Darryl Strawberry is a legendary baseball player who had everything the world has to offer, and yet he was broken and hurting inside. In this interview, Strawberry shares some powerful stories from his life that led him to become a follower of Jesus and experience a transformed life. He uses sports as a metaphor to offer some memorable and helpful spiritual insights.
About our Guest
Darryl Strawberry won four World Series titles, had eight all-star game appearances, and was nominated to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004. Today, he is a traveling speaker and evangelist. He is the author of the recent book Turn Your Season Around: How God Transforms Your Life.
Scott Rae: Welcome to the podcast, Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture. I'm your host, Scott Rae, Dean of Faculty and Professor of Christian Ethics, Talbot School of Theology, here at Biola University. We're here with our very special guest. If you're a baseball fan, I suspect you'll recognize the name of Darryl Strawberry, who is a Los Angeles native, but spent most of his baseball career with the New York Mets. Also had a stint with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Yankees, and was a perennial all-star during the peak of his career when he was with the Mets, but had had a fairly dramatic conversion to Christ, and he catalogs this, tells the story about this in his new book called Turn Your Season Around.
Darryl, thank you so much for being with us. It's terrific to have you on our program with us and we loved your book. I want to commend it to our listeners, and thanks for coming on with us and talking with us about it.
Darryl Strawberry: Well, thank you so much, Scott. It is a privilege to be with you guys, and it's always such a great honor to be able to talk about the goodness of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I'm always excited about that and excited about the work that God does in people's lives.
Scott Rae: Now, Darryl, you've been out of baseball for over two decades. What motivated you to write this book, at this time, after having been out of baseball for so long?
Darryl Strawberry: That's a good question, because I really didn't want to write another book, because I've been down that road before. Wrote my autobiography called Straw, and it became a New York Times bestseller, but I think I kind of just left people there at the beginning of my transformation. My life was starting to change, and God had changed my life through that book, but I didn't get into the details of how God transformed my life. I think my wife kept pushing me into writing another book, because people kept pursuing me about writing another book, because they had seen me on the travel circle and they seen me standing in front of thousands and preach, and they realized that I was different and they wonder, how did all this take place?
As we know, it all takes place when you have an encounter with Christ himself, and I think that's the biggest point that I can kind of convey to people, is being able to have that encounter and having that relationship with coming to a personal place of surrendering yourself. But first you have to be very persistent about who Christ is, and you're persistent about going after him, and then surrendering yourself to him. Then you come to a greater understanding of who you are and why you were created.
Scott Rae: Now Darryl, I love the way you structure the book, because you have nine chapters and each chapter is a different inning in your book. In the first inning, chapter one, you have this very arresting line in it that says, "I had everything, but I had nothing." Tell us what you mean by that.
Darryl Strawberry: Yes. I had everything from a worldly standpoint and materialistic standpoint that will satisfy the appetites of so many people, and believe that, that will conquer whatever is wrong on the inside. It really doesn't, because I achieved all these great things from playing major league baseball for 17 years, and winning championships, and rookie of the year. All star games, and being privileged, and living behind community gates, and having all this stuff, but at the same time on the inside, I was completely empty. It was a brokenness on the inside that was never, never filled up, because you try to fill it up with all these different things. You could buy more homes, you could buy more cars, but what we don't understand is that, that emptiness only one person can fill that emptiness only inside of us and that's God himself. He created that space inside of us that he can only fulfill, the emptiness.
I go back to the book of Ecclesiastes, and I think about King Solomon, who said, "It is meaningless under the sun, without God," having everything is so meaningless, it's so empty at the end of the day, without having God as the centerpiece of your life, because that empty void, we try to fill it with so many things. I tried to fill it with so many things from women, to drugs, to success, and I didn't really achieve a whole lot. I mean, I achieved the part from playing baseball, because of the talent and putting on a uniform, didn't make me a man. It just made me a baseball player. I was so broken on the inside from the beginning and I just really was yearning for something, and I didn't know what it was. I mean, I seen it before in players, other players like Gary Carter, my teammate. I really wanted what he had. He had such great joy and great peace, and it was the Lord Jesus Christ in his life.
Scott Rae: Yeah. Tell us a little bit more about your relationship with Gary Carter. Again, if you're a baseball fan, you'll recognize the name, Gary Carter, the Hall of Fame catcher, who spent 19 years in the big leagues. I'm still not quite sure how anybody plays catcher for 19 years in the major leagues without ruining your joints.
