The New York outfield slugger, fresh off a breakout season, weighed massive free-agent offers from his current team, which helped launch his stardom, and his hometown club in California. Helped.
That’s where Daryl Strawberry and Aaron Judge disagreed. Strawberry went home to the West Coast, while Judge chose to stay with the Yankees.
“I’m happy [Judge] Made the right decision,” Strawberry said Sunday at the “Pinstripe Pride” event held at the American Dream in East Rutherford, N.J., where Yankees icons signed autographs.
Strawberry apparently made a mistake. After his seventh straight All-Star season with the Mets, in which he drilled 37 home runs with 108 RBIs in 1990, the former No. 1 pick hit the open market as the prize of free agency.
Strawberry, a Los Angeles native, left Queens for the Dodgers on a five-year, $22.25 million deal that was the second-richest contract in MLB history at the time. The Mets reportedly offered him four years and $15.5 million.
The right fielder posted one solid season with the Dodgers before his career was derailed by issues ranging from colon cancer to drug addiction.
With the benefit of hindsight, Strawberry is uniquely positioned to talk about Judge and playing in The Bronx, where he played the last five seasons of his career.
“You don’t leave New York. It’s the greatest place to play,” Strawberry said after Judge signed a nine-year, $360 million contract with the Yankees.
Judge, a native of Northern California, was the No. 1 target for the Giants, whom he grew up rooting for. The Padres were also involved in bidding this winter during a drawn-out process that didn’t end until Dec. 7, when Judge essentially agreed to spend his entire career with the club that picked him up.
The Yankees were eager to bring back their record-setting face of the franchise, who slugged 62 home runs last season. Judge, who anyway heard the kisses while struggling in the postseason, may never experience a rival fan base that is more patient.
“The only difference playing in New York is the fans. They know a lot about the game. So they’re going to tell you that you suck,” Strawberry said with a smile. “It’s something you have to learn how to deal with. … They made me a great player because of it.
As Judge visited other clubs, much attention was paid to a Yankee Stadium crowd that had turned on its best player and demanded excellence (or at least some hits) from the Yankees, the ALCS. I was blown away by the Astros.
For Strawberry, fan poison is less of a nuisance and more of a stimulus.
“Being a bully is not a bad thing. Everyone makes it out to be a bad thing. Some players just can’t take it,” said Strawberry, who said he hasn’t spoken to Judge this offseason. “But they’re going to pay you to play in the best place, and they’re going to pay you a lot.”
Judge, who stands out like a strawberry with his size and his brilliant swing, will be a bigger star with the Yankees than he could be with any other team. Events like Sunday can earn more money if the judges want.
Of course, Judge’s Yankees legacy will ultimately depend in part on whether he wins a championship. Strawberry won rings with the Mets in 1986 and the Yankees in 1996, ’98 and ’99.
“The market is unbelievable,” said Strawberry, who turns 61 next month. “And when you win here, it’s forever.”
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