Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Does one New York baseball writer have a grudge against Darryl Strawberry?

Bergen Record columnist Bob Klapisch had a pretty interesting interview with Darryl Strawberry at Mets camp this weekend. Among other things, Straw said that Dwight Gooden and the 1986 Mets "would’ve destroyed" the 2009 Yankees in a head-to-head matchup. "We would’ve beaten them. They’re a great team, but we wouldn’t have been intimidated, "Strawberry said. "We could hit, we could pitch and we could definitely fight.”

Anyhow, Straw's comments gave the baseball blogosphere something to squawk about (more on that in a sec.)  But it's what Klapisch also included in the article that might be even more telling.

Baseball blogger Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports' Hardball Talk is attending spring training as a reporter for the first time. And he heard something intriguing in the press box the other day:
As I uploaded pictures and surfed the web, I listened to the New York media chatter. Two guys were discussing Bob Klapisch's piece about Darryl Strawberry from Saturday. They were convinced that Klapisch included all the bits about Strawberry smoking and his gut and everything as a way of getting back for some dismissive things Straw said to Klapisch during their interview. "Bob's just killing Darryl," one of the guys said as he read, "he must have been pissed off."
Interesting observations. Klapisch starts out the article this way:
Darryl Strawberry is headed toward the clubhouse door, an unlit Newport jammed between his fingers.
“Gotta get my exercise,” the big man says. “This is my workout right here, smoking.”

Strawberry delivers this public-service announcement without apologies or PC embarrassment. He’s a cancer survivor, a recovering addict, not to mention one of the fittest, strongest players of his era. Darryl should be an anti-nicotine zealot but that doesn’t stop him from lighting up and filling the air with those lazy blue curls.
Hollywood has learned that the quickest way to emphasize that somebody is a bad guy is to show them with a cigarette in his mouth. Is this sportswriter trying to do the same thing, with his repeated reference to Strawberry's smoking? I wonder, given the way Klapisch goes on and on about the smoking. Shocker - an ex-ballplayer uses tobacco! Next thing you'll tell me that baseball players like to chew tobacco during games.

Klapisch also repeatedly talks about Strawberry being out of shape, with frequent references to his "paunch." What, an ex-athlete in his 40s isn't in the same physical condition that he was in during his prime? Stop the presses! Guess Klapisch hasn't paid much attention to what old ballplayers look like during Old Timers' Day.

I also wonder if Klapisch really understands Strawberry's mindset. The ballplayer is somebody who battled cancer - twice - before he was 40 years old, and who battled drug and alcohol addictions that short-circuited his career. My guess is, like many recovering addicts, Strawberry smokes as the lesser of two - make that three - evils. And given his health history, the fear of, say, cancer isn't going to scare him into quitting smoking the way it might other people.

Besides, quitting tobacco is hard, hard stuff, as I know from personal experience, and as anybody who's had a dying relative who persisted in smoking can attest to. Heck, our president still hasn't managed to give up tobacco!

Given how much the odds have been against Strawberry from Day 1 - growing up in poverty with an abusive father, a story he tells in his book, Straw: Finding My Way (a very good book, by the way - I'm reading it now), the star's mindset doesn't surprise me. More from Strawberry in the article:
“The way I look at it is, without my past, I don’t have the platform I have today helping people,” he said. “I always hear things like, ‘it could’ve been different for you, Straw.’ But how could it have been different? I came from a dysfunctional [household], my father beat the crap out of me every day and told me I would never amount to anything. There was no love from my father and I struggled my whole life because of that.”
Klapisch did elicit some other interesting quotes from Strawberry's about the '86 Mets, but he would have served the player - and the readers - better if he had stuck to running those quotes, and skipped the health editorializing.

As for Straw's '86 Mets vs. '09 Yankees comparison, Kevin Kaduk of Big League Stew ran the numbers, courtesy of WhatIfSports. The result - the Yankees would win in a head-to-head matchup. Squawker Jon will not be happy to hear that!

What do you think? Tell us about it!

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