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Strawberry Flunked Drug Test

February 23, 2000

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ New York Yankees outfielder Darryl Strawberry tested positive for cocaine on Jan. 19 and might once again be suspended from baseball.

A high-ranking baseball official, speaking on the condition he not be identified, said Tuesday the commissioner’s office is investigating and a decision whether to take disciplinary action likely would be made by Thursday at the latest.

Strawberry is tested two or three times a week as part of his no-contest plea on May 26, 1999, to charges of cocaine possession and soliciting a prostitute. He was sentenced to 18 months of probation and 100 hours of community service.

The official did not say what disciplinary action the sport was likely to take against Strawberry. But given his past penalties, a suspension that would last most if not all of this season appears likely. Rich Levin, the spokesman for commissioner Bud Selig, declined comment.

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and general manager Brian Cashman also declined comment on the news, first reported by WTVT in Tampa and WLWT in Cincinnati. WLWT obtained the three-page report on the probation violation from the Florida Department of Corrections and made it available to The Associated Press.

The eight-time All-Star, who came back from colon cancer surgery in October 1998, was counted on the Yankees to be their primary designated hitter this season following the retirement of Chili Davis.

On Tuesday, Yankees manager Joe Torre gave a hint that something may have been up.

``I have a sense something will happen here that will stir the pot,″ Torre said.

Strawberry, who has been working out at the Yankees complex, could not be contacted after positive test became known. He lives a gated community, Cheval, just north of Tampa in the suburb of Lutz.

He already has served two drug-related suspensions.

The first, for 60 days, was in 1995 after he tested positive for cocaine. The second, from April 24 to Aug. 4 last season, came after he was arrested in Tampa last April 4 for possessing 0.3 grams of cocaine.

Strawberry, who turns 38 next month, didn’t rejoin the Yankees until Sept. 1, but hit .327 with three homers and six RBIs. In the postseason, he batted .333 (5-for-15) with two homers and four RBIs.

The Feb. 8 report by correction probation specialist Shelley J. Tomlinson, which was approved by deputy regional director Nancy L. Ham and signed by Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Florence Foster, said Strawberry did not make a statement about the violation on the advice of his lawyer.

The report did not ask that Strawberry’s probation be revoked or modified. It recommended Strawberry ``remain under supervision with enhanced treatment sanctions and continued urine monitoring 2-to-3 times per week.″

In addition, the report said Strawberry should receive ``updated substance-abuse evaluation″ and have weekly counseling and continue to attend Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

Dr. Joel Solomon, the medical adviser to the players’ association, recommended ``an enhancement of his aftercare program consisting of regular individual therapy sessions while in Tampa and also once he moves to New York,″ according to the report.

Florida Department of Corrections regional director Joe Papy said Strawberry has been tested by baseball three times a week since May and that the Jan. 19 result was the only one that has returned negative.

Papy said the recommendation for enhanced supervision and treatment was typical in cases like Strawberry’s because officials anticipate relapses. Substance abuse counselors will determine the best way to help the outfielder after meeting with Strawberry.

``What they try to do is determine why someone who’s been getting three negatives a week all of a sudden tests positive ... Something had to happen,″ Papy said.

Strawberry, the 1983 National League Rookie of the Year, has a .259 career average with 335 homers and 1,000 RBIs.

His relapse with drugs last spring came while he was undergoing chemotherapy, which he claimed led to depression.

He had surgery on Oct. 3, 1998, to remove a 16-inch portion of his large intestine to rid him of a cancerous colon tumor almost 2 1/2 inches long. At the time, doctors said the cancer did not appear to have spread.

At Strawberry’s sentencing, Florida Circuit Judge Jack Espinosa Jr. ordered him to stay out of bars and asked police and prosecutors to supply Strawberry with a map of Tampa ``hot spots″ to avoid.

``This really isn’t about baseball,″ the judge said. ``It isn’t about your job, but about you. ... This is about what’s in your heart and what’s in your mind.

``When you stop producing, nobody will care about you,″ he added. ``If this is the picture of life after baseball, it’s not pretty. This is only an opportunity. I hope you make the best of it.″

Without being asked, Strawberry replied: ``I will.″

Strawberry spent the first eight seasons of his career with the New York Mets, then became a free agent and signed with the Dodgers, his hometown team while growing up in Los Angeles.

The Dodgers released him on May 26, 1994, in the midst of his 28 days at the Betty Ford Center for a substance-abuse problem. San Francisco signed him the following month but released him the following Feb. 8 following the positive cocaine test that led to the 60-day suspension.

Strawberry’s latest problem is likely to help Tim Raines, Roberto Kelly and possibly Felix Jose, who are in camp on minor league contracts trying to make the team. Nick Johnson, another possibility, hasn’t played above Double-A but hit .345 at Double-A Norwich with 14 homers and 87 RBIs.

Ricky Ledee and Shane Spencer, who had been expected to battle for a spot in left field, also are possible replacements at DH along with Jim Leyritz, reacquired last summer.

His wife, Charisse, is five months pregnant with the couple’s third child. Strawberry also has two children from a previous marriage.

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