This story was originally published in Newsday on November 9, 1990
Whenever the turning point of a game went against the Mets last season, manager Bud Harrelson would say, "That's when the wheels fell off." And, when Darryl Strawberry defected to a club a continent away from Shea Stadium, the Mets dropped their transmission.
The most productive and feared offensive player the Mets have ever developed is under contract with another club today because he believed the Mets didn't fully appreciate his talent and his contributions of the last eight seasons. "The Mets just let me walk away," he said. Now the affiliation that follows the name Darryl Strawberry is Los Angeles Dodgers. And now the Mets are diminished and in need of repair.
The player who, the Mets often thought, failed to fulfill his promise made good on his promise to leave and play for his hometown team. In doing so, he took with him a potential to produce offense, excitement and controversy that few players in any sport can match. And at the same time, he made himself the second-highest-paid baseball player ever, signing a contract that guarantees him $ 20.25 million over the next five years, about $ 850,000 less than Nelson Doubleday and his associates paid to buy the Mets nearly 11 years ago.
By accepting the contract that ranks behind only the five-year, $ 23.5-million contract of the Athletics' Jose Canseco, Strawberry created an enormous void in the Mets' offense, made the Mets far less intimidating, reduced the wide appeal they have had the last seven years and opened their administrators to second-guessing, criticism and ridicule.
He also surprised and hurt several teammates who had expected and hoped he would re-sign with the only baseball employer he had known.
"We can't fool ourselves," Dwight Gooden said yesterday morning from his home in St. Petersburg. "It's going to be hard to win without him. We're not intimidating without Darryl. We're not the same team without him. We can't be picked to finish first anymore. Nobody's going to be scared of us anymore.
"I can't believe he's gone."
Mets general manager Frank Cashen, ultimately responsible for the organization's strategy in the Strawberry pursuit, said, "I don't say that you can replace that kind of talent overnight, but I think we have enough resources to win without Darryl.
"I think we have a chance to even be a better team and organization within a couple of years than if we were with him."
The Dodgers offered a contrast. "When they called me at 2:30 [a.m.] at Vero Beach and gave me the news, I couldn't sleep the rest of the night," Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda said yesterday in a conference call. "I'm so excited about getting this man. I remember the excitement when the [Los Angeles] Kings signed Wayne Gretzky. The same thing applies here."
The Dodgers said they intend to use Strawberry in centerfield.
After agreeing to terms late Wednesday night in Los Angeles, Strawberry said yesterday he was shocked and insulted by the Mets' offer to him - $ 15.5 million for four years - and their apparent indifference toward retaining him. He confided in friends that he would have re-signed with the Mets if the club had shown greater interest since he filed for free agency.
Strawberry's sincere feelings may never be known. Even yesterday, as he spoke of his decision, he vacillated as he had for years when discussing his future.
At a news conference at Dodger Stadium, Strawberry indicated he would have signed with the Dodgers if the Mets' and Dodgers' offers had been identical.
And in a morning conversation with a friend, who is also a player agent, he said, according to the friend, "[The Mets] never acted like I was a franchise player except when they need me to hit one out." However, he also told the friend he would have preferred to play in New York. And the friend said, "You've never seen a guy so unhappy about making $ 20 million. All he wanted was for them to want him."
In a radio interview later yesterday, Strawberry said, "It's very sad it had to come to this point. The Mets were the only organization I wanted to play for."
Strawberry, who led the Mets in home runs (37) and RBI (108) last year, said he lamented leaving his baseball roots and that New York was the only place for a player to establish himself. But in his contract, he included the Mets and Yankees among the 12 clubs to which he would not accept a trade.
Strawberry spoke less of the contract offer, as it applied to the Mets, than he did of the feelings he had for the organization. "I don't think the New York Mets' front office appreciated me the last seven years," he said. "The relationship . . . it just wasn't there with the front office."
Strawberry said he was particularly upset by remarks made by Cashen in a television interview in August in which Cashen characterized Strawberry's typical production as a .260 batting average, 30 home runs and 90 RBI.
Cashen also said no player was worth the money the A's had given Canseco.
In August, Strawberry said he was insulted. Yesterday, he said the remarks undermined him. "It was the timing," he said. "Hearing the negative side of what I wasn't doing and what I wasn't worth while I was trying to help us win . . . it's not good."
Cashen said he did not feel responsible for Strawberry's leaving, although he did say it was his decision not to offer Strawberry a fifth year, which was a critical factor in the negotiations with the Dodgers.
Nelson Doubleday and co-owner Fred Wilpon were overseas and could not be reached for comment.
Strawberry also was hurt by what appeared to be indifference on the part of the Mets in negotiations. Strawberry filed for free agency Oct. 22. The Mets were the only club authorized to discuss financial terms until last Monday. They contacted his agent, Eric Goldschmidt, on Oct. 22 to establish "ground rules." The next contact was made last Sunday. The Mets made their only offer the following day.
"When we didn't hear from them, it showed me I might not be part of the organization anymore," Strawberry said. "Here I was, a player who had been with you 7 1/2 years, and you don't come to me with an offer. They really didn't give a choice."
Strawberry said when the Mets presented their offer to Goldschmidt, they said their proposed contract would put him a level above Will Clark and former Met Kevin Mitchell, each of whom had signed four-year, $ 15-million contracts in the last year, making them the highest-paid players in the National League. The Mets also said they made an exception for Strawberry by offering him a four-year contract rather than a three.
According to Strawberry, the Mets made an offer in July of $ 9 million for three years. Harazin said last night that Goldschmidt countered with a proposal of $ 21 million for five years. The talks ended. The Mets made no other offer until Monday.
Once the Dodgers made their offer Tuesday, Strawberry said, he felt no compulsion to talk with the Mets again. "I didn't want to waste any time," he said. "I'm here in L.A. That's where I want to be. I listened to the Mets and didn't feel we could accomplish anything. My first choice was to be back home.
"My life is headed in the right direction now, and my career is on the uprise. I don't feel any expectations. Darryl Strawberry had to be happy. I'll be happy banging on that ball."
$ Darryl's Dollars
Here is a breakdown of what Darryl Strawberry received in his new contract with the Dodgers and a look back at his earnings with the Mets:
Total Worth $ 20.25 million
Signing Bonus $ 1.5 million
YEAR BY YEAR
1991 $ 3.5 million
1992 $ 3.75 million
1993 $ 3.5 million
1994 $ 3 million
1995 $ 5 million
Contract contains a limited no-trade provision.
Here are the annual earnings for Strawberry during his eight seasons with the Mets. His contracts for 1985-89 include a prorated share of his signing bonus plus any incentive clauses he fulfilled, such as All-Star and postseason awards. His 1990 contract includes his All-Star bonus but does not include his MVP bonus, which will be determined later this month ($ 100,000 for first, $ 50,000 for second, $ 25,000 for third).
1983 $ 31,395
1984 $ 220,000
1985 $ 545,000
1986 $ 945,000
1987 $ 1.245 million
1988 $ 1.395 million
1989 $ 1.445 million
1990 $ 1.825 million