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Original Issue


Darryl Strawberry has been hitting a sour note with his teammates, and the Mets are singing the blues

My name is Darryl, I'm a baseball player
There's one thing I forgot to saya
When I'm on the field, I'm on top of the world
I get screams from all the girls.

That bit of creative poesy is from Chocolate Strawberry, written by The Kangol Kid of the Brooklyn rap group UTFO and recorded by New York Met star Darryl Strawberry on Monday of last week. On Tuesday night, Darryl wasn't on the field because he wasn't feeling on top of the world. He begged out of Wednesday night's game, too. So the only screams Strawberry heard last week were from his irate teammates who thought he was jaking it.

The Strawberry Affair was the most significant episode in a troubled week for the world champions, who have Metamorphosed from a backslapping, happy-go-lucky band that last season won only two games less than the '27 Yankees into a backstabbing, cranky-go-unlucky Murmurers Row that was trailing the first-place Cardinals by eight games as of Sunday, the season's unofficial halfway point. Last week, in no particular order, Jesse Orosco asked to be used more often or be traded, Ron Darling pitched his 14th consecutive winless start, teammates rapped Strawberry, Strawberry rapped his teammates and said he wanted out when his contract expires in '89, Gary Carter was booed for the first time in New York, club president Frank Cashen called Dwight Gooden on the carpet, Mookie Wilson asked to be traded and the whole team generally played baseball like it ought not to be.

The Mets' plight has not exactly evoked weeping in dugouts around the National League. The lack of sympathy probably has something to do with New York's arrogance, both real and imagined. "We really don't care," said St. Louis pitcher Danny Cox. "No one felt sorry for us last season," said Cardinal second baseman Tommy Herr.

"It's amazing how things happen the year after you win," says Cardinal manager Whitey Herzog, trying not to smile. "Strawberry wants to be traded. Wilson wants to be traded. If Frank Cashen obliged everybody, there wouldn't be many players left over there."

The week actually began in high anticipation for the Mets. The Cardinals were in New York for a three-game series, and though the Cards held a 6½-game lead, the Mets and their faithful felt they could get back in the race with a sweep. There was only a hint of trouble: a story in the New York Post with the headline JESSE'S IDLE THREAT: RUSTY OROSCO WOULD SEEK TRADE IF WORKLOAD DOESN'T INCREASE. It was a good headline, even if it did cause people to wonder if Rusty Orosco was any relation to Rusty Staub.

Strawberry spent part of the day in a Queens recording studio with The Kangol Kid, UTFO (Un Touchable Force Organization) and another renowned rap group, Whistle. First, Whistle gave its rap ("The pitcher threw a pitch and we all stared, and Darryl hit the ball to Korea somewhere"), then UTFO ("Four years in the major leagues, started at 20, once had nothing, now has plenty") and then Strawberry. Between raps, the female chorus would coo "Chocolate Strawberry."

While this was going on, Mets captain Keith Hernandez was in his New York attorney's office in a quite different session, giving seven hours of depositions concerning his divorce case. It was a bad day for Hernandez all around: Jack Clark of the Cardinals passed him in the voting for National League All-Star first baseman.

The game was no picnic either for the Mets. Cox plunked Howard Johnson in the ribs in the first inning, then turned his back as HoJo yelled, "Don't be starting anything with me." Cox later said he didn't hear a thing, adding cryptically, "I wake up, I hear birds chirping. Howard Johnson fits in that category." The Mets blew a 7-3 lead, losing 8-7 in 11 innings as Rusty Orosco gave up four walks, two hits and the winning run in two innings of much-needed work. Strawberry, who had two hits and an RBI in five times up, began to feel that he was coming down with something.

Everybody in the stadium screams for me Strike one, strike two, but no strike three 'Cause I'm def, that's right, I ain't soft, I even get paid on my day off.

For those of you not in the know, "def" is short for definitely, as in definitely cool, definitely strong. When Strawberry declined to play in Tuesday night's game after another session at the recording studio—arranged primarily for publicity purposes—he was def, all right, definitely in trouble. He also inadvertently lent a certain irony to the last line of the above verse.

Strawberry is no stranger to controversy. During spring training he was fined $1,500 for missing two workouts. In Chicago early in June, he was fined $250 for arriving 22 minutes late for a batting practice, made worse by reports that he had been spotted reveling in a nightclub in the wee hours. Such truancy has fueled more serious rumors about Strawberry's off-field activities.

The Mets won Tuesday night, 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth, without Strawberry. He had a low-grade fever, and things, he said, had seemed "fuzzy" to him on the field. While manager Davey Johnson didn't question Strawberry's request to sit out the big game against tough lefthander Greg Mathews, some of the Mets did. Lee Mazzilli, the veteran who played rightfield in Strawberry's place, told reporters, "What he did, he let his manager down, he let his coaches down and, most importantly, he let his teammates down." Mazzilli also noted that a 70% Strawberry was better than a 100% Mazzilli.

