"Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits." — Tommy Edison
Tom Hoffarth is a sports journalist in Los Angeles, born and raised (reared is the correct phrase, but it just sounds wrong) and specializing in the sports media business. A USC graduate from the School of Journalism (it still exists, somewhat) in 1984, he is also available for service at https://www.linkedin.com/in/tomhoffarth/
In your best Seinfeld voice, ask yourself the question: So what’s the deal with the New York Mets?
You may have seen how Thursday they managed a wonky walk-off. Guy leans into a strike-three pitch, barely gets nicked, dupes the ump and forces in the winning run. Teammates mob him. To actually … celebrate?
There are only so many ways to legitimately win a baseball game, and this isn’t one of them. And here, with “So Many Ways to Lose,” such as the team did on Opening Day as chronicled by the New York Times, Devin Gordon brings us up to speed as to why none of this should be surprising, even for the baseball gods looking to balance some karmic conflict resolution.
What makes a Mets fan so “Metsy,” as Gordon writes, is to acknowledge the history of a franchise that came about to replace the void left by the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers moving west and have always been the anti-Yankees in the New York Metropolitan area.
It’s also why, other than those focused on The History of The Yankees, there are at least a few books that come out each spring in hopes of capturing more disposable income of fans from Queens who can’t get enough stabbing pains in the groin.
Despite a “miracle” championship in 1969, less than a decade after their birth and 120-loss season, plus other post-season successes that fans of other teams might sell their souls for, the Mets are an entity that, before “So Many Ways To Lose,” those of us on this side of the coast might not actually care to even muster feigning interest.
Almost immediately into this, you gotta believe that Gordon, a lifelong Mets fan who targets the 2006 team as his favorite, sharpened his knife for this master carving class with previous writings for the New York Times, the Atlantic, Newsweek and ESPN The Magazine, as well as serving as executive editor at GQ.
Pounding out the prose from past to the present in trying to document how a franchise originally purchased by former N.Y. Giants fan and heiress Joan Payson now seems to ignore her contributions to every degree of blissful ignorance, once we see how the messy list includes the incarnations of Casey Stengel, Marv Throneberry and Bernie Madoff, twice letting franchise star Tom Seaver go away to achieve immortality, giving away Nolan Ryan (to the Angels for a miscast Jim Fergosi), Mackey Sasser’s yips, the annual Bobby Bonilla payments for not playing, Bernie Madoff (worth mentioning again as he has Chapter 17 to himself under the headling “Bernie Madoff Stole This Chapter”) … Vince Coleman throwing M-100 firecrackers at fans in the Dodger Stadium parking lot … Robin Ventura hits a grand slam walk-off single … hiring Carlos Beltran as a manager and firing him before the season ever starts …
It makes perfect sense that this is the team with a fan base of a “murders’ row” of comedians: Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Amy Schumer, Jon Stewart, Jimmy Kimmel …
And Gordon fits right in.
“There is no such thing as a funny winner,” he sums up.
Which leads to more comic relief, such as:
= “We are the phoenix that rises from the ashes, only to light ourselves on fire and go right back to ashes again.”
= “When you choose to plant your franchise in a place called Flushing Meadows, you can only outrun your own destiny for so long. And then the Mets doubled down by building a stadium shaped like a latrine. … Over the course of seven decades, Flushing Meadows had gone from a swamp to an ash heap to a garbage dump to a giant fairground and now, finally, the land was fertile for humankind to till, the groundwork laid for a masterpiece of modern engineering, a monument to a transformational period in the history of New York City, but instead they built Shea Stadium.”
“The Home Run Apple … was nine feet tall, weighed 582 pounds and was made of fiberboard – which is every bit as flimsy as it sounds … and as the years passed, the apple began to rot … and when it worked, it struggled a bit climbing out of the hat like Willie Mays’ last days patrolling center field for the 1973 Mets.”
And that’s just in the first several chapters. Before he even gets to feast on a personal end game of the existence of Endy Chavez and the several mispronunciations of his name.
As much as currents Mets’ followers are hedging their bets with the hedge fund guy who says he has legitimate claim to billions of dollars and will crank the team up to new heights, it’s too bad none of them can read.
