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Strawberry Sentenced to 18 Months in Prison

April 30, 2002|PAUL GUTIERREZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Darryl Strawberry--once the local kid who made good, winning World Series rings with the New York Mets and the Yankees--was sentenced to 18 months in prison Monday for violating probation.

Strawberry's athletic exploits at Crenshaw High were once the stuff from which legends were made. But those are nearly forgotten at his alma mater, replaced by a cautionary tale spun from his well-documented struggles with drugs and alcohol.

"You know that I think Darryl's a good boy," said Major Dennis, a family friend who took over as Crenshaw's baseball coach shortly after Strawberry was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1980 draft by the New York Mets. "I hate what's happening to him, but that's life. It could happen to anybody.

"Hopefully he can learn from this and so can these kids," Dennis said, motioning to his players as they took positions Monday on the same field where Strawberry played 22 years earlier.

In a Tampa, Fla., courtroom earlier Monday, Judge Ralph Steinberg sentenced Strawberry to 18 months in prison for violating the terms of his probation stemming from a 1999 conviction on drug and solicitation of prostitution charges.

Among the rules Strawberry broke while at an Ocala area drug treatment center, where he was initially sent in lieu of prison: smoking, having sex with another treatment center resident and trading baseballs for cigarettes.

Strawberry's lawyer, Darryl Rouson, sought to have Strawberry sent to another drug treatment center.

But Judge Florence Foster, who repeatedly chose treatment rather than prison for Strawberry, is on medical leave and is no longer presiding over his case. And Steinberg, a retired judge who returned to the bench to handle the matter, said prison was warranted since Strawberry violated probation in the case six times.

Addressing the court, Strawberry, 40, said he accepted the sentence.

"I would just like to get this behind me," said Strawberry, who had been incarcerated in the Hillsborough County Jail since March. "I would like to do my 18 months and move on. I don't want to have this over my head ... life is going in the right direction."

Assistant Hillsborough County State Attorney Darrell Dirks was pleased with Monday's outcome.

"He didn't like someone telling him what to do," Dirks told the judge. "At some point he should be punished for that."

Earlier, prosecutors had urged Foster to send Strawberry to prison after he violated house arrest at a different drug treatment center when he escaped and went on a cross-state drug binge.

Rouson, who claimed Strawberry has been clean for more than a year, said he expects Strawberry to serve fewer than 13 months once he receives credit for time already served.

Florida law states that inmates must serve a minimum of 85% of their sentence before being released.

Rouson said he expects the Department of Corrections to decide within 10 days where Strawberry will serve his sentence, though Rouson wants his client sent to Zephyrhills Correctional Institution near Tampa, which has programs for both drug-addicted and mentally ill inmates.

Crenshaw High basketball Coach Willie West, who coached Strawberry for two seasons on the court, was wistful when talking about his former player. He said he just wants Strawberry to get better.

"He said he wanted to get the thing over with so he could get on with his life," West said. "That would be the proper thing to do ... so he could get focused again and do positive things because he was a positive influence at one time. It's unfortunate that this had to happen to him."

Strawberry, a former Dodger and eight-time All-Star, won World Series rings with the Mets in 1986 and the New York Yankees in 1996 and 1999.

Besides his legal problems, he has been treated for stomach and colon cancer. Crenshaw senior third baseman Osvaldo Castro said he once looked up to Strawberry but was growing weary of Strawberry's legal woes.

"It kind of gives us a bad name because I feel that he should have done better for himself," Castro said. "It's like that talks about us [and is a reflection] because he came out of our high school. He has so much success and he was one of the best ballplayers. He should have taken better care of himself and he would have done better.

"I look at his mistakes, and I hope that I can learn from them."

West said he was surprised that Strawberry fell so far, so fast.

"I never thought it would ever get to this, to where he would suffer that way," West said. "But it goes to show you that if you don't manage your life right ... drugs and alcohol don't know color or creed. It doesn't make a difference. They'll get you.

"It hurts because he could have been the role model these kids need," he said, noting that none of today's Cougars were even born when Strawberry lorded over the 'Shaw and the oldest of them would have been just nine when Strawberry last wore a Dodger uniform.

"The kids don't know who Strawberry is other than just being a name, just another baseball player that screwed up," West said.

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