His jersey retired, now he’s preaching the gospel
Darryl Strawberry and Mike Veeck are two of the most important people in the St. Paul Saints franchise history. Both men, along with Marv Goldklang, actor Bill Murray and Van Schley, were honored prior to last Saturday’s game at the Saints’ St. Paul ballpark.
Although he only played in 29 games for St. Paul in 1996, Strawberry hit .435, 18 homers and 39 RBI before signing with the New York Yankees, where he helped them win two World Series.
Strawberry’s number 17 becomes the first Black player in St. Paul history to have his jersey retired.“This ranks at the top,” Strawberry told the MSR last Friday at the ballpark. He admitted his initial hesitation to come to St. Paul. But once he agreed he never regretted it, recalled the retired ballplayer.
“They embraced us,” said the 6’6” Strawberry, who played 17 MLB seasons, of the Saints fans. “They treated my family with love and care. And we had never experienced that because of the challenges of my life that I was going through. Everywhere I was going, so many people were pointing fingers at the failure,” he said referring to his history of substance abuse.
“To be able to be a part of something like that, I had no idea that it existed in this country,” noted Strawberry. “It was a great experience. They made baseball fun.”
Strawberry reached the majors with the New York Mets in 1983, after he was drafted first overall in 1980. He won National League Rookie of the Year. The following season, he made the first of eight consecutive All-Star appearances, the first five as a starter. He was part of the Mets’ six-year run (1984-1990) in which they finished first or second in their division every year and won a world championship (1986).
Strawberry signed a $22.25 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers as a free agent in 1990. His first year in LA he hit 28 home runs and 99 RBI, but injuries and personal problems kept him out of action for much of the following two seasons. He amassed a grand total of five homers in each season.
Los Angeles released Strawberry in May 1994, after he was a no-show for a game. Later he signed with San Francisco but got limited playing time. After testing positive for drugs, Strawberry was suspended at the beginning of 1995, and later signed with the Yankees. But after that season he was out of baseball.
The Saints signed him in May 1996. After his nearly 30-game run, the Yankees brought Strawberry back in July 1996, and he helped the team win the 1996 and 1998 World Series.
After another positive drug test and battling colon cancer, Strawberry was suspended by MLB in 2000, and soon thereafter retired from baseball.
Mike Veeck is the son of the late White Sox owner Bill Veeck, who along with Marv Goldklang, Bill Murray and Van Schley brought the “no one believed in us” organization to St. Paul in 1993. They operated the team for over 30 years, and the Saints became one of the most successful and recognizable baseball teams in the country.
Veeck told the MSR, “Darryl rebuilt himself like the phoenix. Nobody walks away from a $20 million contract and lives to tell about it. And nobody walks away from addictions and lives to tell about it. He’s going to end up being remembered more for what he did as a person than what he does as a player, and that’s pretty remarkable.”
Now an evangelical, born-again Christian, Strawberry has a national ministry (FindingYourWay.com). “It’s a tremendous privilege and honor that God would think of me as someone that He will use…would bring from a mess to a message and become a masterpiece,” he told us. “I would never think that I would become a preacher of the gospel.”