September 4, 2010
When Stephen Strasburg was put back on the disabled list two weeks ago, it was cause for concern but not panic. The initial diagnosis was a "strained flexor tendon" in his right arm, something that would require rest but not repair. Everyone knew that the Nationals front office was proceeding very carefully with him, protecting the value of their $15 million investment, as well they should. Then came the news that the MRI results indicated that he has a torn ligament, a devastating blow to the long-suffering fans of the Washington Nationals. Strasburg handled the adversity with characteristic calm, maturity. After a few days, it was agreed that he would get "Tommy John surgery," which involves grafting a tendon from the leg into the arm.
The surgery on Strasburg was performed yesterday by Dr. Lew Yocum and Dr. Wiemi Douoguih, the team physician, and the operation was declared to be a success. Assuming that's the case, Strasburg will get physical therapy at the Scripps clinic in San Diego, and will join his team mates in Viera, Florida for spring training next year. MLB.com.
There is every reason to be optimistic about Strasburg's future. As Yahoo sports states, "More than 150 baseball players have had Tommy John surgery, the majority of them pitchers." Among the most successful post-operation pitchers they list are Tim Hudson (Braves) and Francisco Liriano (Twins). (There is a similar list at MLB.com.) Indeed, one of the young starting pitchers for the Nationals has just returned after missing a year due to Tommy John surgery: Jordan Zimmermann, who raised high hopes until his injury in July 2009. He has just returned to the Nats' starting rotation, and pitched six innings while only giving up one hit against the Marlins on Tuesday. That was a very encouraging sign indeed.
And so, the intensely-anticipated rookie season of "The Phenom" comes to a bittersweet, premature end. In 12 starts, he won 5 games and lost 3 (the first of which I saw!), with an ERA of 2.91 and 92 strikeouts. At the time of his departure, he was leading the team in the strikeouts category. He will miss all of the 2011 season, most likely, postponing the hoped-for emergence of the Washington Nationals as a pennant-contending team.
So what lesson should we draw from this major misfortune? Most people seem to agree that the Nationals weren't pushing Strasburg too hard, and in fact were going pretty easy on him. (One local commentator, Chris Graham, even suggests that Strasburg may have been underworked, but that is a minority opinion.) To me it seems more likely that Strasburg was pushing himself too hard, trying to live up to the superhuman expectations that surrounded his arrival in the big leagues. It's perfectly understandable, and indeed, wanting to excel is only human. But here's the problem: In the frenzied, hypercompetitive world of today, in which obsessing with "World Class" is the norm, it is almost inevitable that people are going to get hurt trying too hard. Sports fans, franchises, sports agents, and the players themselves are all part of a frenetic hype-saturated system that may be spinning out of control. If we don't learn to adjust our expectations and demand top-notch performance all the time, more and more players are going to melt under the pressure, some never to return. I dearly hope that's not the case with Stephen Strasburg.
Get well soon, Stephen!
Nyjer Morgan has not performed up to expectations this year, and he seems to be getting increasingly frustrated and angry. Twice in the past week he ran into the catcher at home plate rather than sliding, and in the Nats' 1-0 loss to the Marlins on Tuesday night, it might have cost them the game. On Wednesday, when the Marlins scored ten runs in the first two innings off Scott Olsen, Morgan was hit by a pitch in obvious retaliation, which is the way things are done. But when the pitcher threw behind Morgan on his next at bat, he charged the mound, sparking a bench-clearing brawl that drew so much attention that it made the CBS Evening News and ABC's Good Morning America. That's not the kind of attention the Nationals need. Apparently the Marlins took offense when Morgan stole two bases even though the Nats were far behind, 14-3. Whatever the reasons, Morgan was given an eight-day suspension, on top of the preceding seven-day suspension which he appealing, and from the comments he has made, Morgan seems not to be at all contrite, and probably deserves the suspension. Meanwhile, Nats manager Jim Riggleman and coach Pat Listach were suspended for two days, forced to miss the first two games of this weekend's series in Pittsburgh. See MLB.com. Riggleman is not known as an argumentative hot-head, such as, say, Earl Weaver or Billy Martin. But he did stand by his players on this occasion, and he paid the price for doing so. I hope his team reciprocates the gesture of loyalty...
