It is conceivable that down the line some major league team will take a chance on Darryl Strawberry, the onetime wonder boy who was released last week by the Los Angeles Dodgers. But any team that does will be getting an athlete who may well have set a modern-day record for making a shambles of his life.
On April 8 the 32-year-old Strawberry, saying that he had a substance-abuse problem, checked into the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif., for a 28-day stay. It was the second rehab stint for Strawberry, who, while with the New York Mets in 1990, spent 29 days in the Smithers Alcoholism and Treatment Center in Manhattan for treatment of his alcoholism. He is now reportedly living near Palm Springs to be close to the Betty Ford after-care program. The lack of support that Strawberry received from Dodger teammates and management (SI, May 30) was hardly surprising, considering events in Dodgerland since Strawberry signed his five-year, $20.25 million free-agent contract on Nov. 7, 1990. After the Straw had one productive season in L.A., back and shoulder injuries limited his effectiveness on the field—in '92 and '93 he had only 256 at bats—and off the field his life spiraled out of control. For example, on Sept. 4, 1993, he was arrested for allegedly striking Charisse Simon, the 26-year-old woman with whom he lived (no charges were ever filed, and they are now married and have a two-month-old son, Jordan Shay). Three weeks later Strawberry publicly said that he had contemplated suicide. The following day he said he had only "flirted" with the idea.
What Strawberry is flirting with now is jail time. He is being investigated by the IRS and the U.S. Attorney's Office in White Plains, N.Y., for allegedly failing to report more than $300,000 in income derived from autograph and memorabilia shows. If he is indicted, the charge against Strawberry will be either tax evasion or tax fraud (a guilty plea to the latter charge resulted in a five-month jail term for Pete Rose).
Court records obtained by SI indicate that Strawberry is under a heavy financial burden. According to his divorce settlement, which was finalized last October, he is paying $80,000 per month to support his ex-wife, Lisa, and their two children, Darryl Jr., 8, and Diamond Nicole, 5. The support level can be reduced only "in the event of a Major League Baseball or team specific strike or lockout."
The settlement was drawn up, of course, when Strawberry's earning power seemed almost limitless. That is not the case now. Strawberry had less than two years remaining on his deal when he and the Dodgers agreed to a settlement that will reportedly pay him his $3 million salary for 1994 and half of his $5 million for '95. Strawberry stood to lose most of that $8 million if he was found guilty of "criminal or felonious acts."
Within the last few weeks SI senior writer Bill Nack approached both Ruby Strawberry, Darryl's mother, and Lisa Strawberry to ask about the troubled star. Both said they could not talk because they are writing books about their relationships with Darryl. For a man with such a turbulent history, that cannot be a pleasant prospect.
Chuck and Coach K
With the retirement of Chuck Daly, who announced last week that he was leaving the New Jersey Net bench for a position in broadcasting, the NBA loses another " 'professional coach," that breed of individual who once swept out the high school gym, drove the team bus and spent his entire professional life scribbling X's and O's on a chalkboard. Though the two most recent NBA coaching hires—Del Harris, by the Los Angeles Lakers, and Dick Motta, by the Dallas Mavericks (again)—are also lifers who never played a minute in the pros, the typical NBA coach these days is an ex-pro player.
Commissioner David Stern would love to welcome another lifer, Mike Krzyzewski, to the league, and indeed, the Duke coach announced last week that he was "looking at other coaching opportunities." Stern denied a report in the Herald-Sun of Durham, N.C., that he had met with Krzyzewski recently to try to persuade him to jump to the NBA—"I can't remember talking to Mike in six months," Stern said in something of a nondenial denial—but many NBA observers are skeptical. "The word going around is that David has been very actively seeking a place for Mike," one front-office type told SI. "My sense is that he wants him in the league."
But why? Prevailing wisdom says that a college coach faces a near-impossible transition to the NBA, both on and off the court, exhibit A being Jerry Tarkanian's disastrous 20-game stint with the San Antonio Spurs last season.
Krzyzewski, however, is viewed by almost everyone around the league as a special case. "I think Mike is a coaching genius," Daly says, "in terms of knowing the game, his approach, his demeanor, everything about him. There's an adjustment, but if he does come into the league, some team will be getting a great coach."
Stern, for his part, got to know Krzyzewski during the 1992 Olympics, when Coach K served as Daly's assistant, and has wanted him in the NBA ever since. And with a quality coach like Daly departing, getting Krzyzewski has become even more important. The commissioner worries privately about the league's growing problem with trash talking and violence, and a hire like Krzyzewski—intelligent, disciplined, respected—would be a public-relations coup.
Krzyzewski's marketability has never been higher, and any number of franchises would open up their checkbooks for him. The most likely candidates are the Miami Heat and the Portland Trail Blazers. Billy Cunningham, who is the most influential of the Heat owner-partners, has wanted to hire Krzyzewski for a while. And with the Blazers hoping to move into a new arena for the 1995-96 season, the team's management is looking to put some juice into the franchise, which has been good, but not good enough to please the rabid home fans.
Krzyzewski flirted with the Boston Celtics in the summer of 1990 but decided to stay in Durham. There is a much greater likelihood that he will jump to the NBA this time, however. Recently he canceled a six-game tour of Australia because of his Blue Devils' poor academic performances. And he may be worrying about the strong possibility that Duke, with Grant Hill gone, will never again achieve the unprecedented success it has enjoyed over the past decade.
