“Turn Your Season Around:
How God Transforms Your Life”
With Lee Weeks
The publishing info:
Released Jan. 12, 2021
At the publisher’s website
At L.A.’s The Last Book Store
At the author’s website
The review in 90 feet or less
In Devin Gordon’s spankin’ new book about his comically tormented relationship with the New York Mets called “So Many Ways to Lose” — a rip-roaring rant that will review in the coming weeks of this series — he starts Chapter 11 by recalling a peculiarly dark detail from another book.
That would be Peter Golenbock’s 2002 oral history tome, “Amazin’: The Miraculous History of New York’s Most Beloved Baseball Team.”
The book’s 2003 paperback update ends by lamenting the death of Darryl Strawberry.
“I mourn him already,” Golenbock writes. “He was too human, and should be beloved and remembered for his contributions — even though he has suffered from drug addiction. It seems only fair.”
As Gordon then points out in his own book — Strawberry is still with us.
He explained: ” Amazin’s publication date put Golenbock in a trick spot, because throughout that summer of 2003, many people believed Darryl Strawberry was a dead man walking, including Darryl Strawberry. He’d just gotten out of jail again. This time it was for cocaine possession, but it could’ve been any number of drugs. Crack. Meth. He’d done them all. The cancer in his colon that nearly killed him in 1998 had returned and this time, he was refusing chemotherapy because he no longer wanted to live. His prognosis was ‘not good,’ Golenbock reported, accurately at the time. ‘The cancer is spreading.’ And that’s when he shifted into the past tense regarding Strawberry.”
For the record, present-tense Strawberry turned 59 last March 12.
A miracle, eh? Pretty amazing.
From darkness into light, from the batter’s box to the preacher’s pulpit, his story continues. Perhaps almost as mind-bending as still trying to figure out how someone like Norman Greenbaum, raised in an Orthodox Jewish household, somehow came up with the 1969 hit song, “Spirit in the Sky.”
It’s worth noting an interesting start to Strawberry’s current Wikipedia entry — something we’d normally not even pay attention to, but were again morbidly curious. It identifies him as “former professional baseball right fielder and author … (once) one of the most feared sluggers in the sport, known for his prodigious home runs and his intimidating presence … and long, looping swing that elicited comparisons to Ted Williams.”
A World Series title with the New York Mets in 1986. Three more with the New York Yankees in ’96, ’98 and ’99. A rocky road in between with the Dodgers that may led to three MLB suspensions and “leading to many narratives about his massive potential going unfulfilled,” the Wiki entry continues.
Who controls your life narrative? Strawberry’s interpretation of fulfillment today is likely by much different parameters than that entry.
If we are to know of him only through the literary world of documentation rather than the backs of his baseball cards, the early life and times of the L.A. legend out of Crenshaw High have included:
* “Darryl,” by Darryl Strawberry with Art Rust (1982, Bantom Books)
* “High and Tight: The Rise and Fall of Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry,” by Bob Klapish (1997, Villard)
* “Recovering Life,” by Strawberry with his second wife, Charisse (1999, Plough Publishing House), during his final MLB season that focused on his recoveries from colon cancer, dependency and relationship strife.
* “The Ticket Out: Darryl Strawberry and the Boys of Crenshaw,” by Michael Sokolove (2004, Simon and Schuster)
* “Straw: Finding My Way Out” with John Strausbaugh (2009, Ecco)
* “The Imperfect Marriage: Help For Those Who Think It’s Over” (2014, Howard Books, 256 pages), by Strawberry with his third wife, Tracy, who decades ago was pulling him out of drug houses where he was shooting dope and, in his words, “just wanting to die.” They met at a Narcotics Anonymous convention in Florida as she was recovering and he was still using.
* “Slouching Toward Fargo: A Two Year Saga of Sinners and St. Paul Saints at the Bottom of the Bush League with Bill Murray, Darryl Strawberry, Dakota Sadie and Me,” by Nel Karlen and Mike Veeck (2014), where he was lumped into a crazy comeback attempt through the minor leagues.
* “Don’t Give Up On Me: Shedding Light on Addiction with Darryl Strawberry,” by Shawn Powell (2017, Henschelhaus Publishing), that goes into coping mechanisms involving childhood abuse, anxiety and more.
Strawberry is ready to shed more light, slouching heavily toward the divine.
Believe it or not, we find Strawberry these days as a Christian believer sounding far more content and whole, wanting help others. His life has guard rails. He won’t let his guard down. He has the context of his baseball highs and lows that go hand-in-hand with an off-the-field life that has involved drugs, addiction, domestic violence and tax evasion. He is a father in his kids’ lives.
