Criticism of the signing of Darryl Strawberry came Tuesday from the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Milwaukee Brewers and the White House.
“The Yankees have struck out by signing Darryl Strawberry,” said Lee Brown, President Clinton’s national drug policy director. “They are sending the worst possible message to the youth of America: That if you use drugs, you can be rewarded with big money in big-time sports.”
New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said he wasn’t rewarding Strawberry, but trying to help him. He said the 33-year-old outfielder is “worth saving.”
“If we can help turn him around it will be a wonderful example to children,” Steinbrenner said. “Youngsters are more apt to listen to someone who has been down this terrible path of drug addiction and has recovered.”
Steinbrenner said Strawberry’s return won’t be easy.
“I’ll be the toughest boss he ever had,” he said. “I demand loyalty in return. If I fail in his rehabilitation, I’ll take the blame.”
Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda suggested Strawberry belonged in prison stripes, not pinstripes.
“When they caught that guy Pete Rose, didn’t they put him in jail? When they caught that lady in New York (Leona Helmsley) did she go to jail?” Lasorda told the Los Angeles Times. “Why didn’t that guy go to jail?”
Instead of going to jail for tax evasion, Strawberry was sentenced to a $350,000 fine, 100 hours of community service and house arrest. On Monday, he agreed to a contract with the Yankees that’s worth $850,000 guaranteed. He will be eligible to play on Sunday when a 60-day suspension from baseball for cocaine use ends.
Brown asked for a meeting with acting commissioner Bud Selig and union head Donald Fehr.
“The Yankee management is saying if you draw fans and make money for the team, you’ll simply play again and keep making millions a few months after any drug abuse,” Brown said. “It’s no wonder kids may think star athletes are into drugs” and there are no penalties.
Lasorda said he was “very surprised somebody would sign someone who was just suspended for taking drugs. Guys that are breaking the laws … of this country … I don’t think they should be playing.”
Strawberry agreed to a $20.25 million, five-year contract with the Dodgers in November 1990, but in April 1994 was suspended when he failed to show up for an exhibition game. He entered the Betty Ford Center’s substance abuse program.
The Dodgers paid a $4.8 million settlement to Strawberry last July after they released him, including $2.5 million for half his scheduled 1995 salary. Strawberry then signed with the San Francisco Giants, who released him Feb. 6 after he tested positive for cocaine.
“I’m for giving people chance after chance, but not in the industry that they’re in,” Milwaukee Brewers general manager Sal Bando said. “I think you’ve got to give him a chance in life, but why do we keep opening our doors and let someone take advantage of an industry that they’ve abused?”
Bando said he would like to see baseball adopt a policy similar to that of the NBA, which provides for treatment but also stipulates, basically, that after your third strike, you’re out permanently.
“And if that person isn’t willing to continue with that help and he falls down, I think it’s time to let him go and go on with his life in another direction,” Bando said.