KO'D BASEBALL IMAGE GOING WAY OF WRESTLING

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The revelations about Darryl Strawberry and his partying teammates are a sad testament to the players and to the sportswriters who follow them.

Mr. Strawberry, the one-time star outfielder for the New York Mets, was quoted in a Sports Illustrated article that the Mets were "a team full of drunks" when he played with them.

"We'd go into a town and couldn't wait to go out drinking and partying, always asking each other, `Hey, where are you going tonight?'

"If we had 24 guys on the team, at least half of them were hard drinkers or drug users. That was a hard-living team," he told SI.

Strawberry said he played games when he was drunk "or just getting off a drunk ... or coming down off amphetamines."

So what's new? Baseball had a tradition of attracting hard-living, hard-drinking, women-chasing guys, some downright mean like Ty Cobb. Why should we expect anything different today?

For one thing, yesterday's players weren't paid $1 million a year. For that kind of money fans have a right to demand maximum performance, undiluted by drugs or booze.

I've always leaned towards supporting the players in their dispute with the baseball team owners, but after reading about Strawberry, Doc Gooden and the rest of the high jinks of the Mets, I have little sympathy for their cause.

Frank Cashen, longtime front-office exec for the Mets, told USA Today the players union itself was a part of the problem. "The tragedy was when you knew or you suspected, the union wouldn't let you do a damn thing."

So here we have a bunch of spoiled players dogging it because they were too hung over to work up a sweat. And the stupid owners want to be protected from themselves.

We the fans are the chumps.

The sad part about it is, what makes us think it's going to get any better when the two sides come to terms? At least the replacement players will give us an honest day's work.

Where were New York's crusading sports journalists when the Mets were living it up? Apparently it was an open secret the players were not averse to a good time after the game. Writing in the Times the other Sunday George Vecsey said that out in Port Washington where many of the Mets lived, the townfolk were used to their antics. "A lot of the lads got hammered at Finn McCool's the night the Mets clinched the division in 1986, and it was not a pretty sight as they lurched and swerved their way home," Vecsey wrote.

The problem is that athletes have been coddled their whole lives, and they expect-and get-the same treatment from sportswriters. The jocks will refuse to give reporters their usual stockpile of inane quotes if the newspapers write anything of a probing nature about the players' off-field activities.

Baseball is getting like wrestling. You can't believe what you see and you can't believe what you read. No wonder nobody seems in much of a hurry for baseball to return.

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