Strawberry responded to Mazzilli's criticism the next day, saying, "I don't know why they always want to say things about me. I'm sick. I've been feeling it since Monday night.... I didn't even think of playing. It would only hurt the club." To be fair, Strawberry is under intense scrutiny these days, both from the media and his teammates, all of them waiting for him to slip up. And he was sick. But matters were certainly not helped when a picture of Strawberry singing into a microphone on Tuesday appeared in the local papers.

The Mets came from behind that night and won 9-6 in the rain, even though Strawberry elected not to play against lefthander Joe Magrane. Carter hit two home runs, but apparently still stinging from his virgin New York booing following a feeble at bat the night before, he took only a halfhearted curtain call after the second homer.

The victory did not soften the Mets' feelings toward Strawberry. Second baseman Wally Backman was quoted later as saying, "From the stuff I heard in the trainer's room, he should have been out there. Nobody in the world that I know of gets sick 25 times a year. There's only so much you can take."

Any pitch you throw, I control it
You 're looking for third base, yo, I stole it
That's right, I took it while you wasn't lookin'
So give me your beef, homeboy, 'cause I'm cookin'.

Thursday found the Mets in Cincinnati, 5½ games behind the Cardinals, playing the NL West-leading Reds. Their minds, however, were not on the pennant race. When it was revealed that the Players Association had confronted Gooden last season about possible drug use, Cashen lashed out at the pitcher, demanding a tell-all meeting at the All-Star break. "I've spent blood, sweat and toil to rebuild this team, and some kid almost blows it for us," said Cashen. "Plus I had to pay $500,000 in his salary, and for treatment. A lot of things about this situation rub me the wrong way." (When Herzog heard of Cashen's quote, he said, "Blood, sweat and toil? We gave them Hernandez, Montreal traded them Carter when they couldn't sign him, Texas gave them Darling, and they got Strawberry and Gooden because the Mets were bad for five years.")

During batting practice on Thursday, Strawberry remained defiant. "Where would this team be without me? So I miss a couple of games. These guys are asses. When I'm gone from here, they'll wonder why I left." Gooden had a talk with Strawberry to calm him down, and Strawberry hit two rally-starting doubles as the Mets won 5-0 behind the two-hit pitching of their ace.

Ace? Gooden? Darling? Sid Fernandez? Rick Aguilera? Bob Ojeda? None of the above. The Mets' ace this year is former journeyman reliever Terry Leach, a 33-year-old who is now 7-0 with a 2.13 ERA. His sudden ascendancy is a nice story, but if the Mets had foreseen in spring training that Leach would be their midseason stopper, they would have known they were in for a rough ride.

The spaghetti hit the fan on Friday. Writers scurried from locker to locker as:

1) Strawberry lashed out at Mazzilli and Backman, saying "They rip me and they can't even hold my jock." He also challenged Backman, who is 11 inches shorter than he is, with, "I'll bust him in the face, that little redneck."

2) Backman acknowledged that he is, in fact, a redneck.

3) Hernandez said that Strawberry should take his anger out on the baseball. "The whole crux of this is that it's been going on for years and patience has run out with some guys. We need him [but] we don't know what side of the bed he's going to wake up on. He seems to respond to disciplinary action."

4) Manager Johnson called a team meeting to clear the air. Strawberry would later publicly bury the hatchet with Mazzilli, but not Backman.

5) Wilson, usually a voice of reason, held an impromptu press conference demanding a trade to get more playing time in the outfield. "I'm looking out for my future," said Wilson. "I feel I'd be doing myself a great injustice by not speaking out. Everybody thinks [that if] everything is peachy in Metsville, good old Mookie isn't going to rock the boat."

Then the Mets went out and lost to the Reds, 8-3, as Darling failed again. At this time last year he was 8-2; now he was 2-6 and winless since April 22. After losing a no-hit bid on June 28, Darling said, "Baseball is a roller coaster to confidence. It can humble you, bring you to your knees. I mean, you've got to win one by mistake, don't you?" When Davey Johnson was asked earlier this season what was wrong with Darling, he said, "getting married, having children, opening a restaurant, writing a book."

A calm settled over the Mets for the holiday weekend, but so did a three-game losing streak. On Saturday night they committed three errors in losing 7-3, and on Sunday afternoon, Gooden, who had been pitching well since his return from drug rehabilitation, was knocked out of the box in the fourth inning as the Reds went on to win 7-5. In the past, Strawberry has usually responded to fines and criticism with a booming bat. But he went 1 for 10 after the clubhouse meeting.

There is still a lot of season left, and it's quite possible the Mets will right themselves. But for now, they look as though they have succumbed to the postchampionship blahs. Only one man can get them out of it, and the Mets know who he is.

I can get loose, so don't you try
'Cause I graduated from Crenshaw High
You can even ask Eric [Davis] Boogie E
My name is Darryl, but you can call me D.

That's D as in def. Or dog.



Strawberry took a sick leave and teammates took offense, creating an unhealthy outlook.



Mazzilli (top) and Backman (middle) offered their medical opinions to Strawberry, as Hernandez gave nonmedical advice to Doc.



[See caption above.]



Carter (top) heard the boos at home but found some friends on the road in Cincinnati; Wilson had heard enough and wanted out.