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1996 Yankees 20th Anniversary Retrospective: Darryl Strawberry

In a platoon role, the once-great Met had some great moments in '96.

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Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Background

It's safe to say that Darryl Strawberry was one of the greatest draft prospects of all time. In one of my favorite baseball books--Dollar Sign on the Muscle--Kevin Kerrane narrates the buzz around Strawberry's entry into the draft, and scouts were absolutely enamored. If you take a look at the scouting report featured in the book, it has all the language that prospect-lovers dream about. In the "strong points" category, the scout stated, "Just might be that super star of the very near future... hard to visualize what he will become." And under "weaknesses," he simply said, "No weaknesses now."

Strawberry was selected first overall in the 1980 draft by the New York Mets, and the club, in the midst of a rebuild, gambled that he would be at the center of their future World Series winner. They were pretty much right. From 1983 to 1990--his final season with the Mets--he hit a whopping .263/.359/.516 (144 OPS+) with 280 home runs and 36.5 rWAR. If you take a peek at the players who performed similarly over that span--Robin Yount, Mike Schmidt, Cal Ripken--many of them went on to the Hall of Fame. By his age 29 season, and with a World Series championship under his belt from 1986, it looked like Cooperstown was well within sight.

But once he signed his blockbuster deal with the Dodgers in 1990, a contract to the tune of $22.25 million over five years, things started to go down hill. Because of his alcoholism and cocaine addiction, his body started to show the wear of his disease, and he averaged just 71 games per season from 1991 to 1993, before being released by the Dodgers after that year. He did have a respectable 121 OPS+ in that time, but his lack of playing time, coupled with his addiction, was not it worth it for the amount the Dodgers paying him. He was signed by the Giants in 1994, and was then released after the season; he played just 29 games. He was handed a suspension by Major League Baseball for his cocaine addiction, and he would later sign with the Yankees that season, putting up a nice stretch of 32 games. He signed with the Saint Paul Saints to start the 1996 season so he could rehab, and George Steinbrenner decided to give him another shot later that year.

1996 Performance

Results: 63 G, .262/.359/.490 (112 OPS+), 11 HR, 0.4 rWAR

As far as smaller signings go, Strawberry was a relative success. The Yankees signed him for just $300,000, and he gave them some nice numbers for a platoon hitter, and some key moments down the stretch. In his 175 plate appearances against right-handed pitching, he had .861 OPS.

One cool moment came on August 6th, when he hit three home runs against the White Sox:

Another came during game five of the ALCS, when he went back-to-back with Cecil Fielder:

In that ALCS he would hit three home runs in just 14 plate appearances.

What did he do after?

After 1996 he would finish his career with the Yankees, playing 136 games from 1997 to 1999. He wouldn't accumulate too much value, but his rate stats were in fact very good: 3.1 WAR per 650 plate appearances, and a 129 OPS+.

He wouldn't end up as the inner circle Hall of Famer many thought he would be, but for the Yankees, they got a nice role player who could recapture some of his former glory in short bursts. But more importantly, he found his road to recovery, and he ended his career on a somewhat positive note.