When Darryl Strawberry was told he could be the black Ted Williams, the Mets rookie replied, “Who’s Ted Williams?”
How’s that to make you feel old.
This week in 1984 is of historical significance for Strawberry. It marks the anniversary of the first time his face was splashed across the cover of Sports Illustrated.
What’s Sports Illustrated?
Trust me, it’s still around – kind of. But that’s for another blog post on a slow news day.
Here’s a short, but revealing, excerpt from the story that sums up the expectations heaped on young baseball players, especially in New York:
“Ted Williams is an awful large order,” says former Met manager George Bamberger, “but if someone asked me, ‘Who coming up will be another Ted Williams?’, well, I’d have to say Darryl Strawberry. I’ve compared ballplayers to other ballplayers but never to Ted Williams. Fifteen years from now this kid will turn out to be one of the greatest ever to play the game.”
“If he continues to try to improve and he takes the game seriously, both offensively and defensively and as a base runner, within three years Darryl Strawberry can probably be as valuable a ballplayer as anybody in the game,” says Chicago Cubs manager Jim Frey, who, as the Mets’ batting coach in ’83, was Strawberry’s guru. “The whole question is his continued motivation and ambition and willingness to work.”
“If we miss on this young man, we all better look for a career change,” says Frank Howard, Strawberry’s manager last year after Bamberger resigned on June 3. “He can go as far in baseball as any man living.”
Strawberry sighs and rolls his eyes. He has heard it all—the Ted Williams talk and the sky’s-the-limit stuff—and he wants it to go away. “I don’t believe that,” he says. “I don’t want to get my mind confused with all that crap. That’s what I call it: crap. I just want to be myself. I just want to be me. To have fun and play baseball.”