Note to the Nationals: Let Strasburg pitch!
I REALLY DON'T need an entire column to explain that the Washington Nationals shutting down Stephen Strasburg before season's end is the dumbest decision in contemporary times since Decca Records passed on the Beatles in 1962, but I'm paid for 800 words, so what the heck.
Let's be frank:
In the thick of a magical season that may not come around again for 50 years, the best interests of the Nationals are for Strasburg to pitch until his arm falls off.
(By the way, if it does fall off, with modern medicine it can be surgically reattached and - at most - he misses two starts.)
As for Strasburg, his best interests are to pitch as long as he can as well as he can, for we may never pass this way again. Yes, his career might be shortened, but as the eloquent Rupert Pupkin once stated, "Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime."
(And, hey, didn't Strasburg see "The Natural"? Roy Hobbs was bleeding from the abdomen, through his uniform, taking a swing at one moment of glory.)
So spare me all the doctors and experts and pundits and custodians of the game.
(Besides, who can trust a doctor? Give me an actuary any day of the week. Think about it: When's the last time an actuary told you something and you said, "I've got to get a second opinion"? Doctors, my butt. My ophthalmologist strongly suggested Lasik eye surgery in 1998; 14 years later, I'm walking around with red-rimmed dry eyes and largely uncorrected vision - and he hasn't even had the decency to say, "Oops.")
The science on all this stuff is not exact. And it's constantly changing, if not contradictory: One day saccharin is okay, the next day it's not. Some cholesterol is good, some cholesterol is bad and some cholesterol shows up on "Jimmy Kimmel Live." To quote the great William Goldman on Hollywood, "Nobody knows anything," and that applies to most of life.
Anyway, suddenly this Tommy John elbow surgery - which, colloquially speaking, is ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction - is so delicate, if you pitch too many innings the season after, you risk never being able to pitch again; I even read somewhere that if Strasburg exceeded 185 innings this year, he might not be able to ever slice an onion again.
Huh. So how does that explain Tommy John himself?
He was the original Tommy John surgery patient in 1974. After missing the entire 1975 season, John pitched 207 innings in 1976 - his first season back - then followed that by throwing 200 innings or more the next four years, with a combined record of 80-35. In fact, John didn't miss a start the final 13-plus seasons of his career after the surgery.
(Incidentally, why is it called "Tommy John surgery"? Shouldn't the procedure be identified by the doctor who first performed it, Frank Jobe? After all, the Heimlich maneuver isn't named after the person who was choking.)
In defense of the Nationals' decision, there is plenty of historical precedence for their handling of Strasburg:
(Speaking of higher beings, I love how agent Scott Boras is emerging from the Strasburg saga as one part Robin Hood, one part Branch Rickey and two parts Marcus Welby. Boras apparently is the social conscience of a new generation - I half-expect him to be volunteering at soup kitchens in Beverly Hills by year's end.)
In summation - I believe I have a few words left on the clock - JUST PITCH THE KID. No one's guaranteed tomorrow; heck, he'd probably be fine. If he's not, just throw in somebody else - don't the Nationals have another Tommy John surgery alum on the roster?
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