Friday, October 22, 2010
The Straw Man Cometh...Goeth...and Cometh Again...
I finally got around to reading Straw: Finding My Way, Darryl Strawberry’s memoir of a very, very interesting life lived so far. As a devout Met fan from the Strawberry era, as it were, I will admit to, a quarter of a century ago, being held spellbound by the man’s enormous talent and seemingly unlimited potential—he was "the black Ted Williams," after all. But courtesy of a precipitous descent into drug and alcohol abuse, and, while we are on the subject, spousal abuse, too, the Straw Man rather dramatically short-circuited his highly touted career prospects. He once put a gun to his wife’s head.
I think it’s fair to conclude that Strawberry hit rock bottom not too long ago, or at least something resembling the bottom. For a guy who apparently had it all as a hot young professional athlete with a sky's the limit future, an awful lot of bad turns have occurred in this man's life. In addition to his well-known and oft-reported addictions, Darryl was diagnosed with colon cancer and prescribed intensive chemotherapy. The cancer then recurred and required another go-around of treatments. A kidney of his was removed along the way. Whereas once upon a time he was tossing one hundred dollar bills out of his limousine window—so he says—Strawberry subsequently found himself broke and paying alimony and child support to two understandably unsympathetic ex-wives. He also spent eight months in jail for violating his repeat-offender parole as a serial drug user. And the gifted athlete, who we were certain would break Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record, ended up living in his then-girlfriend’s, and current wife’s, parents’ basement somewhere in the Show Me State of Missouri—a markedly steep plunge, I'd say, for a nine-time Major League Baseball All-Star and renowned celebrity.
Even though I recollect reading about the particulars of Strawberry’s fast and furious retreat from glory, the recurring relapses and general mess of his life eventually blended all the sorry minutia together. What was a real shock at first, and major disillusionment surrounding all that could have been, just ceased to be after a while. Still, I rooted for the Straw Man. From my perspective—and many others outside of the callous sports-writing fraternity, which clearly loathed the guy—there was always something likeable and outwardly sincere about Darryl. I had long hoped the better Straw would win out in the end, and perhaps it has—well, at least he thinks so. Hence, this book.
However, as I read this memoir of his, the surprises just kept on coming. You know, Darryl’s next relapse and the next one after that. As the timeline inched closer and closer to the present, I got a bit worried. After all, his straight and narrow pathway is a relatively new one. I would very much like to believe that his last setback was just that—his last. The deeply religious Straw sees the Lord as the wind beneath the wings of his myriad trials and tribulations, including his jail sentence. He believes the dreadful series of events in his life were all part of the curriculum—an absolutely necessity to get him where he is today.
But really, Darryl Strawberry’s had a heaping helping of not especially good stuff happen to him in this life, and he’s come out of the meat grinder standing pretty tall (he’s 6’6” by the way). He’s now a commentator on ESPN, has founded an organization devoted to children with autism, and just recently opened up a restaurant and sports bar in his old Queens stomping grounds. No doubt, the Straw Man’s been humbled with all that’s happened to him along life’s long and winding road, but his hubris and penchant for braggadocio have not been wholly tamed.
I know a few recovering alcoholics who cannot help but boast about their former capacities to drink all comers under the table, and who don’t seem particularly ashamed of their past antics as they recount their war stories. And Darryl displayed more than a bit of this showboat air while chronicling the purported horrific episodes in his life and times. As a parting salvo, may I just offer this one simple piece of advice: For openers, don’t point any more guns at women’s heads…and the rest should come pretty easy.