Cohen, a proclaimed life-long Mets fan, offered to buy the franchise for $2.6 billion in January 2020. Then he withdrew when he didn’t like the conditions left by the Wilpon family. Then COVID hit. Then the 2020 season ended, and Cohen came back, bought the team for less than the $2.6 bil he originally offered, and Mets fans rejoiced. And now Cohen has set high expectations.
Don’t worry. Gordon seems well aware of the ultimate letdown. As he writes on page 367 about how the unfound pomp surrounding the COVID-laced 2020 season ended in misery:
“We won’t stop being the Mets. We’ll get back to our roots before too long. We’ll keep finding new ways to lose and thanks to Steve Cohen’s bottomless billions of dollars, no one can stop us now.”
How it goes in the scorebook
A major “W,” if “W” stands for Worst. Which means Best.
(You provide your own punchline).
If hilarity always seems to ensue, why not have a group of comics – Seinfeld, Kimmel, etc. – do the book’s audio version?
More to cover
== An excerpt of the book in the Atlantic under the headline: “The Best Losers in America: Forget the Lions or the Clippers or even the Knicks. No team in all of American sports is better than the Mets at being the worst.”
One morning, I walked toward the desk of my home office and the sun as just coming through the east window. The room was otherwise dark, except for this beam of light that hit a stack of books on the corner of the desk. That book at the top of the stack – the stack of new baseball books that I have piled up for reviews – was this one about Tom Seaver. It was a moment to pause and reflect. First, there may never be a better photograph of a person in a baseball biography than the one used here. And the job done by Bill Madden to capture the essence of the Hall of Fame pitcher who died on his Napa winery in late August, just a few months before the book’s publication, after withdrawing from public life because of dementia. His cause of death was from COVID-19 complications. When we reviewed last year’s “Tom Seaver And Me” by Pat Jordan (also Simon & Schuster/Post Hill Press, $28, 192 pages, released May 2020), we could sense how Seaver trusted Jordan and gave him plenty of insight over the years about how he processed the game and life. Madden’s book takes it an extra terrific step. An excerpt of the book’s first chapter here.
* “Mount Rushmore of the New York Mets: The Best Players by Decade to Wear the Orange and Blue,” by Brett Topel (Simon & Schuster, to be released May 18). From the PR blurb: “In 2015, Major League Baseball announced its decision for each team’s Mount Rushmore. For the Mets, voters chose Keith Hernandez, Mike Piazza, Tom Seaver, and David Wright. No one would argue that Tom Seaver is on the franchise’s Mount Rushmore. He was, after all, “The Franchise.” Some might even argue that the Mets’ Mount Rushmore is Tom Seaver four times! However, that not-withstanding, when it comes to rounding out the other three players, did MLB get it right??”
The end game is a realization that if you can make yourself better by one percent every day for a year, you’ll end up 37 percent better by the time you’re finished. If you go one percent worse each day, you’ll decline nearly down to zero. Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. The analogy is how whacking a rock with a hammer 100 times doesn’t cause it to finally crumble because of that 100th whack, but it was the 99 previous blows that made the small progress leading up to that moment. There’s plenty of biology, neuroscience, philosophy, psychology and more that goes into it. Like, math, maybe …
Sports also has its place in this playing-out-the-string theory.
When he was coaching the Lakers in the 1980s, Pat Riley developed a number-driven formula – Career Best Effort – that captured one’s peak performance and then found ways to force a player to improve upon at by one percent with each new measurement. “The CBE Program is a prime example of the power of reflection and review,” writes Clear. “The Lakers were already talented. CBE helped them get the most out of what they had and made sure their habits improved rather than declined.”
When Canadian-based Andrew Forbes slowly but surely plowed through his own COVID consternation and produced a follow up to his 2016 book, “The Utility of Boredom: Baseball Essays,” the focus was back on how small amounts of progress get us by.
And baseball can show how that’s done.
Baseball is habit forming, right?
The title of this collection here comes from a quote of Forbes’ favorite player, Ichiro Suzuki. And not to create any sort of spoiler alert, but this is what Ichiro said when asked about his philosophy of life, and what Forbes holds up to the light.
From page 161:
“I don’t know much about a philosophy of life, but when I think of it as a way I go through life … I can’t work harder than everyone else. Right until the end, you are only measured against yourself. As you do that, as you see your limits, you try to over and over surpass yourself a tiny bit. That’s how I eventually become who I am. One can only do this in small increments, but that is the way to surpass yourself. If you try and change in leaps and bounds, that gap between where you are (and your target) becomes too large and I think unsustainable. So the only way is the steady way.”
