Darryl Strawberry

*Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry earned their New York baseball stripes with the Mets, but both fallen stars remembered George Steinbrenner for resuscitating their careers and for standing by them throughout their litany of off-the-field troubles, reports the New York Daily News.

“George was like a second father for me,” Gooden told the newspaper yesterday, hours after it was announced that Steinbrenner had died at age 80. “It’s definitely been a tough day. I woke up this morning – I’m like three hours behind, in Vegas with my daughters – and my cell phone started going off out here around 4 this morning.

“At first I was told he had a heart attack, but when I put the TV on the reports were that he passed away. I was just in shock. George was always there for me, no matter what.”

Gooden’s meteoric career with the Mets in the 1980s was derailed by drug problems, but Steinbrenner signed him in 1996 and he hurled his only career no-hitter for the Yankees in May of that season. After Gooden’s playing career ended in 2001, Steinbrenner gave him various advisory jobs, although Doc’s problems with the law continued. That includes serving seven months in a Florida prison in 2006 for violating his probation on a drug possession charge. Most recently, Gooden was arrested in March in New Jersey for leaving the scene of an accident and charged with eight counts, including DWI with a child passenger and other violations.

Dwight Gooden

“George gave me a chance to join the Yankees when most people had turned their back on me. But he welcomed me with open arms,” Gooden said. “We used to fly, just me and him, back and forth from Tampa and we’d talk about everything, not just baseball and the Yankees, but about my life and my problems.

“There were times he actually gave me a tongue-lashing, which I definitely deserved. But at the end of the day, I knew he was always in my corner. I loved and respected him so much for everything he’s done for myself and my family.”

Strawberry had a similar relationship with Steinbrenner through his various off-field woes after joining the Yankees in 1995, winning three World Series rings before retiring in 1999.

“We had a very personal relationship. Sometimes that’s what people don’t understand about him – he cares about people,” Strawberry told ESPN. “He has had a huge impact on me. The thing that I learned from him more than anything is to never quit. That’s what I learned about him. No matter the circumstances, be a fighter, be a winner.

“He was like the father I never had that encouraged me to be there and when I got knocked down he was there to pick me up. I have nothing but respect and praise for him. I will always be grateful for him for the opportunities to be part of the Yankees family.”