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Strawberry forever grateful that Steinbrenner cared

Despite numerous personal problems, George Steinbrenner continued to

Despite numerous personal problems, George Steinbrenner continued to give Darryl Strawberry (above) opportunities to right his wrongs.

George Steinbrenner always was about giving people second chances.

Although there were times when his mercurial approach could be viewed as comical - hiring and firing Billy Martin as manager five times - The Boss believed in putting players back on track by putting them in pinstripes.

For Darryl Strawberry, 1995 and 1996 were all about getting his life back on track, and Steinbrenner was there to extend a hand when no one else would.

After Major League Baseball suspended Strawberry for 60 days on Feb. 6, 1995, for a positive test for cocaine, Steinbrenner still saw him as a potentially valuable piece to a burgeoning Yankees powerhouse. He signed him in June 1995, and Strawberry played 32 games for the Yankees that season, batting .276 with three home runs.

He made a much bigger contribution the next year after the Yankees bought his contract in July from the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League. Strawberry helped the Yankees win their first pennant in 18 years, hitting .417 with three homers and five RBIs against the Orioles in the ALCS.

"He was the only one who gave me an opportunity," Strawberry, 48, said by phone Thursday. "There were no others, it was just him. He came and got me and said I belong in New York and I was a New York icon.

"I had had troubles and he told me everybody had troubles and that's part of life. The main thing he told me is you don't quit and you never give up."

Strawberry said Steinbrenner was more of a friend to him than an owner and that he is eternally indebted to The Boss for giving him the chance to play meaningful baseball again.

"I always thanked him for the opportunity," said Strawberry, who saw Steinbrenner at Yankees fantasy camps after retiring in 1999. "I never went without thanking him for the opportunity to wear the Yankee pinstripes."

Though he lives in St. Louis and grew up in Los Angeles, Strawberry said that after his emergent years with the Mets and his resurgent years with the Yankees, he always will call New York his home.

Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Davey Johnson and Frank Cashen will be inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame on Sunday, Aug. 1, before the Mets host the Diamondbacks. Strawberry said it is the biggest honor of his career and that he is thrilled his legacy in New York continues to grow.

"I've always seen myself as a Met. The relationship I have with them is great,'' he said. "It's just home cooking, that's basically what it comes down to."

Strawberry said he often thinks about the Mets teams of the '80s, how much he loved the jeers of opposing fans and the uproarious embrace of the Shea Stadium crowds.

"Not only did we change their lives," Strawberry said of Mets fans, "but they changed our lives every night by coming to that ballpark and pulling for us. They changed our play. When you have a passion like the Mets fans in the '80s, we wanted to give them a show. I loved the fact that they were our fans. New York fans are unbelievable and it's important to win for them."

Although he was talking about the Mets, that last sentence sounded like something he learned from The Boss.

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