You can’t hit a six-run homer, so try going base to base and keep the lineup turning.
Forbes even says as much with an essay from his book that he recently adapted for Walrus Magazine called “Why Home Runs Are Bad for Baseball” that included: “In the anti-intellectual atmosphere of post-9/11 America, though, the swift and brutal rip through the strike zone seemed more appropriate than ever. … (but) at this point, arguing against the home run is pointless. The results are in and brawn has won—both in the ratings and on the field—and now, squarely within the launch-angle era, the essential violence of the act hints that baseball’s ostensible pastorality was misquoted, or ill understood, or more darkly still, a craven dishonesty.”
All the essays Forbes pens leads to that karmic moment of clarity. Up to that point, his 26 previous works take more meaningful moments from baseball and try to find how the game’s heartbeat coordinates with lessons learned.
There is calm and preciseness in the observations by Forbes, a Gen Xer who is married with kids and incorporates that into his pieces. Staying in the moment to capture its essential molecules and constant change, Forbes’ focus on Ichiro becomes the on-going touchpoint, reflections of his consistency, dedication and longevity. If Ichiro is really is the poetry in motion on a diamond, Forbes adds the polish.
And again, it beats boredom.
Even Forbes admits that his process of writing the book between 2018 and late 2020 was not without anxiety, as he wasn’t sure when he finished the forward in November, ’20, what the world would even look like when this month came around for its release. Think about that.
“Happily, the larger subject of this volume is the purity of effort, and that’s a subject without an expiration date, and impervious to the news cycle,” he writes. “I’m hopeful there are sunny days ahead when we can gather in person and watch baseball and share our love of it together.”
From there, he talks about his observations of today’s game and how they impact his focus.
From page 7:
I understand the contemporary game is not without its problems, and yet when I see its perfect motion, the expressions of the faultless geometry at its heart, I forgive all that. I see the game’s power to enmesh us within a community, to encourage productive entanglements, putting us side by side in the grandstand both literal and figurative. … I see its offer of daily rescue for six months of the year from this increasingly Stygian reality.”
How it goes in the scorebook
A seventh-inning stretch of profound wisdom. The book is small and paperback, which should allow for it to be taken inside any stadium this year and used to read between innings.
Just before the 2021 MLB season started, there was consternation for anyone a fan of the Seattle franchise. The Mariners’ team president at the time, Kevin Mather, made some “dyspeptic comments” about some of his players that capture “what’s wrong with Major League Baseball,” says the headline above a column by USA Today’s Gabe Lacques.
We wondered if there was material in all that for a Forbes’ follow up essay. Maybe, sooner than later.
An author Q&A
Not our author conversation, but one with the Pandemic Baseball Book Club, which Forbes is one of its many high-end authors and members, produced some of these questions and answers recently:
Q Why this book? Why now?
A: Much of the baseball writing I’ve done since the release of my first baseball book, The Utility of Boredom, is contained here, but the larger project came about when Ichiro returned to the Mariners in 2018, struggled, and then abruptly stepped away from the field until Seattle played a couple of games in Tokyo in March, 2019, after which he retired. By that time I knew that I was writing a book about Ichiro, and my relationship to him as a fan, and his symbolism of greater things.
Q What’s one noteworthy thing you learned during the research of your book?
A: One of the longer pieces in the book involves a 1923 exhibition game played in Peterborough, Ontario (where I live), involving Tris Speaker and Roger Peckinpaugh. It is far and away the most heavily researched piece in the book; I worked on it off and on for about four years. In the process, I learned a lot about the town and the history of the ballpark there. It began life as an empty lot adjacent to a brewery, was converted into a covered skating rink, and then leveled and turned into a ball diamond in about 1885. It has remained in that configuration ever since. My son did his Little League tryouts there, and we sometimes go there to watch softball in the summer. I love the continuity of that.
Q What’s one memorable instance of your editor lending direction in a general way? How about in a specific way?