Darryl Strawberry: Yes, I agree with that.
Scott Rae: I mean, that's an iron man just as it is, but he sounds... The way you describe in the book, he had a tremendous impact on your life. Tell us a little bit about the impact that he had on you.
Darryl Strawberry: He had a tremendous impact. I mean, I saw him and I saw great joy coming out of him to play the game of baseball, but the joy of life was far greater than just the game of baseball. It was the way he lived his life, and the way he was around us, and he didn't condemn none of us, he didn't point fingers at us. He would go out to dinner with us and the rest of us was going out after dinner, to the clubs, and drinking, and women, and stuff like that, and he just smiled and said, "I'll see you guys at the ballpark tomorrow." He got in the cab and he always went home.
He went home, he came to the ballpark the next day, and he didn't say anything. He was just a great guy, and you just wonder, how can one guy live like this and have such a great thing, but realizing that he had such great peace and such great discipline inside of himself, because of his faith, because of his love for God? He didn't try to force that on us, but he just showed us that the love of God was real with being happy and free on the inside. It wasn't about the stuff he had. He had fame, he had millions of dollars. He was more consumed with his family instead of life outside of that, and I think that was a prime example of what a man's supposed to be like when you're supposed to live a life of fame and fortune.
Scott Rae: Now, Darryl, the chapter, inning number two in the book is entitled, Redefining Your Identity. Tell us a little bit more about how you went from identifying, primarily, as an all-star baseball player, to identifying as a follower of Christ.
Darryl Strawberry: From a baseball standpoint, you are appreciated either by the fans or the media at times, and you're going to be criticized by the fans and the media too, at the same time. That's when you know that life is really fickle, when you have to go through that kind of lifestyle, because either they love you or they hate you, either you're playing good or you're not. The difference of crossing over and accepting Christ is his great love for you when you was a mess, and he took the mess of who you were to bring a message of who he is. That's the greatest part of coming to know Jesus Christ. It's a big difference in being judged. There's no judgment towards you when you walk with Christ, but there's great judgment against you when you're a professional athlete, or whoever you are and you're living a life separated from God, because a life separated from God, a heathen life is real. It's completely separated from God.
I was a complete heathen, womanizer, alcoholic, drug addict, sinner, but I was saved by grace, the grace that I didn't deserve. When you know who Christ is, and his symbol on the cross and the symbol of his blood is a man that's Holy and righteous, that can rescue you, redeem you and restore you. He's the only one that can do that. No other man can do that. I tried it and everything. I tried to accumulate from an earthly standpoint, but it wasn't until I surrendered myself to Christ and realizing that he was the deliver of all things, and when you understand the grace. When I understanding the grace, the grace was something I didn't deserve, but he gave it to me anyway.
That was that 2 Corinthians 12:9, "For my grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness." I was so weak and realizing that his grace was perfect for me and I didn't deserve it, and he was giving it to me anyway. When I finally decided to make a conscious decision that I'm going to follow Jesus, I'm probably going to lose a lot of people in my life that are so-called friends, which I did. Baseball players and former baseball players that I played with. They're no longer in my life through when I started following Christ, they said, "Well, let's see how long this is going to last." I've been rolling for 17 years like this, with God, and I'm just grateful for knowing the importance of what grace is really all about.
Scott Rae: Yeah. When exactly did you first come to place your faith in Christ?
Darryl Strawberry: Well, 1991, when I came to play for the Dodgers, I accepted the Lord Jesus Christ. I went to a crusade in Anaheim, California. My first marriage was breaking apart. I was a drunk, I was an alcoholic womanizer, and I'd just signed a big contract as a free agent. I went there for four nights and the crusade was more surreal. All I heard about was this man named Jesus. I was just crying and weeping every night, because I was hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ and he just said, "Well, Sunday, I'm going to lay hands on whoever wants to come down, you don't have to," but it was a big line of people. I went down Sunday, and I was just in tears. I was broken and he laid hands on me, and the power God came over me, and he just kind of brought a deliverance to me like I never experienced in my life.