The Nats' backup catcher, Wil Nieves, recently took temporary leave to be with his wife as she gave birth to a baby girl. (After the game my wife and I saw on Friday the 13th, he said during a TV interview that his wife was at the game, which may have given him an incentive to hit his fourth career home run!) Nieves was temporarily replaced by catcher Wilson Ramos, one of the franchise's leading young prospects. If Jesus Flores doesn't recover from his dislocated shoulder, Ramos could become the team's regular starting catcher after another year or so. Pudge Rodriguez has one more year on his contract with the Nats, and he has expressed interest in extending the term, saying he would like to finish his career in Washington. Anyway, Nieves stunned everyone during that controversial 16-10 loss to the Marlins on Wednesday, when he smashed a home run into the upper deck at Sun Life Stadium. (Two days before that, Ryan Zimmerman had hit a homer to left-center field that knocked out part of an electronic sign on the front of the upper deck.) So Wil's not only a father and a catcher, he's becoming a slugger, too!
Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Nieves!
During my hiatus, the Nats showed promising signs, taking three of four games from the St. Louis Cardinals in Washington last weekend. They spoiled the occasion when Albert Pujols hit his 400th homer on August 26, beating the Cardinals 11-10 in a thrilling 13-inning game. With a two-run lead, Tyler Clippard blew a save opportunity as the Cards scored four runs in the top of the ninth, and just when things looked bleakest, Roger Bernadina hit a two-run homer to send the game into extra innings. Four innings later, Ian Desmond hit an infield single, allowing Nyjer Morgan (!) to score the winning run.
MASN sportscaster Rob Dibble, known for being a somewhat acerbic "color commentator," took a leave of absence after making some controversial comments, and then was fired. One day he made a gratuitous remark about women talking too much, referring to some female fans sitting just behind home plate. (Lesson for the day: Never insult top-paying fans!) Then he said something to the effect that Stephen Strasburg should quit complaning about his sore arm, which turned out to be grossly inappropriate. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Since it's so late in the season, they probably won't replace Dibble with a full-time guy until next year. For the time being, Ray Knight moved from the "Nats Extra" show to join the amiable and professional Bob Carpenter doing play by play in the press box.
The biggest news in baseball late last month was the indictment of Roger Clemens on charges of having lied to Congress about his past use of steroids. He plead not guilty, and even though his trial in federal court is set for next spring, many insiders expect it to be delayed for several months, as the prosecution and defense go through the "discovery" process, disclosing to each other what evidence they each have. It's an awful situation for a Hall-of-Fame caliber player to be in, but as Thomas Boswell wrote in the Washington Post Roger Clemens is facing the consequences for the risk he took. Let's just hope he doesn't follow in the footsteps of Pete Rose, stonewalling and denying long after his credibility has evaporated.
It seems probable that former team mate Andy Pettitte told on Clemens; see Feb 2008. For more background on this scandal, the Mitchell Report was released in December 2007.
Many thanks to Thomas Tomsick, MD for sponsoring the page for Cleveland Stadium, where he worked as a bullpen catcher for the Indians in the 1960s. He is the author of Strike Three! My Years in the 'Pen, just published this year. His book is a unique blend of personal reminiscences and Sabermetric analysis, chock full of fascinating details and insights. Dr. Tomsick presented the results of his study on the relationship between number of strikeouts and the size of foul territory at this year's SABR annual convention, held in Atlanta. He used my diagrams as the basis for estimating foul territory at each of the American League ballparks in the mid-1960s.
According to onlineschools.org, I have been ranked among the Top 20 MLB Blogs in the whole USA. Really?? Well, I certainly appreciation the recognition.
Every once in a while, the responsibilities of my "day job" intrude upon my work in updating this Web site and blog. For various reasons, I was busier than usual during late August this year, hence the longer-than-expected hiatus. There has been a lot of big news in the baseball world over the past two weeks, and I'm sorry for missing out on that. The good news for fans of this Web site is that I have nearly finished work on revising the Miller Park diagrams, based largely on my recent visit there, and have made great headway on a couple others. Y'all come back now, ya hear?