'I will always be a Met': Strawberry's No. 18 retired

June 1st, 2024

NEW YORK -- Former Major Leaguer had an unforgettable day on Saturday afternoon. The Mets retired his uniform number (No. 18) before they played the D-backs.

It felt like 1986 all over again. The fans were screaming, “Darryl, Darryl, Darryl” when he spoke and when the number was displayed in Citi Field.

Strawberry became the 10th player -- Willie Mays, Keith Hernandez, Jerry Koosman, Mike Piazza, Jackie Robinson, Tom Seaver, Gil Hodges, Casey Stengel and Dwight Gooden are the others -- to have his number retired by the Mets.

Strawberry spent eight years with the Mets, helping them win two division titles, one pennant and one World Series title, while earning seven All-Star nods, two Silver Slugger Awards and the 1983 National League Rookie of the Year Award. He remains the franchise leader with 252 career home runs. Strawberry left the Mets after the 1990 season, signing with the Dodgers as a free agent.

“My eight seasons in New York were the greatest of my career, and I will always be a Met,” Strawberry said. “No matter how anybody wants to look at it, how anybody wants to chop it up, I’m a Met. I’m homegrown from the organization, and I’m proud of it.”

Surrounded by family and many of his former teammates such as Gooden, Mookie Wilson and Kevin Mitchell, Strawberry jokingly said that he was having his last press conference. If it was, he let his feelings about his years with the Mets be heard.

Strawberry said he was able to thrive in New York because he loved the atmosphere and the fans pushed him to prove himself. He said you have to have a little toughness and a little craziness to play in a town like New York.

“That was important to me. I know failures are going to be part of it, but you have to fail to be successful,” Strawberry said. “People used to ask me, ‘What was it like?’ Well, [the fans] are going to boo you. That’s part of it, and that’s a good thing. They are not booing you because you are good. They are booing you because you suck right now and you could be better. …

“I remember those days when I went through hard times and I struggled, they booed. … The fans were great. Also they were tough, and they allowed me to have tough skin and be able to get through all of that.”

For Strawberry, Saturday was a day to be thankful. He thanked his wife, Tracy, who has helped him through the process of life. But he made sure to point out that Gary Carter and Wilson were teammates he looked up to the most.

“[They] are special to me, not only for their playing days,” Strawberry said. “… They were a great example of what a man should look like, what a man should be. I learned that from those two. I wanted to be what they were, not just a guy playing baseball and putting a uniform on.

“I wanted to be that kind of man. I just didn’t have the guts to do what they were doing at the time they were doing it. It means a lot to me, because they were drinking milk and I was drinking alcohol. They set the bar high and they allowed me to realize that you can do that in life. Be the man that you need to be.”

It was Carter who told Strawberry that his post-baseball life would be different. It’s not a secret that Strawberry had problems with drugs and alcohol during his playing days. Carter, who passed away in 2012, told him, “God was going to use you mightily.” Strawberry thought Carter was crazy. But today, Strawberry has been a traveling minister for more than a decade.

“[Carter] said, ‘I see the heart of the person that you are and I know it’s going to happen in your life,’” Strawberry said. “And it did, and he was right.”

Strawberry said he is still recovering from the heart attack he suffered this past March. According to Strawberry, the doctors believe his heart problems occurred five days earlier. His heart rate was at 40 percent when he entered St. Joseph Hospital West in Lake St. Louis in Missouri.

Strawberry said he is alive today because his wife, Tracy, insisted that he needed to go to the emergency room after suffering chest pains. After he arrived at the hospital, the medical staff used a stent to restore his heart to regular function. Strawberry was released two days later.

“I came close to losing my life,” he said. “But I’m sitting here today because it’s a gift from the Lord, and I don’t take it for granted. I came very close. I almost [died]. But I’m here. I’m grateful. I’m here to celebrate.”