My life was never the same. God picked me up. He said, "Your life will never be the same. All hell is about to break loose in your life." It was so true, because my mother had been praying for me that I would get saved and I got radically saved at this crusade, but one thing I did miss and I didn't get. It doesn't matter who you are getting saved, and this is the point I try to tell everybody. "I got radically saved, but I went straight into baseball and I ran into the wall and dislocated my shoulder my first season, and I went back to the familiar. I went back to the familiar of drinking and womanizing, because I did not get discipled."
Discipleship is so important, so critical for one person who gets saved, that needs to know the fundamentals of the Bible, and learn how to use it, and put it to be a part of their life. I didn't learn that immediately. I went back into the familiar of my lifestyle, and I stayed there for another, a good 12 years. Something like that. 10, 12 years of my life.
Scott Rae: Yeah. Because you're pretty honest about the struggles that you had, even after you came to faith, and you have a chapter in one of the innings in your book, the fourth inning is about revealing your scars. I think you're very honest and vulnerable, not only about your own struggles after coming to faith, but your struggles in the direct hits that you took as a child and in your upbringing. Tell us a little bit about some of that.
Darryl Strawberry: Yeah. My upbringing was really a struggle of identifying myself, because my father was a raging alcoholic, and he used to beat me and my brother, and told us where we were going to never be nothing. We would never turn out to be anything. Of course, I kind of believed that, and I just remember him coming home for the last time, pulling out a shotgun, drunk, and said he was going to kill the whole family. Had it not been for my mother, me and my brothers would have killed him that night. She got us out of the house and I was 14 years old. It could have been a tragedy in my life before I ever put a uniform on or anything like that. What most people don't understand, they didn't get to see my scars and my wounds. They were real. They were already there. The brokenness was there. The emptiness was there. The loneliness was there.
My pain led me to my greatness, but my greatness would eventually lead me to my destructive behavior, because if you're not well on the inside, it doesn't matter what you look like on the outside. You're going to act out and things are going to play out in your life. Of course, that's what happened to me throughout my whole entire baseball career. My father was never a part of my life. He rejected us, and I kept him out of my life and I hated him. There it was, just a whole broken situation for years, many a years, my whole career and everything.
There it was, one day after God had changed my life, and I was in ministry and stuff like that, and I was going to do a men's conference in California on a Saturday morning. God spoke to me on a Friday night, and said... My father was down in the hospital in San Diego. My brother had told me and God spoke to me and said, "I want you to go down to your father in the hospital, and I want you to go repent to him and ask him to forgive you." I was like, "Really?" He says, "Yes, I need you to do that." I called my wife for prayer and she prayed for me that night. She said, "You need to go if He spoke to you like that," and I did. I went there Sunday and he said, "Don't say anything about what he did with you," and he says, "How dare you not forgive him and I forgave you."
I actually went there and asked him. I said, "The Lord has changed my life from a different person. Will you forgive me for keeping you out of my life? I was wrong," and a tear rolled out as I... He said, "Yes," and I just lost it, guys. I just laid in his lap. I just cried so hard, and I just laid there and just cried. After a while, the Lord said, "Raise up," and the Lord said, "Now lead him in the sinner prayer." I said, "Well, the Lord has changed my life. Would you like to accept him as Lord over your life?" He said, "Yes." I said, "Well, just repeat after me," and I led him in the sinner prayer and I led him to the Lord. Then the Lord just reminded me that the forgiveness was not for my father, the forgiveness was for me.
He said, "This is why you never was free, because you wouldn't forgive." I was never free, even though I was standing in a pulpit preaching and still wasn't completely healed and free. When I released my father that day in the hospital and led him to the Lord, I completely got free of everything that was hurting me for all those years of my life. It was just like, it was just gone. God just took it all away from me, and I was on my way, and on a new journey, and on a new purpose for life. Then God spoke to me as I was driving home. He says, "I want you to remember one thing. You need to always remember, it's not about you." I was like, "Oh my God, there's another goer," because we think it's really about us. He said, "It's not about you. It's about what I want to do through you, and I can't do everything completely I need to do through you until you get set free." From things like my father and the relationship that was keeping me hostage for all those years.
Scott Rae: Yeah. Thank you for sharing that, Darryl, that story of that encounter with your father and leading him to Christ. That's an incredibly moving account. It sounds like it was the, maybe, the culmination of a lot of healing that had to take place. I'm so glad that you got to do that before he passed away. That's wonderful.
Let me ask you a little bit about your mom too, because it sounds like your mom had a really powerful influence on your life. You describe in the book, after your mom passed away, you found some things from her after her death, which taught you a lot about how God answers prayer.
Darryl Strawberry: Yes.
Scott Rae: Tell us a little bit about that.
Darryl Strawberry: Yes. That's the most incredible time of my life, finding the journal underneath her bed. My sister found it and gave it to us, and she showed it to me, and there was mom, was laying on her face. She was dying from cancer. She had breast cancer, she was 55, and she was dying and there she was praying. Praying to God to save my children, knock them off their throne. She wasn't concerned about my baseball career. Me being famous, being rich. She wanted me saved, and she was praying to God that he would stop me, and stop my brothers, and save all of them, my sisters and save all of us. There she goes, home to be with the Lord at the age of 55, and there we are, all left there, and she died right in front of us, and she didn't want to let it go. She just kept looking. I said, "Mom, it's going to be okay. You can let go." She just looked at me one more time and then she let go, and I said, "We're going to be all right."
I guess she realized that her prayers would come to pass and be answered by God. Sometime you won't see it in the natural, but she's got a chance to see it in the supernatural of who I have become, a man of faith, what she always believed I was supposed to be, and not the dangling of the baseball son. She knew I played baseball, but she was more concerned about my salvation. There it is. I go on and get saved, and transformed, and become an evangelist and travel 250 times preaching the gospel. Not only that, I go on to lead my sister to the Lord, who died at the age of 51.
She was in a hospital. The Lord sent me to go lead her to the Lord and say the sinner prayer before she was dying. I go on to lead my whole family to the Lord, because of my life and not me just preaching, but my life being an example of what Christ really means. My mother is a wonderful woman. She raised five of us by herself, and I could just imagine how she feels now, that we are all saved, and thinking, when I'm standing in a pulpit sometimes brings me to tears to think about what she's thinking. Like, "Look at him. I told you." She told me before she passed away, she said God spoke to her about me, and she said, "God said, he's going to get it out of you." She said, "you're going to go through it, but he said, he's going to get it out of you."
Scott Rae: She actually prayed for years that God would knock you off the throne of your life so that you would replace yourself with him on that throne?
Darryl Strawberry: Yes, yes. Exactly. And guys, I can sit here and honestly tell you, it has truly come to pass, what she prayed over my life. I'm so grateful for my mother, and so grateful for my wife just between... I always said, I tell people, because I was this womanizer, because of this lifestyle I had, and had women around me all the time, I said, "God's got a great sense of humor. He used my mother praying for me, and he bought my wife, Tracy, into my life to pull me out of dope houses in South Florida, and to use her to tell me that God has a plan for me." I was so, want to assume God just let me die here. You know what she said to me guys, when I was struggling like that, she said, "You're just not that lucky."
Scott Rae: Touché. It sounds like a very wise woman that you married.
Darryl Strawberry: Yes.
Scott Rae: Now, let me ask you, one of the great lessons that you share in the book came from the 1986 World Series, or National League Championship Series, sorry. The home run you hit in that series off of Nolan Ryan, and I have to admit, I watched that, because I grew up in Houston, and I have to tell you, I was a giant Astros fan at the time. I was crushed to see you clobber that home run off of Nolan Ryan, but you share in the book that that experience taught you a lot about not dwelling on the past, about moving forward. Tell us a little bit about how that experience taught you that lesson.
Darryl Strawberry: Yeah. It taught me a great lesson about not dwelling on the past, because see, when you're in a game and it's a big game like that, and you're going against the best and Nolan's the best, and your memory has to be short. He might've punched me up the first couple of times, who knows, whatever it was. I knew I wasn't successful against him, and I know he was throwing a great game, and he had a 1-0 shutout. If I don't hit that home run and that ball doesn't stay fair, we don't go on to win that series there, but there was in that situation, me against him. One of the best, and I was one of the younger, best players at the time coming through in the situation, and tying that ball game up against Nolan Ryan.
But what struck me more than anything about that Nolan Ryan situation was when a reporter came to me and he said, "You want to know what Nolan said?" I said, "Yeah," because they asked him about how did he beat you on that pitch?" He said, "Nolan told him, 'at that moment, in that time, his talent beat my talent.'" That's pretty impressive there, coming from a guy that's... he's going to go on to be one of the greatest pitchers to ever live and be in the Hall of Fame, to be able to say that about a young player like that. That, right there, made me understand about don't try to remember what happened before, but remember the situation you are in and make the best out of it.
That's the same way as a life, as a Christian, things are going to happen, but you got to always remember, I'm still here and God still has a plan, and God still can use me in so many different ways. We create all these other habits and all these other things inside of ourself, and then we miss out and we lose.
Scott Rae: Now, you've become essentially a full-time evangelist, traveling all over the world. I take it, in 2020, you haven't done quite as much traveling, but tell me a little bit about some of your former teammates. Have you had the chance to talk to some of your former teammates about your faith and if so, how have they responded to that?
Darryl Strawberry: No, I really haven't. I think when they first saw me, a lot of them thought, "Well, let's see how long will he last in doing this?" That's what they thought process was, and it's been 17 years, they're still waiting for me to come back and I haven't been back. I think a lot of them are convinced that he's different. He's not like who he used to be. He's not the wild man, and chasing the life, and chasing after success. He's really come to a place of humility, and he's very humble, and he loves God. They realized that I truly, truly just love God. I don't love anything about myself or anything was great about what I did yesterday. I achieved things, but God spared me and I'm grateful for that.
When you understand that the people that God usually call, a lot of them, a lot of people are broken that he calls from different places. You think about those in the Bible. Moses had a speech impediment, Peter denied Christ three times, so you think about the different people that God called and how do they come to be what they are? Well, I think Moses walked with great humility and meekness, and you learn that. You learn not to make yourself important, and I think that what has happened to me guys, I've learned not to make myself that important and realize that it's his gift and I want to utilize his gift for the best. I want to reach as many of his people as I can, and hopefully draw as many of his people I can to salvation.
Scott Rae: Darryl, one final question for you. You've got a pretty lengthy section in your book called The Blessed Life. You've experienced, basically, almost all that the world's had to offer. You've had a baseball career that I think would be the envy of most people coming up in the major leagues, and even though you've had a lot of... There were a lot of dark sides in that too. How would you define the good life, after all you've experienced, both as a baseball player and now as a believer in Christ?
Darryl Strawberry: This is the greatest life that one can ever give to himself, accepting the Lord Jesus Christ as his savior. It doesn't have anything to do with material stuff. It doesn't have anything to do with fame. It has to do with awareness of what's important, life after this, and I think so many get consumed with the life of one, that they look at as fame and fortune, and has everything, the glitter, but at the end of the day, they don't know Jesus. I know Jesus, I'd rather have Jesus than silver and gold. I'd rather have Jesus over any type of fame, fortune, because when you come to know Jesus and you know he was a man that hung on the cross and shed his blood for sinners like us, that we may have life and may have it more abundantly.
Then you know that he went to the tomb and early Sunday morning, he got up from the tomb. When he got up from that tomb, he got up with all power. He was resurrected. None of us will ever get up from any tomb or grave like Jesus and be resurrected like him, and be able to do what he's done. He's the Messiah. He's the savior of this dying dark world we live in, and you become grateful for that. I mean, I'm more grateful for who I am in Christ, not what I did with a baseball uniform on. That Jesus loved me before I could, first, and loved me before I could love myself. He showed me the compassion and he gave me the understanding that I was far greater, this person, than that person as a baseball player.
Scott Rae: Well, Darryl, it sounds like, that just to say the least, your relationship to Christ has turned the season of your life around, hence the title of your book. I want to commend your book to our listeners. From Darryl Strawberry, Turn Your Season Around. It's a very powerful testimony of how the Lord Jesus Christ has changed your life, even though you accomplished almost everything a baseball player could want. Had everything that the world could offer, yet have found, really, the deepest only satisfaction in your relationship to Christ.
Thank you so much for coming on, for sharing your story with us. It's this incredibly powerful story and it's recorded in your book. Again, your book is just terrific, called Turn Your Season Around. Darryl, thanks so much for coming on with us and for sharing your story with us.
Darryl Strawberry: Thank you guys. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
Scott Rae: This has been an episode of the podcast, Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture. To learn more about us and today's guest Darryl Strawberry and his book, Turn Your Season Around, and to find more episodes, go to biola.edu/thinkbiblically. That's biola.edu/thinkbiblically. If you enjoyed today's conversation, give us a rating on your podcast app and feel free to share it with a friend. Thanks so much for listening and remember, think biblically about everything.