Cone stands by Strawberry after `awful' arrest

Sidelight

Cocaine and solicitation charges `devastate' friend

April 16, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- As one of Darryl Strawberry's closest friends on the New York Yankees, pitcher David Cone vowed yesterday to support the troubled outfielder, who was arrested late Wednesday night in Tampa, Fla., on charges of soliciting sex from an undercover police officer and possession of a small amount of cocaine.

"I love the guy. He's a friend of mine and I've got to stand by him no matter what. But it's an awful situation," said Cone, who shut down the Orioles for six innings in Wednesday's Yankees win and whose relationship with Strawberry dates back to 1987, his first season with the New York Mets.

"I heard about it last night and I couldn't sleep. I was just devastated. It's really shocking."

Strawberry, 37, was arrested at 10 p.m. in his rented Ford Explorer after allegedly offering $50 to have sex with an undercover officer. During a search, police allegedly found three-tenths of a gram of cocaine in Strawberry's wallet, which he claims belongs to a relative. He was released from a Hillsborough County jail on $6,000 bond shortly before 1 a.m.

"He wasn't too happy about it," deputy sheriff Craig Hall, who fingerprinted Strawberry, told the New York Post. "He told me it was all a misunderstanding and it would all be cleared up."

Added police Sgt. Marc J. Hamlin in an investigative report: "He asked several times if there was anything that we could do to change this situation, because this was going to ruin his career."

If Strawberry is convicted, it would be a violation of Major League Baseball's substance-abuse policy -- he already was in an after-care program -- and could mean the end of his playing career.

Cone said he has contacted the players association, "but nobody really knows what the details are. We just know what's been reported. I'm just trying to make sure his rights are protected. No matter what happened, he still has rights."

Strawberry had been on an injury rehabilitation assignment in Tampa after colon cancer surgery last fall. He completed his final chemotherapy treatment last Thursday in New York and remained here to receive his World Series ring Sunday. Strawberry then returned to Tampa for extended spring training, intent on getting back into the Yankees' lineup.

The Yankees, who refused comment pending an investigation, had guaranteed Strawberry the $2.5 million he was owed this season and signed him to a minor-league contract.

"I kind of sensed he was very depressed going through chemotherapy," Cone said. "One of his goals was to make the team out of spring training. He was very deflated when that didn't happen. I'm not trying to make excuses, but he was very depressed.

"I've kind of run the gamut of emotions in terms of what could I have done to be a better friend. Maybe I should have helped him a little more. A guy in his situation, there are lots of times where you're right on the edge, where you could go either way. With the right nudge, maybe he could have been saved."

An integral part of their 1996 championship club, Strawberry hit 24 homers in 101 games last season but missed the World Series after being diagnosed with colon cancer on Oct. 1. He was transformed into a sympathetic figure, with wife Charisse at his side as he spoke at a tearful news conference. The Yankees dedicated their four-game sweep of the San Diego Padres to Strawberry, whose second tour with the organization began after having his contract purchased from the independent St. Paul Saints on July 4, 1996.

By then, Strawberry had cemented his reputation as one of sports most controversial figures.

In 1994 alone, he was indicted on federal tax evasion charges, entered the Betty Ford clinic and was released by Los Angeles. He signed with San Francisco in June, but began the next season by serving a 60-day suspension for violating provisions of his drug and alcohol after- care program, leading the Giants to terminate his contract in July.

Strawberry also has been accused of breaking the nose of his ex-wife, Lisa (1987), named in a paternity suit (1989), arrested for assault with a deadly weapon during an argument with Lisa (1990), arrested for striking Charisse (1993), and charged in California with failure to pay child support (1995).

"I just hope his career isn't over," Cone said.

Don Zimmer, the Yankees' acting manager, said he never sensed Strawberry was down this spring.

"This was a guy who was as good a man as I've been around for 2 1/2 years. Strictly a gentleman," Zimmer said.

Pub Date: 4/16/99

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