Darryl Strawberry will be in Oklahoma on Friday to speak at the Night of Hope OKC, hosted by Hope Is Alive Ministries. I wrote about Strawberry for the Thursday Oklahoman, a column which you can read here.
Strawberry could have been in Oklahoma much earlier, for a longer period of time. As an 18-year-old out of Los Angeles’ Crenshaw High School, Strawberry signed a letter of intent with Oklahoma State, to play baseball for Gary Ward. Alas, a couple of months later, Strawberry was the first overall pick in the amateur draft, and he signed with the Mets in July 1980. By 1983, at age 21, Strawberry was the Mets’ left fielder and was the National League rookie of the year.
So Strawberry clearly made the right decision baseball-wise. But Strawberry said OSU would have been a good choice, too.
Strawberry said he planned to play both baseball and basketball at OSU. “I also think college would have been good,” Strawberry said. “A lot of young people go to college and grow up. Get out, hopefully mature. Hopefully be ready for the next step in my life.”
In 1980, OSU baseball hadn’t exploded into the national power that Ward eventually built. The Cowboys won the Big Eight title in 1978, Ward’s first season, but not until 1981 did State begin its run of 16 straight Big Eight championships.
Strawberry said he was drawn to OSU by “the program. They were producing good players. Good baseball program. Lot of great things about coach Gary Ward. It was very intriguing to me. Coming to California from Oklahoma, it would have been a challenge, probably would have been a great experience.”
One downside to even high draft picks signing pro immediately is that the minor league lifestyle is not structured. Lots of long bus rides, lots of lonely nights, little supervision.
“The minor leagues is the pits, no question about it,” said Strawberry, who eventually developed a drug addiction that plagued the back end of his career and nearly ruined his life. “It’s a learning process. Long bus rides, traveling, you start drinking beer at a young age, you think that’s what part of baseball’s all about.
“Drugs have been around sports for so long, it creates such a problem for athletes. No one says no.”
Strawberry is reminded of a great quote from Mickey Mantle: “I wish I would have known how good I was.”
Who knows if Strawberry’s life would have been different had he come to Stillwater. Certainly the same snares and traps out for an 18-year-old are out there for a 21-year-old. Maybe he would have succumbed. His baseball exploits weren’t likely to be much better had he gone to college. Strawberry was a big-time major-league hitter by age 21; in his mid-20s, he was among the five or so best hitters in the world.
But maybe the structure of a college campus and a coaching staff would have instilled values and discipline in Strawberry that were missing when he became a Met superstar. Or maybe not. Lots of college players are bitten by the horror of addiction.