There are a lot of interesting items one can collect when it comes to baseball. Sports collections are not just limited to cards; they can include autographs, uniforms, artwork, stadium dirt, and personal items with direct connections to players. Even legal documents can draw interest, such as the signed confession Babe Ruth’s father extracted from a bar employee with whom Ruth’s mother cheated. A unique legal item connected to Darryl Strawberry was auctioned in 2015, drawing bids from 31 parties and likely setting the record for most expensive Strawberry memorabilia to ever come to market. The item being sold? His paycheck.
The New York Mets have been one of the more enterprising teams when it comes to structuring player compensation. This is the team that famously celebrates Bobby Bonilla Day when they make annual million dollar payments to a guy who last suited up for the team in 1999. Bonilla’s contract is the most famous, but the Mets have a long history of crafting these deferred compensation agreements. Teammate Bret Saberhagen reached a similar (but less expensive) deal a year ahead of Bonilla, and Darryl Strawberry entered into such an agreement when he signed a contract extension in 1985. The roughly $7 million deal called for the team to make monthly payments for 30 years after Strawberry’s retirement.
Strawberry has a history of tax problems stretching back to his troubled times in the 1980s and a free-wheeling card show autograph circuit. Cash payments were often made to ballplayers in exchange for their appearances at these events with many not properly reporting this income on their annual tax reports. This issue caught up with many of the game’s larger names, including Strawberry as well as fellow New York legend Duke Snider. Strawberry served some time under house arrest, but was still seeing financial assets seized for tax debts ranging from 1989 to 2004.
Authorities found the deferred compensation agreement and took it. Rather than wait the remaining 18 years for the contract to fully pay out, the IRS announced it would auction the remaining cash flow stream. Whoever won the auction would end up receiving ~$1.9 million through 2033. The auction was held on January 20, 2015 and generated $1.3 million for the IRS.
Reggie Jackson proclaimed himself to be “the straw that stirs the drink” when he arrived in New York as a member of the Yankees. A few years later the cross-town rival New York Mets landed a player known simply as “The Straw.” But where should one begin with Darryl Strawberry? A cautionary tale of vice run amok? The return of Willie Mays to New York? The guy New York jeered because they thought he wasn’t Mays? How about a guy the media can’t set aside because he has a fun name?
First, one must understand that Strawberry dominated the National League of the 1980s. From his running away with the 1983 Rookie of the Year Award to near 1988 MVP he was arguably as good as NYC mainstays Mays and Mickey Mantle. Below appear Strawberry’s statistics for the decade alongside those of other greats. Today’s best player, Mike Trout, has been added to show the extent to which Strawberry led the way.
Strawberry’s totals include an abysmal 1989 showing in which he batted just .225. Mantle and Mays, on the other hand, finished 1st and 2nd in MVP voting for their respective final years of the comparison. Despite this, their major counting stats are essentially in line with Strawberry’s 1980s production. From the offensive metrics that mattered most in that era, he was on top of the game.
Of course, New York fans weren’t blind. Mays, Mantle, and even Trout today provide defensive boosts to their respective outfields. Strawberry was a defensive liability in most seasons, a fact that stands out in his wins above replacement (WAR) metrics. Other inputs weighed on this metric as well, but fans openly criticized this aspect of his game at the time.
|WAR (First 7 Seasons)
Regardless, Strawberry was one of the best players of the 1980s. Substance abuse and cancer wrecked the second half of his career. Things weren’t going well, and ESPN included Strawberry in its stable of ready to go obituaries should things quickly take a turn for the worse. While most media properties make it a practice to have such writeups ready to go at a moment’s notice, this task is usually completed with much discretion outside of the spotlight. The sports network accidentally published one of these drafts on its website in 2001. Now removed (but archived in the Way Back Machine), it was titled “Darryl Strawberry, 39, a fallen star.”
Since that time Strawberry has done as much as he can to outrun that obituary. He now engages in a series of promotional talks and motivational books and is involved in drug rehab efforts for others who traveled a similar path.