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Life in Fishbowl Has Him Battling to Keep His Head Above Water

April 04, 1993|MARYANN HUDSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Everything Darryl Strawberry does, and much of what he says, seems to make headlines. Sometimes the headlines are accurate. Other times, they are exploitative.

At 31, Strawberry has lived the last decade under public scrutiny. He's used to his every move being examined under a microscope, to getting all of the attention most of the time.

He has learned the hard way how vulnerable he is, with most of the tough lessons coming when he played for the New York Mets. But lessons are still being learned.

This winter, Strawberry said he suffered his worst heartache when he had to leave his two children, Diamond, 4, and Darryl Jr. (D.J.), 7, after he and his wife, Lisa, filed for divorce.

The 10-year marriage was plagued by problems and separations. Strawberry said it might have been different if he hadn't begun his career in New York at 22 and played there for eight years. He said he might be different. Surely, he thinks his image would be.

But this time, when Strawberry and his wife split, he realized that his children were old enough to know what was happening, and they didn't understand. Much as Strawberry didn't understand when his father, Henry, left him and his mother, two brothers and two sisters in a green stucco bungalow on Seventh Avenue in South Central Los Angeles many years ago. Strawberry was 13 then, and it wasn't until he was 28 before he could really understand.

"When you are in a situation that is no good, the only thing it will do is to continue to destroy you," Strawberry said. "I think that is really what was happening to me. It made me have bad habits and do things I shouldn't have been doing.

"But when you have to walk away from our children and your daughter is asking, 'Why is daddy leaving home?' . . . My daughter was really confused and was having trouble in school. And she would go to school and tell her teacher, 'My daddy left me.'

"It was hard, but if it's not going to work, you have to move on. They are real happy kids today . . . they see that Daddy is happy. They live close to me in the (San Fernando) Valley."

As D.J. got older, Strawberry began to realize how difficult it is to live in a fishbowl. He wants the details of the divorce--which won't be final until May--sealed and kept from public record. The divorce is not going as well as he wanted; he had hoped to have it behind him before the season starts Monday in Miami.

"We all have weaknesses," Strawberry said. "It's just unfortunate someone has to be in the middle of the media all the time. But personal things happen and those things are something a lot of players have to go through, but it never gets to be a headline story because of the name. My name is big enough, it hits the headline stories."

At times, Strawberry, perhaps unknowingly, brings notoriety on himself. After signing with the Dodgers in 1990, he became a Christian and announced his conversion. Brett Butler went to Strawberry afterward and told him he shouldn't have made it public.

"I told him he had left himself open for scrutiny, to be put under a microscope and live up to what he was talking about," Butler said. "I told him if he didn't say anything and people saw a difference, then he would have the opportunity to share it. The other way, you leave yourself open for ridicule."

This spring, Strawberry made headlines again when he talked about how his personal problems had contributed as much to his poor 1992 season as the herniated disk for which he had surgery in September. He said he had fathered a child out of wedlock last year in California, the second such child he has claimed and said he will support. The terms of the financial support are still in the hands of lawyers. The attorney for the child's mother does not want to be identified and declined comment.

This latest incident, though, left Strawberry sounding callous.

"You really don't know what other people's intentions are," he said. "I look at it that most people look at dollars and really don't get to know a person. All they think of is that you make a lot of money, and that could be a way to help their life out. I think it's real sad that young ladies put themselves in those situations and things happen, because it's not like they are going to have a part of my life.

"And it's unfortunate if there is a kid involved . . . it's not like the kid is going to have a part of my life. Because my life is with my two children that I was with in the marriage, because that's all I am ever certain about."

These experiences have helped Strawberry build a wall around himself. Butler said he has tried to be friends with him for two years, but Strawberry will only let him so close.

"Darryl is very sensitive, but very callused because of his years in New York and all the pummeling that he took there," Butler said. "He is vulnerable at times, but he has a big heart and he cares what people think about him, just like everybody . . . he's no exception."

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