'The Boss' is grasping at 'Straws'

June 19, 1995|By JOHN STEADMAN

Although not thought of in the same ecclesiastical sense, there's a similarity in the philosophies of George Steinbrenner and Father Flanagan, who are famous in different ways, in that they espouse an identical personal belief:

"There's no such thing as a bad boy."

Steinbrenner believes in rescuing adult delinquents, which is an admirable quality, and offering them the opportunity to become productive citizens. He gets them into rehabilitation programs with his New York Yankees . . . especially if there's even a remote hope they might be able to pitch or hit.

It's a possibility, should the price be right, that Steinbrenner's next reclamation project will be Darryl Strawberry, who has had bouts with drugs and even a jam with the Internal Revenue Service -- the same kind of difficulty that sent Pete Rose off to pull time in prison. But Darryl was fortunate enough to encounter a judge willing to let him off the hook so he "escaped" again.

Steinbrenner is so desperate for the Yankees to win that he resembles at this point a drowning man grasping for a piece of flotsam. How does he know Strawberry, at 33, can still play or make even a vague sort of contribution? He doesn't. Have his reflexes dulled to the point that he's not even a reasonable facsimile of what he once was?

The Strawberry swing is still a thing of classic beauty, whether he's hitting or missing, but it has been so long since he provided production commensurate with his reputation that it seems it was a time when the players were still leaving their gloves on the field between innings.

It's Steinbrenner's hope, beyond the human compassion aspect, that Strawberry will be able to offer the Yankees a near-instant power transfusion. So, maybe, after all, George does have some selfish interest involved in making a place for Strawberry in this season that has so far been such a disaster for his team.

Yankee Stadium's right-field wall can be reached from home plate by a short spit, except the present lineup isn't doing it. Don Mattingly, playing with an eye infection and a suspect back, always gives a professional account of himself but is handicapped in being unable to see and pick up the ball early enough to drive it for distance.

And Danny Tartabull, being paid handsomely to hit the ball out of the park, has trouble getting it out of the infield. The Yankees are even willing to pay some other team to take him, which is the ultimate embarrassment. They can't find a recipient. Wade Boggs can still hit line drives but not for power, which is not what he's expected to do.

The suspicion is Strawberry is a mere shell of what he used to be. Trouble, of course, has a way of finding him. The Yankees can hold his hand, preach good sense to him, stress that this is his last major-league stop but there's no way they can monitor his actions 24 hours a day unless they put an electronic bracelet on his wrist.

Strawberry and his agent are virtually on bended knee before pontiff George, kissing his ring, while asking for "another chance." There's not exactly an active market for his services. They have to know that. If not the Yankees, then maybe the only other option is Japan.

If Strawberry is serious about joining the Yankees, he'll show his true intent and play for $109,000 the rest of the year. This would help prove his contention that he's not just engaging in lip service, that all he wants, above all else, is the opportunity. Then if he behaves and produces, he'll merit retention for next year, plus being rewarded with a richer contract.

It's an intriguing scenario. The player keeps getting chances but has disappointed the teams that have given him work. The pertinent question is does he have anything left or have his once enormous talents been frayed by the path he has pursued toward self-destruction.

There are those who believe manager Buck Showalter needs Strawberry as much as a migraine headache. True, the Yankees, in the professional quest to win, require a semblance of the long ball and where they get it doesn't make any difference or Steinbrenner wouldn't be considering employment for a player with previous failures in New York (the Mets), Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Steinbrenner, again to his credit, believes that giving the down-and-out, the homeless, the rejects of society, the strays and skid-row types a chance at redemption is the least he can do for his fellow man. He once came back from a suspension himself, brought on by conduct the commissioner considered detrimental to baseball.

With Darryl Strawberry, he literally would be picking up a fallen star.

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