In nine chapters that are titled “innings,” Strawberry preaches without getting preachy, redefining identity, the power of self forgiveness and other faith-related experiences that overlapped at some points in his playing career.
Such as, an excerpt from page 3:
I wept uncontrollably each night while attending a weekend evangelistic crusade in Anaheim in 1991. I should have been the happiest person on the planet, having recently signed a five-year, $20.25 million contract with my hometown team, the Los Angeles Dodgers – the second most lucrative contract in the history of Major League Baseball at the time. But in reality, I was miserable, empty and broken inside. An alcoholic and a womanizer, I was going through a painful divorce of my own doing. At that crusade, I realized for the first time that my ability to hit majestic home runs and leave fans starstruck in my path couldn’t make me right with God and free me from the bondage of sin.”
For the record, after seven straight All-Star years with the Mets that started with his 1983 Rookie of the Year campaign at age 21, Strawberry spent 1991 with the Dodgers, age 29, hitting 28 homers with 99 RBIs in 139 games with some injury issues. He represented the Dodgers in the ’91 All Star Game (with Brett Butler, Juan Samuel, Eddie Murray and Mike Morgan).
The next year: 43 games, .237 average, 5 homers, 25 RBIs.
The next year: 32 games, .140 average, 5 homers, 12 RBIs.
The next year: 29 games in San Francisco before going back to New York for the Yankees’ run under Joe Torre from 1995-99, finishing a 17-year career with 335 home runs, exactly 1,000 RBIs, a .259 average and pretty much no chance at a Hall of Fame induction. He remains the Mets’ franchise leader in home runs (252), first in Championship WPA (27.0) plus second in slugging percentage (.520), offensive WAR (35.1) and WAR position (36.6).
The book of Numbers in the bible are among the numbers he will refer to these days.
If you’re looking for some baseball insight, maybe the deepest he goes is comparing the Houston Astros’ 2017 cheating scandal to a higher order of deceit.
“Personally, I think it’s a foregone conclusion that Astros batters knew what type of pitchers were coming their way,” he writes on page 151. “They weren’t clairvoyant …”
So the lesson might be …?
“You and I also have an enemy trying to steal victory from us …You can plan on this: our Enemy is cunningly planning to trick, cheat, deceive, defraud, double-cross and bamboozle us. …”
And as Strawberry adds on page 27: ”Vin Scully is famous for describing a home run ball’s flight as saying ‘forget it’ as it sailed over the fence. But when you pursue the purposes God created for you, there’s nothing forgettable about it. The results are life-changing and the impact is eternal.”
In other words, prepare yourself, you know it’s a must. Gotta have a friend in Jesus so you know that when you die He’s gonna recommend you to the spirit in the sky. Or something like that.
How it goes in the scorebook
We caught up with Strawberry by phone from his home in the St. Louis suburb of O’Fallon, Missouri, and wanted an update about his health, particularly how he survived this period COVID with his health history, along with other reflections on topics of the day:
Q: As much as what we have seen that divides us in this country, do you find in your work now that those who have any sort of religious faith often have more in common with those who may not?
A: No question. Do you believe in God? At the end of the day that’s what it all boils down to. When you look at the reality of where we’re living today, you can see who’s really in control. Man is fighting over everything and God is the one who has the last say. And as people, we don’t always pay attention to that. We are more consumed with too many earthly matters.
Q: Maybe during COVID that perception changed a bit. With your history of cancer and other issues, how did you get through this past year without compromising your health — physically, mentally or spiritually?
A: COVID was a blessing in disguise for me to spend more time with God. I was in the midst of writing this book before the pandemic but I had been traveling for the last seven, eight years, 250 days a year. I’m a diabetic and I was running into really tough times, and one time when I had been doing a lot of preaching, I found myself telling God, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” I remember Him telling me, “This is not about you.” I had to really stay focused. That hit home.
I felt home was the best place to be, with your family, making connections, and maybe some of you guys will get to know your wife again instead of always away. God always brings us back to what is important. I’m so grateful.
The only thing that bothered me about the pandemic was so many lives that were lost. When you think of God, you think how he is firm when you have a relationship with him. You know he can be a just God. He doesn’t want to allow people to die without knowing Him. That’s dear to His heart.
Q: Did you lose family members or friends from COVID?
A: I think everyone has. It was a challenge for all of us. I think I had COVID back in February (2020) when I didn’t know what it was. It came up on me as I was doing a men’s conference in Arkansas and flew to California and I was so sick I had to stay there a few extra days before getting home. I got through it, but it was hard. The most difficult flu-type experience I ever had with chills, up and down in bed. My wife ended up having it too, so I stayed in the other side of the house. We were like busy people and around people all our lives – she’s a pastor and I’m an evangelist – we just thank God he kept us and covered us in the process and healed our bodies to get back up and go.
