Texas' trust issue with Josh Hamilton

Updated: February 5, 2012, 10:33 AM ET
By Buster Olney

Darryl Strawberry was always among the very first Yankees to arrive at the ballpark in his years with the team, often about six or seven hours before a night game. He'd pass a lot of that time quietly sitting in front of his locker, smoking cigarettes where he was allowed, chatting with anyone who passed by.

This was the front line of Strawberry's battle to stay sober. This was the most effective weapon he had found, some teammates thought, to avoid falling into situations when his sobriety would be jeopardized.

Strawberry, by 1998, was humble and circumspect, and he was among the most-liked players on that team. He could be funny in telling stories about the craziness of the Mets and laughing loudly, but mostly he was quiet, remaining in that small room for hours at a time. He essentially chose to incarcerate himself in the Yankees' clubhouse, inside the structure of a team -- the schedule built on flights, buses, batting practices, national anthems and first pitches.

He didn't want to be in his hotel room alone, nor did he want to be out and about in whatever town the Yankees were in; he wanted to be at the ballpark. Strawberry's repeated relapses always occurred when he was away from the team, during the offseason.

His production for the Yankees was impressive. Strawberry had 662 at-bats, 41 homers, 114 RBIs and 107 walks. But the baseball operations people who worked for George Steinbrenner never counted on Strawberry. While Strawberry had retained a lot of his hitting skills and was still a major threat, they understood that his sobriety was so tenuous that they never assumed he would be around. Before the '98 season opened, for example, the Yankees invested a two-year deal in Chili Davis to be their designated hitter. Bernie Williams and Paul O'Neill played center and right field, respectively, and for left field they had Tim Raines and Chad Curtis.

The Boss would add Strawberry to the structure that was already in place, partly as a luxury item, and partly because Steinbrenner had a soft spot in his heart for Strawberry. At first, I believe, Steinbrenner liked the idea of tweaking the Mets by helping to rehabilitate a former Mets star into a success. But over time I think the owner -- like a whole lot of people in the Yankees' organization -- developed a real affection for the slugger, forgiving him repeatedly for transgressions and bringing him back.

Strawberry was at the end of his career, not seemingly in the middle of it, as Josh Hamilton is. The Rangers' outfielder is 30 years old, and in the first five seasons of his career, he has an OPS-plus of 134. He sometimes frustrates the Texas staff with the inconsistent quality of his at-bats, and his tendency to chase pitches out of the strike zone.