A: The managing editor at Invisible Publishing, Andrew Faulkner, is a big baseball fan as well as a fantastic editor. He worked on my previous baseball book, and without question made it much better. He was involved in my new book very early on, and was never less than overwhelmingly encouraging. “Keep writing,” he said, when I was unsure just what shape the book would take. “We’ll figure it out later.” As publication neared, he pointed out a large swath of Ichiro’s career about which I had barely written, and suggested that I direct my energy there. The resulting piece, “Don’t Stop to Count the Years,” is a big part of the book, and I’m eternally grateful to Andrew for nudging me toward finishing it.
Q Did you receive any notable outside help in pulling the manuscript together?
A: In May, 2018, just as Ichiro stepped away from playing, I went with a friend — the poet and teacher Rob Winger — to see the Mariners play in Toronto. We’d bought the tickets hoping to see Ichiro take the field, but a week or so before the game it was announced that he was being removed from the roster. We’d read that he was still taking BP, though, so we kept the tickets and took the train into Toronto early, and there he was, in the cage, ripping homers off the facade of the upper deck. It was magical. I talked to Rob a lot about the book that day, and told him I was having trouble envisioning the form it would take. Rob pointed out that it sounded like Ichiro was more than a ballplayer to me, and that he was providing an example of how to move through time: rowing the boat to the far shore, making that long journey across life’s surface. That became the way I saw the book. I don’t know how long it would have taken me to discover that if Rob hadn’t helped me.
More to cover
== A review from LiveManyLives.com includes: “I love that baseball fans still talk so passionately about the heroes of the past, that lineage that Forbes mentions is central to the experience and passed on through the generations with reverence.”
Q: When was the last time sports made you cry? A: I’m an easy mark when it comes to emotions that spill out of my eyes when something happens on a ball diamond. I know I got a little watery when Vin Scully was on the field for a little thing ahead of his final Dodger home opener back in April. I wept in confusion and joy during the 7th inning of Game 5 of the ALDS last October. I also screamed myself hoarse. But the most recent instance wasn’t about baseball or professional sport of any kind; my kid, my eldest, my daughter, ten years old, recently ran in her first track meet. It was an all day affair, characterized by quick bursts of excitement separated by hours of inaction and waiting and sunburn and thirst, but her first event of the day was a grade four girls’ 100M heat. I’d never seen her compete in anything like this before, and she was nervous as all get out. I wanted for her to do well, not because I need her to win or anything like that, but because I wanted her to learn that she could do something like that. She took the heat easily—like, by a mile—and my wife and I were just beside ourselves, completely overcome with excitement on her behalf, and pride, I guess, or whatever we call that emotion which arises when a small human that you’ve created goes and does something it doesn’t think it can do.
Accepting the premise there are variously shaded gray areas between genius and insanity, creativity and wacked out, linear and off the rails, the terms we have reached at the conclusion of this exercise is that a review relying less on reactive words and more on encouraging a very late-night reading experience of this radicalized homage to “an Earthling named William Francis Lee III, aka Bill Lee and one who would eventually be known as ‘The Spaceman’” would be the most realistic way to introduce this the general population.
In other words, simply noting the book’s existence and hubris may be all we’re authorized to do in this space.
A traditional bio of the now 74-year-old would have notations of trajectory starting with his birth in Burbank, rearing in Canoga Park, success in taking Rod Dedeaux’s USC team to the 1968 College Baseball World Series title, and continual efforts to set records for age-related athletic achievements by pitching in professional contests. Much has already been laid out in various book forms.
The most renowned would be “The Wrong Stuff,” with Dick Lally in 1984 (Viking Press, 242 pages), shortly after Lee realized the MLB world wasn’t ready to keep him around in his late 30s. It was also a year after the success of the movie “The Right Stuff” about the original Mercury 7 astronauts, playing right into Lee’s strike zone. A paperback was reissued in 2006 by Three Rivers Press to coincide with a Hollywood version of his life, but if we recall, there was something lost in the historical portal translating 20th Century events into the 21st Century of entertainment.
As a way again to revive Lee’s spirit and genius, because we all should never forget it, statistician and long-time Lee drinking pal Scott Russell (who also thinks of himself as someone named Kilgore Trout) writes about how he got Lee’s New Year’s Eve blessing to launch this random-looking look-back and give it the name as homage to “The Martian Chronicles” by Ray Bradbury.
More of this, however, is a tribute to Kurt Vonnegut’s novel “Cat’s Cradle,” from an author whom the two believe to be the one to channel in formatting this messiness and “begin to understand the present condition of our planet and our species.”