Q: When talking about an identity redefined, many will think of you as a baseball player. You identify yourself as an evangelist. How do those two things intersect?
A: God gave me a platform, just as He did with other sports figures, to achieve all these great things from an earthly standpoint, but then He brings a transformation to your heart where He would turn us into the person He always created us for. To worship and praise Him and win souls for the kingdom. I love how Billy Graham has preached in a bold way about having a relationship with God. I think we’ve gotten away from that in our society.
God is giving every last one of us these different platforms to use for his glory. I’m just so happy I was able to survive all that I went through. Some people may say my baseball career was a waste. No it wasn’t. Not to me. I went as far as I was supposed to go as a baseball player. I wasn’t supposed to enter into the Hall of Fame. I wasn’t supposed to be that player because if I was I would have probably never met Jesus and still been thinking about those things I accomplished and never come to the place I am now. I have more satisfaction traveling the country now, not in a baseball uniform but standing in a pulpit holding my bible and preaching the Gospel for Jesus Christ, telling them He loves them regardless of whatever has happened in their lives. I’m a prime example of what happens to someone from a public standpoint because of wearing my baseball uniform and my failures but at the same point people can look at me as a totally different person. I think people may admire more for the man I have become and what I’m doing to help others find their way. It’s an incredible gift from God.
Q: You can say you had baseball failures, but you have so much success as well that can be measured in All-Star appearances and other statistics. How do you measure or quantify your success now?
A: I don’t. It doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to God and wherever He sends me. I already know it’s because of Him. The success doesn’t really come from me. I get to serve now. As a baseball player, success came from a talent. A gift to perform. Now it’s different. I’m not performing. I’m a vessel being used through God. I would never put myself in a place to take credit for what God is doing. I would say thank you for allowing me to be that voice for Him and not afraid or ashamed. What happens is people may reject you and bring about persecution when you change your life. I can either be worried about that or I could continue to have an impact for God’s gift living inside of me.
Q: You had teammates who were faith-filled, like Gary Carter and Mookie Wilson with the Mets, or Brett Butler with the Dodgers. Was it easy to dismiss them for who they were or what they were representing versus the life you had? And do you see now that they may have had a pretty good gameplan in place and you regret not listening to them?
A: It was easy for me to see a guy like Gary or Mookie, who just loved life and lived it to the fullness of joy and happiness and peace … I wanted what they had. I knew what they had was special but I didn’t have the guts to go and ask them about it. I never rejected who they were. Can you believe a lot of players were down on Carter because he drank milk? I wish I would have drank milk instead of alcohol. He never chased women. I knew what was real, and knew if I could ever find that peace, it would be something. I didn’t find it until after 17 years of playing and had trials and tribulations and then being broken and then being picked up by God and led from the pits to the pulpit – and I’m maybe still not qualified to preach the Gospel because I never went to school for that. But He gave me his gift in allowing me to preach and I know it’s real.
I watched these guys like Carter live it. So many wanted what he had. But you had to make a change in your life. He’d go to dinner with us on the road and when the guys would scatter to hit the night life, he’d say, ‘I’ll see you at the ballpark tomorrow.’ And when he did, he’d talk about what a great time we had a dinner, never condemn anyone, never judge anyone. That’s the most incredible way a man can live his life. Honestly, people think it’s crazy that players live amidst so much temptation and everybody has to taste and see what that temptation is all about. But Gary and Mookie were two guys who did not get lured by those temptations.
Buggsy (Butler) lived his life the right way too, honored God and took a lot of heat from some players because he was very strong in his faith. You know, it’s sad to see when players have a faith like that and others point at him and wonder if he’s real or not. Just look at his life.
Q: Do you have thoughts about the passing of Tommy Lasorda? Did you have a good relationship with him?
A: I did. A great one. We had some rocky times because what happened to me while I was playing for him in L.A., and he had some remarks about me. But he came back later and apologized and said he loved and admired me and didn’t understand the addiction part I was going through at that time. We became close friends. I spent a lot of time with him and (his wife) Jo and his wonderful daughter. I know Tommy was sick lately and it was probably his time – God will call us and I hope he was ready in his heart. He was able to make a lot of people happy.
Q: Did you keep up with last year’s baseball season – the strange COVID year of a short season, a Dodgers championship – or do you even pay much attention?
