COMMENTARY | From the moment he came up as a rookie in 1983, Darryl Strawberry had star written all over him.
He hit 26 home runs that year and won the National League Rookie of the Year Award. Over the course of his eight seasons with the New York Mets, Strawberry was one of the best hitters in baseball.
He followed up his rookie campaign with another 26 home run season in 1984, then hit 29 and 27 in 1985 and 1986 respectively. His best years were still ahead of him.
Strawberry hit 144 homers from 1987 through 1990. In five of the eight seasons he played for the Mets, he had 90 or more runs batted in.
Strawberry hit for power at a time when 25-plus home runs a season made you a power hitter. He had speed and a great arm in right field. Essentially, he was the perfect ballplayer.
His time with the Mets ended after the 1990 season when Strawberry signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was never the same. You could argue that the Mets were never the same either.
You see, the Mets never seemed to be able to replace Strawberry. They tried with Bobby Bonilla in 1992 and that ended up not working out the way they thought it would. Almost two decades later, the Mets signed slugger Jason Bay, who proceeded to spend three miserable seasons in New York. In 2013, the Mets start the season with one of the weakest outfields in baseball.
More than any other player who has ever played for the Mets, Strawberry would be a perfect fit on this year's team. They could really use him. Specifically, they could use the 1987, 1988, or 1990 version when he hit the cover off the ball. In those three years alone, he hit 115 home runs and drove in over 100 runs each year. Those are some of the best offensive seasons anyone has ever had.
In 2013, no Met is going to put up numbers even close to that. In fact, the Mets would sign up for Strawberry's worst season with the team, which came in 1989 when he hit .225. He still hit 29 home runs and had 77 RBIs. What Mets player is going to produce those numbers this year?
His presence in the lineup would fundamentally transform this team. Believe it or not, the Mets aren't that far away from competing. One thing they need, though, is a star outfielder. There was no bigger star than Strawberry. If you plug him into the lineup today, I think the Mets compete for the wild card.
If you think that's crazy, consider that the Mets lost 2-1 on Thursday because they couldn't hit. They were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and struck out 14 times. They had good scoring chances late, in the sixth and seventh innings, but couldn't capitalize. Maybe the result would have been the same on that particular day, but with Strawberry in the lineup I'm thinking things could have gone differently.
There's certainly no current Met who produces as much excitement in the ballpark as Strawberry did. When he came to the plate, you stopped whatever it was you were doing and you watched. You never knew when his next home run was going to come.
He was larger than life, and not just because he was 6-foot-6. No, Strawberry was larger than life because he was a game changer, a rare talent who was every bit the hero to Mets fans, personal flaws and all.
It's almost strange to say this considering he had his share of off-the-field problems, and because he ended up leaving the team in his prime, but Strawberry may never have been fully appreciated. He helped the Mets win the 1986 World Series and his numbers were some of the best in the game.
The knock on Strawberry's years with the Mets was that he could have done more. The 252 home runs and 733 RBIs weren't enough, I guess.
The Mets would sign up in a heartbeat for that type of production from an outfielder this season.
Charles Costello has followed the Mets closely since the rookie years of Darryl Strawberry (1983) and Dwight Gooden (1984). He was a beat reporter assigned to cover the Mets during the 1997 and 1998 seasons.
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