Yesterday, I spent most of the rant on a story that has legs in the DC area – – the continuing saga of the “toxic workplace” that existed in the Washington Commanders’ organization allegedly reaching the highest levels of that organization. Here is why that story has legs in the DC area. Imagine for a moment that the Commanders’ Fairy Godmother showed up in DC and gave the fans the following two choices – – they are mutually exclusive:
- Option A: For this season, the Commanders win the Super Bowl AND two fan favorites from the team’s glory years of the 1980s get elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
- Option B: For this season, the Commanders go 4-13; two of their best players have demanded a trade AND Daniel Snyder sells the team.
In that imaginary circumstance, a significant fraction of the fanbase would choose Option B.
There is another story unfolding in the DC area that also has legs, but it has no sordid details, nor does it have an “evil villain figure” attached to it. In fact, this other story evokes feelings of sadness rather than anger/disgust. I am talking about the latest injury to Stephen Strasburg that has sent him to the Injured List yet again.
Strasburg was the first-round pick of the Nationals in 2010; when he debuted in the majors that year, he struck out 14 batters in his first game. The Washington media and fanbase went into paroxysms of joy. I recall saying after that first game that folks needed to pump the brakes just a bit because those 14 strikeouts left him merely 5700 strikeouts shy of Nolan Ryan. That snarky comment proved to be eerily accurate.
Nolan Ryan was a model of availability. In his career he pitched 5386 innings between 1966 and 1993. He pitched more that 200 innings in 13 seasons and threw more than 300 innings in both 1973 and 1974. Stephen Strasburg’s career has not been anything of the sort.
Strasburg suffered his first injury in his first year in the major leagues and it required Tommy John surgery. If I have counted correctly, he has been on the IL 14 different times in his 13-year major league career. Only twice has he thrown more than 200 innings in a season and in four seasons – not counting 2022 – he has thrown 68 or fewer innings for the season. This year, he made his first – and so far, only – start in mid-June; he pitched 4.2 innings and left the game feeling good. The next day or two found him with pain in his rib area and back he went on the IL meaning that since the Nats won the World Series in 2019 and Strasburg was the MVP of the Series, he has pitched a total of 31.2 innings.
In 2020 – on the heels of his MVP performance in the World Series – Strasburg signed a contract with the Nats for 7 years and $245M guaranteed. I doubt that there were more than a handful of folks in the DC area who thought that was a bad idea; Strasburg teams with Max Scherzer at the top of their rotation would bring more pennants and World Series trophies to the Nats. Suddenly, that contract looks as if it may have been a huge miscalculation.
Daniel Snyder’s time on the sports scene in DC has produced some bad football teams punctuated by a couple teams that were mediocre to slightly-above-average. Stephan Strasburg’s time on the sports scene in DC has produced one magical year and 12 years of good-but-not-great performances. The fans in DC hate Daniel Snyder and they love Stephen Strasburg demonstrating that being a good person has value of its own.
I want to stay on the subject of Stephen Strasburg for another moment here and use him as an example of how baseball has changed over the years. Stephen Strasburg has been in MLB for 13 seasons; he has started 247 games; he has pitched a total of 1470 innings (117.2 innings par season); he has thrown 2 complete games.
In times past – – and I do not mean in the 1880s – – top of the rotation starting pitchers routinely threw 200 innings in a season; more than occasionally, they threw more than 300 innings in a season. Moreover, there were such things as complete games:
- Nolan Ryan had five seasons with 20 or more complete games and a total of 222 complete games over his career.
- Bob Gibson threw 28 complete games in 1969 and had a total of 255 complete games over his 17-year career.
- Don Drysdale had double-digit complete games in 9 different seasons – – and 8 seasons in a row – over his 14-year career.
- Robin Roberts threw 28 consecutive complete games spanning two seasons in the 1950s and one of those games was a 17-inning affair; he threw a total of 305 complete games over his 19-year career.
If I thought I needed more street cred as an old codger/curmudgeon, I would use that sort of info to accuse current day pitchers of being molly coddled. That may be the case – – or it just may be that the tenets that underlie managerial tactics have changed significantly over the past 25 years. Sometimes change is neither inherently good nor inherently bad; sometimes change is merely change. I think baseball pitching strategy/tactics have changed and that’s about it.
Finally, for those who expected some sort of dismissal of young modern-day pitchers here, let me offer these two views of “youth”:
“The young always have the same problem – how to rebel and conform at the same time. They have now solved this by defying their parents and copying one another.” [Quentin Crisp]
“What is youth except a man or a woman before it is ready or fit to be seen?” [Evelyn Waugh]
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………