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Yankees star tests positive for cocaine

Darryl Strawberry, who could not be reached for comment, faces a possible suspension from baseball over his latest troubles.

By GRAHAM BRINK

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2000


TAMPA -- New York Yankees slugger Darryl Strawberry again has tested positive for cocaine, another in a growing list of personal problems that could jeopardize his playing career.

Strawberry, 37, tested positive on Jan. 19 during one of the two to three random drug tests he underwent weekly after his April arrest in Tampa for solicitation of prostitution and cocaine possession.

Two weeks after the positive test, his probation officer recommended enhanced treatment, including increased counseling and more comprehensive drug testing. Strawberry agreed to the terms, but did not explain how he had failed the test. Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Florence Foster signed off on the recommendation.

Joe Papy, regional director for the probation department, said Strawberry did not receive any special treatment.

"Most first-time violations in drug cases like this are treated in a similar fashion," Papy said. "We try to treat it like a disease. At least, at first."

The agreement will keep Strawberry out of jail but his playing status remains up in the air.

Strawberry faces the possibility of another suspension from baseball as a multiple offender of its drug aftercare program. Commissioner Bud Selig suspended Strawberry for 120 days after the arrest last summer.

Major League Baseball spokesman Richard Levin said Tuesday that he had just found out about the case and could not comment. According to the documents, a representative of Major League Baseball learned of the failed drug test about three weeks ago.

Yankees spokesman Rick Cerrone said the team did not have all the facts and would not comment on any possible disciplinary measures.

Comments made by team owner George Steinbrenner after the arrest last year indicate that Strawberry may have burned his last bridge, at least with the Yankees.

"He told me, "Don't screw up again,' " Strawberry said at the time. "I said, "I won't.' "

Reached late Tuesday, Steinbrenner declined to comment.

Police arrested Strawberry April 14 on Kennedy Boulevard, west of downtown. He was charged with possession of 0.3 grams of cocaine and offering an undercover female police officer $50 for sex.

Strawberry, who lives in the upscale Cheval subdivision north of Tampa in the off-season, said at the time that he was only joking with the officer and was not aware the cocaine was folded into a $20 bill. He later pleaded no contest to the charges.

The judge strongly admonished Strawberry before sentencing him to 18 months' probation and ordering him to avoid alcohol and stay away from bars and areas in Tampa that have high drug and prostitution activity.

Strawberry returned from his baseball suspension in September in time for the Yankees' playoff drive. "I don't ever want to put myself in a hopeless situation again," he said.

The 6-foot-6, 215-pound designated hitter blasted the three-run home run that sent the team into the AL Championship Series. The Yankees went on to win their second consecutive World Series in October.

Until January, Strawberry passed his drug tests and was attending regular drug and alcohol meetings, according to two medical advisers who work for Major League Baseball and the players association. He was also working toward completing his community service.

Strawberry, who was expected to report to spring training today, could not be reached for comment.

The failed drug test is the latest in a series of off-the-field problems for the eight-time All-Star.

In 1987, four years after winning NL Rookie of the Year honors with the Mets, his ex-wife accused him of breaking her nose.

Three years later he was the subject of a palimony suit and was found to be the father. In the early 1990s, he was arrested twice after separate women accused him of abuse. Charges were not filed in either case.

In 1994, he and an agent were indicted on federal tax evasion charges.

A judge later ordered him to repay $350,000 in back taxes and sentenced him to six months of home confinement.

In 1995, Major League Baseball suspended him for 60 days for testing positive for cocaine. Two years ago, he had surgery for colon cancer and underwent chemotherapy after doctors discovered that the cancer had spread to a lymph node. Houston Astros pitcher and Tampa native Dwight Gooden said he was not surprised by the news that his former teammate had tested positive.

Gooden, a recovering addict himself, did not know the particulars but said Strawberry's latest positive test will cause people to doubt the Yankee slugger.

"I can only speak for myself, as another guy in recovery, and I know when you see these things happen you have to wonder if he is totally committed," Gooden said. "On the other hand, I know how easy it is to slip. If you let your guard down, it happens so quickly."

Times staff writers Roger Mills and Mike Readling and information from the Associated Press contributed to this report. Graham Brink can be reached at (813) 226-3365 or brink@sptimes.com.

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