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It does not matter whether you grew up loving the Yankees, whether you had any special affinity for Mantle, Maris and Martin, for Mattingly and Munson.

You walk into Yankee Stadium on the eve of the World Series, and you cannot help being overcome by a sense of the place's history, its surpassing baseball tradition.

Out beyond the left-field fence, the monuments are visible. You can see the outlines of all the famous Yankees' faces, and the remote scribbling of the inscriptions underneath.

Behind the batting cage, Reggie Jackson is chatting with Dave Winfield. On Friday, it was 19 years to the day that Jackson hit three homers in the final game of the 1977 Series against the Dodgers.

Chris Chambliss joins the group, then Willie Randolph. Twenty autumns ago, on an evening in mid-October, Chambliss hit a home run that put the Yanks into the '76 World Series.

Tonight, the Series returns to the Stadium for the first time in 15 years. Everywhere you turn, there is a reminder that legends are created at this time of year. You should cherish the moment while you can, because you never know when it will come again.

Joe Torre, the Yankee manager, waited 4,272 games as a player and manager, longer than anyone in history, to get to the Series. Don Zimmer, his bench coach, made it as a player 40 years ago and has struggled to get back since.

Tim Raines is 37; he waited 18 seasons to make his first Series. Slugger Cecil Fielder has finally made one at 33. Dwight Gooden made it at age 21. Ten years later, he is back, albeit as a non-roster player. Wade Boggs has waited 10 years to get back.

But perhaps none of them will appreciate the moment as much as Darryl Strawberry, who was in baseball exile three months ago, hitting home runs for a semi-pro team in St. Paul, Minn.

"I do appreciate it more," Strawberry said. "That's why I've been able to have so much fun, because I experienced something that a lot of these guys never had to. To go to the Northern League and experience what baseball was all about again, it brought back the fun of the game to me."

Strawberry admits he didn't know how to handle his talent and celebrity when he came up with the Mets at 21. He was equally prodigious as a power hitter and a partier, and it caught up to him.

He played in that 1986 Series, but soon became hooked on cocaine and alcohol. He evaded taxes and made a wreck of his marriage. That's the shorthand account of his troubles, which have been well-chronicled in print and on TV.

"Ten years ago, I thought I had to be the star," Strawberry said. "I had fun in '86, but I was wild, young and crazy. And I did some wild, young and crazy things.

"None of us is perfect," he said. "Some of us come short, and I was one who came short. But I'm still here, so I can feel good about that."

That was obvious Friday. The Yankees had been waiting five days since beating the O's for the AL title. They seemed weary of talking. But Strawberry hasn't tired of telling the world how fortunate he feels.

When the season began, he was out of baseball, adrift and unwanted at the age of 34. Then he caught on with the semi-pro team in St. Paul, where he rediscovered his joy for the game.

"I was able to focus and get a whole different feeling inside of me about playing," Strawberry said. "I brought that same kind of energy here. When I play, I play. When I don't, I don't make a big fuss out of it, because it's not a big thing."

Whether he plays has become a big issue, though. Strawberry struggled at times after joining the Yankees in mid-season, but he found his famous home-run stroke in the Baltimore series, hitting three homers in the last two games.

He fouled a ball off his right big toe in the last game of the series, though, and suffered a tiny fracture. The injury is painful -- especially when he plants his front foot in the batter's box -- but he said he'll be ready to play left field against Atlanta tonight.

Strawberry said he doesn't feel any pressure, because he's at peace with himself. He's overcome his addictions and reunited with his wife and children. He doesn't wallow in regret. He doesn't wish he could live his life over.

"No, I don't," he said. I'm grateful for everything that's happened to me. I'm not proud of it, but I'm grateful that it happened and allowed me to see the mistakes I made and move forward in my life."

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