Baseball suspends Strawberry for year

Drug-related offense was his 3rd in 6 years

February 29, 2000|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Troubled outfielder Darryl Strawberry will not play for the New York Yankees in 2000 and -- with his 38th birthday looming next month -- may have come to the end of his star-crossed major-league career.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig suspended Strawberry for one year yesterday, less than a week after Florida Department of Corrections officials revealed that he failed a drug test on Jan. 19.

Strawberry tested positive for cocaine in one of the periodic drug screens that is a condition of his probation for an April 4, 1999, arrest on drug and solicitation charges in Tampa, Fla. Though the presiding judge chose only to put Strawberry under closer drug supervision, Selig had little choice but to levy a lengthy suspension for the outfielder's third drug-related offense in the past six years.

"This was a very difficult and painful decision for me to make," Selig said in a statement announcing the decision. "The meeting I had with Darryl and his wife, Charisse, last Tuesday was an emotional experience for all of us. I had no doubt that his remorse and sorrow were genuine, and I worried about the effect my decision would have on his health and the welfare of his family.

"In the end, I could not ignore Darryl's past infractions and concluded that each of us must be held accountable for his or her actions. I am hopeful that he will use this time away from the game productively and will care for himself and his family."

The decision was predictable. Strawberry had served a 60-day suspension for a drug offense while he was with the San Francisco Giants in 1995.

He was suspended for 120 days last year after pleading no contest to the charges that forced him into the drug supervision program. That suspension was reduced by one week, but there is no provision for an early return this time.

When Strawberry again becomes eligible to play, he'll be pushing 39 and he'll be coming off a two-year period during which he played at the major-league level for a total of seven weeks.

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner welcomed him back last year with a stern warning not to "screw up" again, so there's no guarantee that the Yankees -- or any other club -- will be willing to take a chance on him next spring.

Steinbrenner expressed compassion for his wayward outfielder, but gave no hint about the likelihood of Strawberry's rejoining the club in 2001.

"We will abide by the decision," Steinbrenner said. "I feel badly for Darryl. My hopes and prayers are that he can do the things he needs to do to get his life in order."

Strawberry, who reported for spring training last week but was ordered off the field by Selig pending disciplinary action, was not available to comment.

The Yankees were depending on Strawberry to be the club's regular designated hitter this year.

The team did not make a serious attempt to find another impact player to fill that role after the retirement of veteran slugger Chili Davis because of Strawberry's solid performance after rejoining the club for the September stretch and the postseason.

Now, manager Joe Torre will have to fill a major gap in the line- up with either an inexperienced young hitter or one of the veterans (Roberto Kelly or Tim Raines) trying to make the team as an extra outfielder.

The club also could try to make a spring deal for another hitter, but figures to wait until midseason to make any significant roster adjustments. Even without Strawberry, the Yankees remain a prohibitive favorite to win the American League East and return to the postseason for the sixth consecutive year.

Torre wasn't ready to think about that yet. He had formed a special bond with Strawberry, who was diagnosed with colon cancer during the 1998 postseason -- months before Torre began his well-publicized bout with prostate cancer.

"You don't have to condone what he's done to have a feeling for him," Torre said yesterday. "He's not a bad person. I think you're always concerned. Obviously, it's a tough thing he's going through."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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