Just when everybody thought baseball couldn't possibly do anything further to embarrass itself and alienate its would-be fans, George Steinbrenner decided to bring Darryl Strawberry back into the game.
Everybody deserves a second chance in life, and proven home-run hitters get a lot more second chances than the rest of us, but Strawberry has broken enough laws and rules to get an entire lineup banned from the game. He has a lengthy history of cocaine abuse, alcohol abuse, spouse abuse and various other forms of abuse. He is under house arrest after pleading guilty to federal tax-evasion charges that would have landed a less famous person in jail. And he has shown that he can be offensive even when he isn't breaking the law, as when he broadcast this response to the 1993 wildfires that destroyed much of the Southern California landscape: "Let it burn. I don't live there anymore."
None of that mattered to Steinbrenner, whose New York Yankees are big disappointments on the field and at the gate. Instead, Steinbrenner seems concerned only with luring gullible fans to Yankee Stadium and getting his own name back on the back pages of New York City's tabloids.
Of course, Steinbrenner claims to have purer motives. Talking to a group of editorial writers in Tampa last weekend, he made the dubious argument that Strawberry and fellow Yankee Steve Howe (a seven-time violator of baseball's extraordinarily lenient drug policies) can actually be better role models than players whose conduct has always been exemplary. After all, Steinbrenner claimed, Strawberry and Howe can give youngsters a first-hand lesson in the dangers of drug abuse.
Thanks to Steinbrenner, they certainly can give youngsters a lesson in the ways talent, fame and money can help some people get away with irresponsible behavior. Steinbrenner's rationalization is an insult to those ballplayers, such as the Yankees' own Don Mattingly, whose spotless careers make them far better role models than Strawberry or Howe could ever be.
In fact, as baseball role models go, Strawberry ranks somewhere below the Cincinnati Reds' mascot, Schottzie the St. Bernard. Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda was the last person before Steinbrenner to claim to be able to rehabilitate Strawberry, but he gave up after a few weeks of close observation. When a radio-show caller referred to Strawberry as a dog, Lasorda disagreed. "You're wrong," he said. "Darryl Strawberry is not a dog. A dog is loyal and runs hard after balls."
We'll see if Strawberry rewards the Yankees with more loyalty and hustle than he gave the last suckers who gave him an extra chance he didn't deserve.