A Strawberry withering on vine

March 06, 2000|By Bill Thompson

DID YOU SEE that list of big-league baseball drug suspensions in the paper the other day?

Instead of pregame meetings to discuss opposing hitters and pitchers, maybe baseball teams should conduct mandatory meetings of Narcotics Anonymous.

It's not just baseball, of course. Football has its Lawrence Taylors and Leon Letts. And basketball's Dallas Mavericks gave the world Roy Tarpley.

But baseball lays claim to a breathtaking Hall of Shame when it comes to substance abusers.

Take Darryl Strawberry -- please.

Seems Mr. Strawberry failed a drug test required as part of his 1999 probation on charges of cocaine possession and soliciting a prostitute in Florida.

His positive test for cocaine Jan. 19 earned Mr. Strawberry his third drug-related suspension since 1995.

The latest suspension is for one year. Since he's almost 38 years old and already past his prime, it is not outrageous to imagine that he has played his last game as a major-league baseball player.

Mr. Strawberry's critics -- count me among them -- are wondering why Commissioner Bud Selig didn't just kick Mr. Strawberry out of baseball for life, instead of allowing for the possibility of yet another Darryl comeback in 2001. Selig, however, seemed to be of the opinion that the punishment he handed down was pretty darn tough.

"This was a very difficult and painful decision for me to make," Mr. Selig said.

He added, "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 guess your reaction to Mr. Selig's decision depends on your definition of "held accountable."

Second chances --

And those words obviously mean something entirely different for sports stars than they mean for just plain folks.

Most people who have serious problems with booze or drugs quickly find themselves out of work and out of options.

But athlete-addicts can always find a team that is willing to give them a second chance, not to mention a third chance, a fourth chance ...

Professional sports is all about winning and making money. If you own a sports franchise and you've got a player who can help inflate your won-lost record and your financial bottom line, chances are you won't allow yourself to get too worked up about the player's cocaine addiction.

Isn't that right, George Steinbrenner? Isn't that right, Jerry Jones?

In the long run, sad to say, this attitude is not helpful to the player.

Eventually, age and/or addiction will erode his skills to the point that he can't play any longer -- and a drug-addicted ex-ballplayer isn't nearly as bulletproof as an addict who is still in the game.

Mr. Strawberry may be on the verge of learning that the hard way.

As a lifelong baseball fan who never had much use for Mr. Strawberry, I don't much care what happens to him. He is not, I am pleased to report, my problem.

But as someone who hasn't had a drink in almost 18 years after nearly destroying my life with alcohol, I can't help but wonder why Darryl Strawberry can't pull himself together and deal with his problem. You don't become a great athlete without hard work and determination, without considerable self-discipline.

Simple answers

Mr. Strawberry conquered major-league pitching and even colon cancer, for heaven's sake.

Why can't he conquer drug addiction?

The answer might be deceptively simple.

An addict doesn't conquer his problem. He must surrender to it. The addict must admit that he is powerless over the source of his addiction.

It might be that the very qualities that spurred Darryl Strawberry to greatness as an athlete actually work against his recovery from addiction by preventing him from conceding defeat, by preventing him from admitting to himself that the addiction is stronger than he is.

On the other hand, Mr. Strawberry might just be an arrogant jerk who doesn't think he has to follow the rules that lesser mortals follow.

Whichever it is, it's time he figured it out.

Bill Thompson is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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