(Stephen Strasburg pitches against the White Sox last Friday. Photo by McClatchy newspapers).
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Here’s what the veteran player had to say about the 21-year-old phenom pitcher being on the All-Star team.
“I’ve been saying for a month and a half or two months now, what better thing for baseball than to take the kid and start him. This is a kid that fans want to see. When we’re on the road, people come in droves to watch the kid pitch. I think (this pitcher) against the best of the American League hitters would be a great story for baseball.”
The speaker was Mark Grace of the Chicago Cubs, and the pitcher in question was his rookie teammate, Kerry Wood. The year was 1998, and Wood had just been shunned from the National League All-Star team. Wood was the pitching sensation of baseball that season, having struck out 20 in a game on May 6 of that year. On the day the rosters were announced, Wood was 8-3 and second in the NL with 139 strikeouts in 93 1/3 innings.
Wood was an obvious All-Star selection – at least to me and countless others – and yet NL manager Jim Leyland crunched the numbers and decided that Rick Reed and Andy Ashby were better choices.
I bring this up not to re-hash the Wood omission, but to advocate for Stephen Strasburg making this year’s NL All-Star team if he continues to dominate between now and the selection time on July 4. Take Grace’s 12-year-old words, and they still apply.
Strasburg doesn’t have the credentials Wood did in 1998 – but only because he didn’t come up to the majors until early June. In just three starts, Strasburg has captured the imagination of baseball fans like no one certainly since Wood, and probably going back to Fernando Valenzuela or Mark Fidyrich. I think he’s already shown himself to be as dominant as anyone this side of Ubaldo Jimenez.
Consider this: When Leyland was faced with his Wood dilemma, All-Star rosters were at 30. Then the tie game in Milwaukee happened in 2002, and the rosters have been expanded three times since to ensure that never occurs again. National League manager Charlie Manuel will have 34 players at his disposal – 13 of them pitchers. That’s three more pitchers than Leyland selected. Surely, there’s a spot for the most riveting pitcher in baseball.
Yes, picking Strasburg would come at the expense of a pitcher who has been toiling all season, someone with better overall numbers. But it comes down to this: the All-Star Game is for the fans. Interest has been waning in recent years. Ratings are in a nosedive. The presence of Strasburg facing the likes of Joe Mauer, Evan Longoria and Vlad Guerrero, would be great theater. And with 12 straight losses, the National League could stand to use another overpowering arm.
It’s unorthodox, and controversial. But sometimes, that’s not a bad thing. Put Stephen Strasburg on the All-Star team. Make sure it’s must-see TV.
Here’s a poll: