Why Mets fans should like The Boss

NEW YORK -- If you're a New York Mets fan, the passing of George Steinbrenner probably didn't move the needle for you.

Unless, of course, you're honest with yourself.

For most Mets fans, Steinbrenner was the enemy and the owner of the crosstown rival, the team you hated the most.

After all, Steinbrenner wanted nothing more than to keep the Mets down. Even in the late '80s when the Mets, indeed, owned New York, The Boss tried everything he could to take over the back pages.

Worse, in the 2000 Subway Series, Steinbrenner's New York Yankees stomped the Mets in five games. There was nothing tougher to swallow than that.

Yet, if you are a true Mets fan, you should have a soft spot in your heart for Steinbrenner, who died Tuesday at the age of 80.

Steinbrenner grew to love three of the most popular Mets. Admit it, it was impossible not to watch the Yankees and feel good seeing Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden and David Cone all wearing pinstripes.

Sure, it was sad that they were no longer based out of the Queens. But it was Steinbrenner who gave them all a chance to come back to the Big Apple and play where they belonged.

And while you still might not have rooted for the Yankees, it was hard not to pull for those players to have success in The Bronx, especially Doc and Darryl.

In the case of those two former Mets stars -- both of whom put that franchise back on the championship map -- it was their last chances in the big leagues. Sadly, at the point when Steinbrenner welcomed them in, both were known more of their failures off the field than their play on it.

After a suspension from baseball at the beginning of 1995 due to his involvement with cocaine, Strawberry was given an opportunity to join the Yankees for the stretch run. In 1996, he signed up again with the team on July 4, Steinbrenner's birthday.

Straw wasn't just on the team; he contributed big-time in the postseason. In four games against the Baltimore Orioles in the ALCS, Strawberry batted .417 with three home runs and five RBIs in four games.

It had to be sweet because Strawberry, Gooden and Cone were all on that team that went on to beat the Atlanta Braves in the '96 World Series.

"We had a very personal relationship. Sometimes that's what people don't understand about him," Strawberry told ESPN after Steinbrenner's death. "He has had a huge impact on me. The thing that I learned from him more than anything is to never quit."

Straw, who won three championships with the Bronx Bombers, added, "I will always be grateful for him for the opportunities to be part of the Yankees family."

Gooden could say the same exact thing.

At 29 years old in 1994, Gooden tested positive for cocaine and was suspended from baseball. While serving his suspension, he tested positive again and was suspended for the entire 1995 season. The day after receiving the second punishment, Gooden's wife found him in his bedroom with a loaded gun pointed at his head.

No one was sure if Gooden would ever appear on a major league mound again. But Steinbrenner came to the rescue and signed Gooden as a free agent in 1996.

After not pitching well early on, Gooden entered Yankees history when he pitched a no-hitter against the Seattle Mariners on May 14. It warmed your heart to see Gooden both clean and productive; he finished 1996 with an 11-7 record, his first winning season since '91. Gooden left the Yankees in 1998 but returned as a mop-up reliever in 2000. He didn't, however, pitch in the Subway Series against the Mets.

Gooden, who won two championships with the Yanks, told people on Tuesday that Steinbrenner gave him a chance when most people had turned their backs on him.

Cone was involved in a few minor scandals with the Mets as well, but Steinbrenner traded for the right-hander in 1995. Coney, who pitched a perfect game against the Montreal Expos in 1999, helped the Yankees win four World Series in five years.

We would never have been able to see Cone, Strawberry and Gooden finish their careers in New York and in style, had it not been for Steinbrenner.

Go ahead, Mets fans, just say it: Thanks, George.

Rob Parker is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com.

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