It was 31 years ago that Daly, then an unknown high school coach from Punxsutawney, Pa., first moved out of the shadows when he took an assistant's job at Duke. The NBA will miss Daly, who combined a blue-collar sensibility and a white-collar style. It would love to have another Dookie try to do the same.
Well, That's Oberlin
Oberlin (Ohio) College's baseball team was not going to overwhelm anyone this season with its canny pitching staff or sparkling defense. So the Yeomen went to the "flytrap."
"Most other sports have some type of multiple looks on defense," says Oberlin assistant baseball coach Gene DeLorenzo, who, with the help of fellow assistant B.J. Connolly, invented the flytrap and sold the idea to head coach Jeff White. "I started thinking that baseball could do the same thing. It was worth a try for us. We weren't going anywhere the old way."
Then again, the Yeomen didn't go anywhere the new way: They were 1-13 preflytrap and 0-9 postflytrap. But they were definitely the most intriguing cellar-dweller in the history of the Division III North Coast Athletic Conference.
The basic flytrap alignment calls for two infielders—the sweeper on the left side and the stud on the right side—and five outfielders known as left guard, left gapper, right gapper, right guard and rover. The pitcher is known as the point (that figures, since DeLorenzo is Oberlin's basketball coach), and the catcher is called the safety.
The concept was designed both to cut down on extra-base hits and to try to arrange for the Yeomen's better fielders to handle more chances. For example, Oberlin's stud was not its second baseman but, rather, Will Marbury, a quick player who patrolled centerfield in the conventional alignment. If a batter hit a ground ball to sweeper Ted Lytle with no one on base, Marbury would attempt to dash to first to receive Lytle's throw and make the putout. Sometimes he even made it.
While the alignment did reduce gappers (only two extra-base hits made it through the flytrap, while the traditional alignment allowed 70) and errors, it produced its share of problems, the biggest being holding runners on base. "We gave up a large number of uncontested stolen bases," says DeLorenzo. In an effort to combat that, Oberlin tried several trick plays. One was pitching out behind a righthanded hitter to nail a runner trying to steal third. "It cut down the distance for the throw," says DeLorenzo. Another was throwing a pickoff attempt behind a runner at second and letting sweeper Lytle, the fastest man on the team, try to run him down before he reached third.
DeLorenzo says that none of the Yeomen's opponents got mad at the strategy, perhaps because they were still winning by an average of 10 runs. And certainly no one on the Oberlin campus gave it much thought because of the school's reputation for unconventionally.
"We have a saying if something offbeat happens around here," says DeLorenzo. "It goes: 'Well, that's Oberlin.' "
For most folks the Memorial Day weekend means backyard cookouts. But for Shane Swartz of Fort Collins, Colo., it means backyard knockouts. Last Thursday, Shane, a senior at Poudre High School in Fort Collins and, not incidentally, the 165-pound U.S. amateur boxing champion, welcomed 350 fans and competitors to his 80-by-50-foot yard for the third annual Fight Night at the Swartzes.
From midafternoon into the late evening, the irrepressible Shane acted as promoter, announcer and referee for more than 40 bouts, most of them arranged on the spot between Shane's pals from school and the neighborhood. Both boys and girls paired off, though Shane did not allow mixed bouts.
The matches were held in a ring borrowed from a local boxing club, while spectators crowded into three sets of bleachers on loan from the school district, with the overflow crowd accommodated on lawn chairs and two sofas from the family room. For refreshments there were 20 cases of soda and 20 large pizzas. When the first batch of pizza ran out, Shane's mother, Cheryl, went out for more. To capture big-bout ambience, Shane had arranged for a round-card girl and a round-card boy to entertain the audience, but only the guy showed up. "He only worked a couple of bouts," said Shane. "I'm not a pervert or anything, but he just wasn't that good-looking."
When the ring collapsed during one particularly heated bout—"It was a grudge match that got a little out of hand," explained Shane, "and I guess there were too many people in the ring at one time"—Cheryl offered the use of some railroad ties from her garden to shore up the canvas. She said her yard held up pretty well, "except for a couple of kids who got sick on us—and, of course, there was lots of blood."
Both Swartzes insist that the proceedings were perfectly safe. The contestants wore headgear and used 16- and 18-ounce gloves, and referee Shane moved quickly to halt any match in which a boxer took too many punches. "I spent half the time laughing," he said of the generally less-than-sweet science on display. Still, despite precautions and the ineptitude of the boxers, one competitor, 17-year-old Darrin Mueller, was treated for a concussion after his match. "That's all they wrote about in the paper," grumbled Shane. "But there were 350 people here, and if you took a poll, I promise you that 349 would say they had a good time."
ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN
Any team that gives the troubled Strawberry another turn at bat will be taking a major league risk.
JILL P. MOTT
Shane handled the announcing chores—and everything else—for his backyard boxing bash.
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
After a 40-year-old woman marathoner was killed by a mountain lion in the Sierra Nevada foothills in April, and the lion was later shot by wildlife authorities, a fund for the cat's cub had, as of last week, raised $21,000...while a fund for the woman's two children had raised only $9,000.
They Said It
Trainer of Kentucky Derby winner Go for Gin, on the importance of consistent workouts: "A lot of horses get distracted. It's just human nature."