Using a Pawtucket, Rhode Island company that puts its reputation on the line by calling itself “an affordable self-publishing alternative for independent authors & writers,” Russell is encouraged to use as much real estate as possible, and starts the process by calling Lee part Buckminster Fuller, part Professor Irwin Corey, part Rube Waddell and “perhaps a little Woody Allen tossed in,” if that’s supposed to be a compliment. Accurately, Russell notes that Lee is as “unique as the Grand Canyon” and has a life that “incredibly is still evolving.”
With that, among the intended quirks of this cosmic hailstorm:
= 119 chapters, one for each of his MLB career wins between age 22 with the Boston Red Sox in 1969 through age 35 with the Montreal Expos in 1982. That includes back-to-back-to-back 17 win seasons in 1973, ’74 and ’75. = Six interludes. = Two postscripts. = A page of disclaimers. = Twenty two photos. = A campaign to get Gil Hodges into the Baseball Hall of Fame. = A litany of complaints about Don Zimmer. = A letter from the author at the end admitting this is the first book he’s ever done, and “had never even considered writing the biography of Bill Lee and to be entirely candid, I did not think I was worthy of the task. … I full intended to tell this story by simply, and there has been nothing ‘simple’ in Bill’s life … Putting words to paper, I had absolutely no agenda other than to describe the life of one of the most interesting human beings I have ever met.”
Right side up or upside down, it belies us to still believe in Bill Lee.
How it goes in the scorebook
A big bang of snot rockets delivered by whatever he’s calling his own Eephus pitch these days.
If it was done in any sort of conventional method, it would not ring authentic. If only we had found this earlier during pandemic lock-down reading, the time would have passed much more enjoyable.
And for some more comedy/tragedy, consider the range of reviews posted by verified purchasers at Amazon.com:
Five stars with the headline: “A Biography Like No Other and That’s Great”: “Since this entertaining and thought-provoking biography is unique in its format and content, I’m not sure that a traditional review would do this excellent look inside the life of the Bill “Spaceman” Lee any justice. You will laugh at times, ponder the joys of life at others. It’s actually more like sitting in a bar hearing anecdotes from the crazy yet insightful folks who have had contact with the Spaceman.”
Four stars with the headline: “Bill Lee Pulls No Punches”: “This is not a true biography of Bill Lee but a rehash of anecdotes from his somewhat star-checkered career … Bill gets his gripes off his chest.”
One star with the headline “The Worst Sports Biography Ever Written”: = “Scott Russell thinks he’s clever. In fact, he is self-indulgent, repetitious and boring. Repeating over and over again his characterizations of Bill Lee as a unique being in the universe, he makes what should be a few interesting anecdotes about Lee into a maddening incoherent 426-page book that believes itself and its subject endlessly fascinating merely by repeating assertions that they were. … Reading this is like wading through a swamp.”
And all, on some level, can be assessed as accurate.
More to cover
== One of our favorite signed books is Bill Lee’s “The Wrong Stuff” from 1984. Here’s what it looks like: The signature is upside down if it helps.
== The 2016 movie “Spaceman” based on the book never seemed to get any traction. A review in the Los Angeles Times called it a “ blandly pedestrian film (that) seldom delivers despite an engagingly game lead performance by Josh Duhamel.” The movie was written and directed by Brett Rapkin, who also did a documentary on Lee in 2006.
== The Warren Zevon song called “Bill Lee,” live in concert in 1980:
== Bill Lee’s SABR biography by Jim Prime starts: “Bill Lee was one of those rare ballplayers whose off-field persona overshadowed his significant on-field performance. In baseball parlance, Lee is known as a “flake,” a term that includes anyone who doesn’t give pat answers to pat questions or dares to admit to reading a book without pictures. He was an original in a sport that often frowns on any show of originality. In fairness, Lee would have been an eccentric in almost any field he chose to pursue, but in baseball he was considered positively certifiable.”
== The great David Zirin has somewhat of a star-struck talk with the “walking non-sequester/radical-conservative” about this book in a January, 2021 podcast for The Edge of Sports as posted on The Nation. Lee says in the interview that he’s reading the greatest baseball book ever, by Mike Shropshire, “Seasons in Hell” from 1996 about the early year of the Texas Rangers, which Esquire calls one of the 20 best baseball books of all time, in 2013. Lee also wanders through his library and talks about other books he’s read.