A: I think the last 13 years I cut myself off from baseball. God called me to preaching and it was a different lifestyle I needed to focus on. Do I watch a game here and there? Yeah. Do I get caught up in the season last year? Naw, not with the pandemic and everything else going on. I don’t get caught up in sports. I think the only game I really watched lately was the Super Bowl just to watch Tom Brady. When you see great athletes, you stop and pay attention. Just like Tiger Woods on a golf course. You know as an athlete who plays at the highest level how hard it is to accomplish those things. You can admire them when you see them. He put the work in. They didn’t give Brady enough credit and thought (New England coach Bill) Belichick was the answer to their success in the Super Bowl before. Brady goes to Tampa and gets a great team and a great defense put together and guess what – he’s going to win a championship. He’s that kind of player. (Chiefs quarterback Patrick) Mahomes was great, but you know going into that game, Brady was going to win because he knows exactly what he was doing.
Q: You have been seen still at games your kids play — D.J. and his time at Mater Dei and then Maryland in the NCAA Tournament (in 2003-07). He is now still playing in Europe some 13 years after the Phoenix Suns drafted him. You have sons and daughters playing (Jordan, with Mercer basketball, daughters Jaden (UConn) and Jewell (Boston College) playing volleyball. What has that meant to you?
I’ve got a chance to be a father and sit and watch them. It’s such a great job. People my question my kids: Do you know how good your father was a baseball player? They don’t remember. They’ll say, “I think my father’s a preacher now.”
A: This is a big deal for me. I grew up in a broken family – my father was a raging alcoholic and beat the crap out of us. That last time he came off arguing with my mom and pulled out a shotgun and said he was going to kill the whole family. We went into action that night, me and my brothers, and had it not been for my mother getting us out of the house we would have killed him. I always say, I was broken and wounded before I ever put on the baseball uniform and the pain led me to my greatness and my greatness would eventually lead me to my destructive behavior. I’m just glad my kids were able to see me get healed as they got older and see me in their live. I’ve been pretty blessed. I didn’t repeat the same thing my father did with us and broke the cycle. I have set a legacy for my children, just like my mother left a legacy that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Fame and fortune doesn’t mean anything at the end of the day. If we don’t center ourselves and come to a place for a personal relationship with Christ, we’re just empty, just going by. I’ve never seen a U-Haul behind a hearse. I buried my mother and sister and all was left in tact here. That tells me every last one of us will experience that. I’m glad my mother prayed for me. She wanted me to have a great relationship with Christ instead of baseball fame.
Q: Do you have a favorite bible verse that sums you up?
A: Yes, John 14:6. Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one goes to the Father except through me.” That sums it up for me in a lot of ways. Knowing how so many of us don’t know the way and think we have the right way. We missed that point of knowing the way. When I came to the place of understanding Jesus, I realized he hung on the cross at Calvary and shed his blood for everyone. He went to the tomb and early that Sunday morning he got up with all power and was resurrected, so we can be resurrected. That’s Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, gut Christ who lives in me.” When I started to understand Christ lives in me every day, it allows me to be a different person. I’m a man of humility.
Q: What a great Easter message. How has the book been received?
A: It’s been received well. It’s just opening a lot of eyes. So many of us are searching after we’ve been through so many things in this nation like we’ve never had to endure before. We’re starting to figure out that man is not the answer. We keep putting all our eggs in one basket that man is going to fix this, and it’s impossible because we are all sinners and if we don’t know who the Savior is, we can’t get well. People are searching and looking at my life and my book, what I went through, and look at the revelation of Christ he talks about. People are wondering how I know so much about God when you were so broken. I made a commitment to Him that I would follow him. If we can help some people, that’s why I’m here. I know this life is not long. I’ve had cancer twice, lost my left kidney in my second surgery, been through addiction, was in a Florida state prison with a T17169 (incarceration badge, for tax evasion from memorabilia sales), and here it is God has given me grace. I can get my ego out of the way, because “ego” is really a three-letter word: Easing God out.”
Q: When you talking about eggs and baskets, maybe it’s OK to have all your eggs in one basket as long as they are Easter eggs?
A: (Laughing) That’s a good point. Maybe we’re supposed to give out Easter eggs to someone else and help them see the Lord is good.
More to cover
= He also reads some of the audio version of the book.
= Strawberry is featured in a December, 2020 story in NorthJersey.com.
He’s also in a July, 2019 story in the Ocean City (New Jersey) Daily, which had to add this note at the end: This story has been clarified to reflect that Darryl Strawberry is a member of the New York Mets Hall of Fame, not the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.
Or, just the Baseball Hall of Fame.
== Andy Bernstein includes Strawberry in his “Legends of Sport” podcast from early March via Apple.com podcasts.
== A piece we did for the Southern California News Group on Strawberry and Eric Davis in 2012 about a documentary focused on Harvard Park in their childhood neighborhood.
== Later this month, Paul Hensler’s book “Gathering Crowds: Catching Baseball Fever in the New Era of Free Agency” (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 360 pages, $40) comes out. The cover of course caught our eye. We sent a copy of that to Strawberry via text. He responded: “Who is that guy?”