House of Straw: Baseball superstar turned cautionary tale Darryl Strawberry visits the Performing Arts Center at Brookdale Community College this evening, in an event keyed in to his book FINDING MY WAY.
(First published on Red Bank oRBit September 14, 2009)
His was a style to behold back in the day — the day being those brightly burning (but highly flammable) Mets teams of the 1980s. A basketball-tall stranger whose tremendous power at the plate was often camouflaged with a deceptively easygoing nonchalance — at times it was like he was simply guiding the ball into some faraway place it never knew it wanted to go. Seducing it into leaving the party, and not on the arm of the team it arrived with.
Next time New York saw Darryl Strawberry in home-team togs it was as a still-contributing (if not always sharply defined) member of Joe Torre’s dynastic Yankee teams of the late 1990s. By then Straw had been through about ten or twelve second chances — easy-to-empathize battles with cancer and chemo; tough-love tolerable struggles with booze and coke. Partying and prison stretches; tax evasion and solicitation; Betty Ford Clinic and Born Again Christianity. To say nothing of the stuff that’s still rather hard to forgive, like a pattern of violent behavior with the women in his life that resulted in breaking his wife’s nose, and threatening her with a gun.
Did we mention, though, that this was the Yankees organization of the late Boss era? An extended dysfunctional family that took in the likes of Doc Gooden and Jose Canseco, and put Series rings on their fingers when pretty much any other team would have considered them toxic assets? When a chastened Darryl Strawberry stood at the podium at the Canyon of Heroes victory parade, and broke down in tears thanking Joe and George for believing in him, well, hundreds of thousands of fans were still believing at that moment too.
These days Straw keeps busy making personal appearances, whether sport-circuit signings or fundraising endeavors for autism awareness nonprofit the Darryl Strawberry Foundation. Looking like one remarkably preserved Strawberry considering all that he’s been involved with, the man remains a personable and magnetic presence (so much so that it’s still easy to understand why so many fans never abandoned him), as well as almost unfailingly the tallest person in the room at any given time.
That height dynamic will be very much in effect tonight, when Straw joins former professional jockey Jacquie Dalton Fiorito on the stage of Brookdale Community College’s Performing Arts Center for a program that includes a live interview, audience Q&A and book signing event. As the founder of BookMark It! Events, Jacquie has brought a fairly amazing range of personalities to Monmouth County — from Pulitzer-lauded author Joyce Carol Oates and Hollywood legend Robert Wagner, to Animal Planet’s Joel Silverman and the Today Show’s Janice Lieberman. Tonight, she’ll welcome Strawberry in connection with Finding My Way, his memoir of recidivism, relapse, remission and redemption that was published earlier this year.
Like most other athletes turned rookie authors, Straw has secured the services of a credited collaborator — and, in John Strausbaugh, he’s shown something of a creative edge. A founding father of the New York Press in its edgier early days, Strausbaugh’s published volumes (including a history of recreational drug use in America) feature such titles as Rock ‘Til You Drop: The Decline From Rebellion to Nostalgia; plus Black Like You: Blackface, Whiteface, Insult & Imitation in American Popular Culture; and Sissy Nation: How America Became a Culture of Wimps & Stoopits. There’s a narrative in there somewhere, or at the very least a community college thesis.
Admission to tonight’s event, which is being taped for broadcast on Brookdale Public Television, is $28. It begins with a 6pm reception for event sponsors, VIPs and us media freeloaders, with books on sale in the building’s Black Box space from 6:30, and the program proper kicking off at 7pm. A gauntlet of hot dog and popcorn vendors will promote that take-me-out-to-the-ballgame vibe out front front of the building, but “out of respect for the guest,” there won’t be any beer to be found — just soft drinks on the outside and sparkling cider on the inside. Check the BookMarkIt website for registration and updated details on this and other future events.