The feud between New York Mets rightfielder Darryl Strawberry and first baseman Keith Hernandez had been building for almost two years. So it seemed only fitting that the explosion came on picture day, with two dozen reporters, photographers and TV camera crews in attendance at the Mets' Port St. Lucie, Fla., training camp.
Strawberry had stirred things up on March 1 when he threatened to walk out of camp if management refused to renegotiate the six-year contract he had signed in 1985. "It's a disgrace to me and my family," said Strawberry of the Mets' insistence on holding him to his deal, which pays him $1.4 million this season, making him the sixth-highest-paid player on the team. "Money is not the big issue. It's a matter of pride."
Strawberry's pride had been holding up nicely until he switched agents last summer. Because Richie Bry had negotiated Strawberry's contract, his new agent, Eric Goldschmidt, would have had to wait two years to take his cut—unless he could persuade Strawberry to seek a new deal. Strawberry, who has always been susceptible to suggestions that his pride has been insulted, said that the Mets' refusal to renegotiate was a clear sign that he was unappreciated.
Hernandez has been critical of Strawberry's attitude ever since Strawberry missed two games against the St. Louis Cardinals in 1987. Strawberry said he was sick, yet he made a publicity appearance on one of the days he was supposedly too ill to play. Since then Hernandez's barbs have found their way back to Strawberry, whose pride, as you might well imagine, was wounded.
Their estrangement came to a boil on March 2, when number 18 Strawberry was instructed to sit next to number 17 Hernandez for the yearbook photo. "I'd rather sit next to my real friends," said Strawberry. "Why don't you grow up, you baby?" Hernandez replied.
Strawberry told Hernandez, "I've been tired of you for years," and then took an ineffectual swipe at him.
Strawberry did walk out of camp that day, but not before he and Hernandez had a session with the team's psychiatrist (say, what?), Dr. Alan Lans, who at the rate things are going may soon want his own contract renegotiated. Strawberry returned to camp two days later and declared that he would play out his two years, then seek employment elsewhere. "They can talk about a new contract anytime they want," he said, "but I'm not signing. I've made up my mind."
As for his feud with Hernandez, when the two were introduced before the Mets' home exhibition opener, against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Strawberry leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. There was no telling whether Strawberry, who a few minutes later would hit a monster home run that would turn the pregame boos to cheers, was making up or auditioning for that renowned kissy-face, Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda.