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Dodgers Root for Comeback, Even if It's Not With Them

May 26, 1994|CHRIS BAKER and GARY KLEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Stunned by the news two months ago that Darryl Strawberry had entered a clinic to treat a substance abuse problem, Dodger players were not surprised by Wednesday's announcement that the club had bought out his contract.

But the Dodgers, who are in first place in the National League West without Strawberry, maintained that his absence hasn't been a distraction.

"It was never hanging over our head this year at all," first baseman Eric Karros said. "We've just gone out and played and tried to put it behind us because the last two years we were counting on Darryl and things didn't work out. In 1992 and '93, the team was really built around (Strawberry), but this year he was a piece to the puzzle, he wasn't going to be the whole picture. The difference is this year one or two guys are not going to make or break this team.

"We weren't really counting on him this year. If he was going to be in the lineup, that was great. But if he didn't come through or if things didn't work out, we were going to have to go on this season. There were going to be 162 games this season with or without him."

Cory Snyder agreed.

"It was just a matter of time when they were going to do it; you just didn't know when it was going to happen," Snyder said. "Even though he's a great player and he'll always be a great player, there were other things he had to take care of.

"I don't think we were really worried about it because he hasn't been here all season. We're worried about winning, and he's worried about getting his life back together.

"It's hard to say whether it's good or bad for us mainly because you don't know whether he would have been (productive this season). I think the most important thing is for him to get his life in order."

Center fielder Brett Butler, Strawberry's closest friend on the team, said players have sensed that Strawberry wouldn't be a part of the team since spring training.

"Just by the reaction from management (when Strawberry missed an exhibition game in Florida) it's been a process to get to the end result," Butler said. "I believe everyone severed it in spring training. This is just finalization."

Catcher Mike Piazza was sorry to see Strawberry leave.

"Personally, I wish he was here," Piazza said. "I don't think he'd be a distraction. He'd be a benefit to any team."

Left fielder Henry Rodriguez, who might have lost his starting job if Strawberry had returned, said he hadn't been concerned about being replaced.

"I wasn't worried about him coming back this year," Rodriguez said. "I thought he might come back next year. We always talked about him, but when the game starts, you do what you have to do."

Relief pitcher Roger McDowell, who spent 4 1/2 seasons with Strawberry on the New York Mets before coming to the Dodgers, hopes Strawberry can revitalize his flagging career.

"We're happy that Darryl entered rehabilitation and is getting on with his life," McDowell said. "Probably the best advice I have for him is the advice he's been given: Live one day at a time."

Pitcher Jim Gott was relieved.

"It's good for the team not to be distracted," Gott said. "But he was a teammate of ours and a family member, so it's really tough. But like they say, this is a big business, so you have to deal with it, it's not the way it used to be.

"I applaud Darryl for taking care of this disease. We saw the steps he was making in spring training and we were so relieved. We said this is is not the troubled superstar, this is a full-on superstar."

Gott is confident that Strawberry, an eight-time All-Star, can come back.

"I saw what he did the last part of '91 and never in all the years that I've played have I seen anyone dominate a team like him. I said, 'This guy can carry the club.'

"I want him to come back in baseball and accept the responsibility of being a role model."

Second baseman Delino DeShields said: "I have no doubt that if he wants to play again, he'll play, because you can't keep a talent like that out of the game. I haven't spent as much time with him as other people, but I feel like I know him pretty well. I believe he was sad today."

Butler was more concerned with Strawberry's future than with his return to baseball.

"He's come by the house and I've talked to him on the phone," Butler said. "I'll miss him, he's my friend, but I'm more concerned about Darryl the person than I am about Darryl the player. And I just hope everything personally is in order, and if it is, he'll be playing somewhere next year.

"When I saw him, he looked great. It looked like he'd gained a few pounds. We've kept in contact. He knows how much I love him. I've been on his side ever since he played here."

Cub Manager Tom Trebelhorn wasn't surprised by the news.

"It's not surprising because he had a couple tough years," Trebelhorn said. "Strawberry was (plagued by) lack of production, injuries and personal difficulties. He's not been the player that the Dodgers wanted him to be or that he wanted to be. Sometimes one of those things is enough for a player to move on. Sometimes one (of those factors) does you in."

And it was enough to end Strawberry's four-year Dodger career.

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