== By the way: To caption the very top photo of the post shows Lee in a Red Sox alumni game at Fenway Park in Boston on May 27, 2018. (Jessica Rinaldi / The Boston Globe via Getty Images).
== A list of certified Bill Lee quotes kept on file by Baseball Almanac that includes: “You have two hemispheres in your brain – a left and a right side. The left side controls the right side of your body and right controls the left half. It’s a fact. Therefore, left-handers are the only people in their right minds.”From Sports Illustrated (April 7, 1980)
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.
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:
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.
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.
= 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.
Katie Russell’s drive to visit all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums during the 2015 season wasn’t just a personal pursuit, but an emotional mission.
Maybe you’ve already come across the foundation of her story as told in People magazine, Parade Magazine, USA Today and the Huffington Post, and by ESPN, ABC News and Good Morning America. We’re drawn in by these person stories of love and honoring a parent. Links to all those stories are already on her official website. (The story is so good, she has an agent helping her on ways to tell it).
Yet Katie Russell Newland’s drive to get married during the year of COVID, that’s part of this trip as well, and it becomes part of the payoff to where this book — perhaps so small and unassuming that if you’re searing for it on the baseball shelves you’d likely overlook it — eventually takes us.
Newland’s diary entries to her late mother tell her own cancer recovery story, and gives stadium-based perspective on each of her stops. It finishes with throwing the first pitch at a Sept. 22 game at Wrigley Field before a game with the Cubs – the team she and her mom followed in the Garden District of New Orleans., via WGN.
The forward by Peyton Manning adds some context as well about how he knows the Russell family while growing up in New Orleans. Katie is the fifth of six kids from Anne, and was 32 years old when her mom died at 69, yet “too busy rushing through my daily life to pause and realize that the secret to understanding who I was could only be unlocked by knowing who she was.”
As she adds in the intro: “Yes, this book is about baseball. But it’s also a love story … of a mother and daughter and our passion for the Chicago Cubs, the perennial underdog.”
Chapter 4, she found Dodger Stadium, and “a palm tree welcomed me with a wave as a slight wind blew through its fronds.” Katie zeroed in on why the visiting team laid down an effective bunt.
“Bunting is a small act of belief,” Katie continues in the chapter labeled “BElieve.” “Ask any kid who dreams of playing baseball. At no point in her dream does she think, ‘And I stepped up to the plate and bunted.’ … Back at Dodger Stadium, I watched those players bunt and thought back to my decision to finally attempt our baseball dream and the small acts of belief it took to make our dream happen, Mom.”
(For the record, the Dodgers were playing Seattle that game, and the bunt was laid down, according to the official account, was likely placed by Mariners starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma in the fourth inning, moving the runner to second, and then having him score on the next hitter’s single).
She goes on to discuss what sparked her ballpark trip, inspired as well by an Oprah Winfrey show she attended in Houston, finding the power of stillness, and having that also help her pursuit of a doctoral degree amidst her own cancer treatment.
By Chapter 23, she circled back to Southern California and was at Angels Stadium on August 4 for a chapter that dissected why to “BE Grateful.” That Angels-Indians game went 12 innings before Giovanny Urshela’s two-run homer in the 12th gave Cleveland the eventual win. At one point, the Indians’ Carlos Carrasco had thrown a one-hit shutout through nine innings but had nothing to show for it. Katie’s focus ended up on watching Albert Pujols strike out in the fourth inning.
“(Strike outs) put you on a different path if you allow them. It’s the strikeouts that coach you to make a change. The best players learn from the outs and use them as a guide to hitting home runs.”
She was also thought she was reeling from food poisoning at that game, and it ended up being much worse.
And that’s as much as want to give away.
How it goes in the scorebook
Which is how she signed off on each chapter.
If you need an early Mother’s Day gift, and mom is a baseball fan, scoop it up.
Amazon.com currently lists it in its best sellers among those dealing with lymphatic cancer, baseball biographies and friendship books. How’s that for covering all the bases?
Our favorite corresponding endorsement is from the guy in the middle:
We asked Chris Mortensen if he’d heard about Katie’s story through his relationship with Peyton Manning. Mort replied:
And by the way, the Cubs, who ended their World Series drought a year after Katie’s ballpark trip, began the 2021 season today at Wrigley Field with a 5-3 loss to the Pirates.