Darryl Strawberry Needed to Stop Baseball at 19. This Duo Stopped Him.

by Christina S. Brown
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To today, 43 years later, Darryl Strawberry nonetheless has a nickname for his 1981 season with the Class A Lynchburg Mets.

“I name it,” Strawberry stated by telephone final week, “the suck season.”

The suck season was, on the time, essentially the most difficult of Strawberry’s life. It was the season he first confronted failure on the baseball diamond. It was the season he first heard racist slurs from the stands. It was the season he got here oh-so-close to quitting baseball and hanging up his jersey for good.

And so when Strawberry’s No. 18 is retired June 1 at Citi Area, it’s solely becoming that amongst his honored friends would be the two individuals who pushed him via the suck season: supervisor Gene Dusan and teammate Lloyd McClendon.

“All people seems to be on the success, however I have a look at the individuals who had an important influence on me,” Strawberry stated. “There’s no approach that I’d be standing on the sphere having my quantity retired had it not been for folks like them getting me via essentially the most difficult, tough instances at a younger age.”


The primary month of Strawberry’s first full season in professional ball had not gone effectively. Failing on the sphere for the primary time is tough sufficient for any participant. Strawberry had a number of additional spotlights on him.

The prior summer season, he had been the No. 1 pick of Crenshaw Excessive College in Los Angeles, the place his coach had referred to as him “the black Ted Williams” in Sports activities Illustrated. His signing bonus, whereas not a document, greater than doubled that of the earlier No. 1 decide.

And he was a black man enjoying in a southern metropolis in Virginia. So when he struggled on the sphere, he heard it from the Carolina League crowds. Residence video games, highway video games, any video games — Strawberry heard the worst of it.

“They have been calling me all type of names and saying damaging issues,” Strawberry stated. “You’re speaking concerning the deep south. I used to be like, ‘That is loopy.’ I grew up in Southern California and we by no means needed to expertise that rising up.”

“Hear, it was 1981. Society as an entire didn’t fairly embrace us — black people,” McClendon stated. “They used to go the hat for anyone who hit a house run. We hit dwelling runs and we obtained nothing.”

By early Could, Strawberry wished to take his bat into the stands, he stated. As an alternative, he took his bat dwelling.

“I simply checked out,” he stated. “I did go AWOL.”

“He left for a pair days,” Dusan stated. “It was regarding that he left. I felt like he’d be again. I knew he’d be again.”

Quite than chase Strawberry, Dusan gave him house. He didn’t even inform the higher-ups within the Mets entrance workplace.

“If I did that in the present day, they’d hearth me,” he chuckled. “Issues have been totally different within the early ’80s.”

Two days later, Strawberry returned to the park, thanks largely to his relationships with Dusan and McClendon. Strawberry and McClendon had bonded the 12 months earlier than in rookie ball in Kingsport, Tenn., after they roomed collectively and had one another’s backs throughout their first summer season within the South.

“I assume we needed to shield one another,” McClendon stated.


Lloyd McClendon, pictured in 2019 as a coach with the Tigers, was an essential determine in Darryl Strawberry’s early professional years. (Wealthy von Biberstein / Icon Sportswire by way of Related Press)

And McClendon hadn’t been there firstly of the ’81 season in Lynchburg due to a damaged hand he suffered in spring coaching. However when Strawberry left the staff, that rehab interval turned loads shorter for McClendon.

“Once I noticed him on the park, then I used to be completely happy,” Strawberry stated, “to see a face and somebody of coloration identical to me.”

Dusan made certain the 2 roomed collectively once more, despite the fact that McClendon had gotten married.

“It’s a must to deal with him,” McClendon remembered Dusan saying, “as a result of he’s not going to make it if you happen to don’t.”

“I don’t know if I used to be sufficiently old to be a mentor on the time,” stated McClendon, who was 22 that season, “however I used to be definitely a good friend and a voice he might discuss to. No matter little knowledge that I had I attempted to go alongside.”

And Dusan’s tough-love strategy as a supervisor was what Strawberry wanted at that time. The day Strawberry returned to the membership, Dusan didn’t precisely rejoice.

“I’m glad you’re again. I’m glad you’re wholesome,” he informed the participant. “We’ve obtained to go to work.”

From that day ahead, Dusan remembered, Strawberry turned one of the best participant he ever coached.

“He was there on daily basis for additional hitting,” Dusan stated. “As soon as he utilized himself, he was the person.”

There was a motive Strawberry was all the time there for additional hitting.

“Let me put it this manner: In an excellent approach, Gene was a ache within the ass to Darryl and I,” McClendon stated. “Once we have been on the highway, he would wake us up at 8 each morning and we had go to the ballpark. I assume he noticed one thing particular in each of us. He noticed it in Darryl, for certain.”

“Gene Dusan was like a father determine to me that I didn’t have. He embraced me to battle via some adversities early,” Strawberry stated. “I turned part of his household. It was simply very private to me.”

How a lot part of the household? Strawberry helped babysit Dusan’s kids.

“Geno stored me going, stored me centered on not wanting up there and interacting with the folks up there (within the stands),” Strawberry stated. “That actually helped me as a result of I actually didn’t need to play anymore, for a minute there.”

“He taught us a lot about not simply baseball however life generally and the way you go about your online business,” stated McClendon, who went on to handle greater than 1,100 major-league video games. “You rise up and dwell by your phrase and study to be a person of honor. It was fairly cool.”

For Strawberry, the suck season stays an essential a part of his story. That first expertise of adversity helped him via the various later difficult durations he endured, each self-inflicted and never. It was a studying second, he stated, one which got here up at any time when his kids wished to provide one thing up at a tough time.

In ’82, enjoying for Dusan in Double-A Jackson, Miss., Strawberry broke via with 34 homers, 45 stolen bases and an OPS over 1.000. Two years after the suck season, Strawberry was the Nationwide League’s Rookie of the 12 months.

“I made the fitting determination to battle via the adversities and begin believing,” Strawberry stated. “I’m endlessly grateful for that and for actual folks. These are actual folks. These aren’t those who sugarcoat every thing about you. However the those who confirmed me the right way to overcome.”

“It’s onerous to imagine,” Dusan stated about watching {the teenager} he managed have his quantity retired. “I respect how he feels about me. I’m pleased with him.”

(Picture of Darryl Strawberry batting for the Mets circa 1984: Deal with Sport / Getty Pictures)

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