving him smiley faces before the game?

The idea, if you're the Dodgers, is to find some way to provoke the Straw Man to anger. You can be religious and still be tough, after all. Some football coaches used to worry about having too many born-again Christians on their team, until someone brought up the Crusades. The New York Giants won the last Super Bowl with about half the team praying after every down. Sample: Please, Lord, let Bruce Smith line up on somebody else's side.

How do you get Strawberry angry?

You could lock him a room with Mike and Kitty Dukakis. That's a sure downer. You could remind him how much Jose Canseco makes. That always gets Rickey Henderson upset. Tell him his daughter will someday call up and say she's staying at Donald Trump's house.

What you don't hear any more is Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda talking about running a happy ship. He wants Strawberry sailing on the Bounty.

I can imagine this exchange between Lasorda and Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley.

Lasorda: Peter, we've got a problem. Darryl says he's too happy to hit.

O'Malley: I was afraid of this. I told you not to put in that extra golf course at Dodgertown.

Lasorda: What'll we do?

O'Malley: Ask him to take a cut in pay. If that doesn't get him going, it's time to get out the life-support machine.

Is there a moral to all this? Why not? I've got the space here at the end of the column, so here goes: If you don't have a dream, a happy, happy dream, you just might end up hitting .300.

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