Darryl Strawberry, on the verge of being released after failing to show up for Sunday's game, told Dodger officials Monday that he has a drug and alcohol problem and will enter a substance abuse treatment center today.
In an emotional meeting in Los Angeles, Strawberry asked the Dodgers for help in seeking treatment, and the Dodgers responded positively, said Bob Shapiro, Strawberry's attorney. Strawberry was placed on the disabled list on the eve of the 1994 season opener today at Dodger Stadium. His future with the team remains unclear.
"Darryl will not be playing opening day, he will be in a drug treatment center," Shapiro said. "He is taking this as seriously as anyone I have ever had. He has apologized to (Dodger executive vice president) Fred Claire and asked Fred to apologize to (Manager) Tommy Lasorda for disappointing the team, but he knows deep in his heart the stress was too much. He has not had the proper outlet for release and has relied on alcohol and drugs."
Strawberry's disclosure came as he was about to be released. The Dodgers have tired of his controversial distractions.
The latest incident came Sunday when Strawberry was missing for nearly 24 hours, skipping the team's afternoon game against the Angels at Anaheim Stadium that ended the exhibition season. Claire and some of Strawberry's teammates spent much of the day trying to find him. But when Claire located Strawberry about 8 p.m. Sunday night, he said Strawberry's excuse for his absence was unacceptable. What Strawberry told Claire is not known.
"I would say we were close to (releasing him)," Claire said.
He said that even with Strawberry's disclosure, the club could have released him. But after meeting with Shapiro, Strawberry and his wife, Charisse, Claire changed course.
"I guess the reaction was sadness and surprise," Claire said. "Darryl was very downcast. I mean, this wasn't an easy thing for him to acknowledge and say but frankly I was glad that he did. If that is the issue, then it has to be faced. I was glad that he stepped forward."
This is the second time in Strawberry's 11-year career that he has entered a treatment center, but Claire said he believes this is the first time for drug abuse. In February of 1990, as a member of the New York Mets, Strawberry was treated at the Smithers Center for alcohol abuse.
Shapiro said Strawberry was unavailable for comment because he was en route to an undisclosed treatment center. The specific nature of the problem also was not discussed.
Claire said Strawberry, 32, would continue to be paid barring "anything unforeseen." Strawberry signed a five-year, $20.3-million contract with the team before the 1991 season. The Dodgers owe him $8 million for the final two seasons.
Claire also said he would not speculate on whether Strawberry would play for the Dodgers again, saying only that he and team owner Peter O'Malley want to support the Dodger slugger.
"I don't want to prejudge all that," Claire said. "The future is uncertain, but as in the case with Steve Howe, we did give our support and we will be consistent in that."
Howe, a former Dodger left-handed relief pitcher, was suspended for substance abuse three times in his five seasons with the team before he was released in 1985.
For Strawberry, who spent most of the last two seasons sidelined with a back injury, it was a sudden end to what had appeared to be a promising season. His only productive season with the Dodgers was his first--1991--when he hit 28 home runs and had 99 runs batted in. Since then, he has played in only 75 games and hit a total of 10 home runs.
Strawberry's lower back started bothering him during the 1992 season, and in September, he had surgery for a herniated disk. He tried unsuccessfully to come back last season. By June, he was out for the season.
Meanwhile, Strawberry continued to have troubles off the field. Last September, he was arrested for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend, whom he has since married. The charge was later dropped.
After a season in which Strawberry was criticized for disregarding rules concerning his physical rehabilitation, Claire had enough, and started offering to trade his former superstar to other teams. At one point Claire put him on the waiver wire, making him available to any team for $20,000, plus his remaining contract. No team responded.
Most recently, Strawberry has been the target of an Internal Revenue Service probe of several baseball players for allegedly failing to report income tax from baseball card shows. Marty Gelfand, a Strawberry attorney, said the IRS has not taken any action.
This spring, Strawberry appeared to be strong both emotionally and physically. He was often the first one in the clubhouse in the morning and one of the last to leave.