That’s the unfortunate news coming this morning from Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo. Here are the gory details. They’ll get a second opinion from Dr. Lewis Yocum, but the Nationals are operating under the assumption that he’ll have the operation and miss all of next season.
This is very sad news — for Strasburg, for the Nationals, and for baseball. Watching Strasburg this season, especially early, was an absolute thrill. The arrival of a true prodigy is always exciting. Baseball badly needs a player who transcends the sport, a la LeBron James, and Strasburg seemed to be that guy. And yet when I heard the news this morning, I couldn’t help but think about this cautionary column from the Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell, written in March of 2009 — three months before the draft that brought Strasburg to the Nationals. After looking at the history of the draft, Boswell wrote:
It’s too bad Stephen Strasburg is a pitcher. Otherwise, he might be worth a record-shattering amount of money for a No. 1 overall draft pick. But he’s a pitcher. So, he isn’t.
History is unequivocal. Strasburg, no matter how much he dominates college hitters, will probably either be a .500 pitcher with a 150-150 record, or he’ll be a bust.
Boswell went on to detail the 13 pitchers who have been taken No. 1, and concluded:
Nobody — n-o-b-o-d-y — has used a No. 1 overall pick on a pitcher and been glad they did it.
It’s too early to write off Strasburg as a bust — the list of pitchers who have come back from Tommy John surgery includes Josh Johnson, Chris Carpenter, A.J. Burnett, Ryan Dempster, Tim Hudson, Francisco Liriano, Joakim Soria, Billy Wagner, Arthur Rhodes, and, of course, Tommy John, who went on to win 164 games after his pioneering 1974 elbow operation — but now his future is fraught with doubt. And that’s a true shame. It also underscores the fact that the human arm is such a fragile thing, and simply not made for the sort of violent action that a 103 mph fastball requires.
It also makes you wonder if the Mariners, whose fans were heartsick over losing out on the right to draft Strasburg, might end up with the last laugh. That’s all up to Dustin Ackley (himself a survivor of Tommy John surgery) — and the recovery of Stephen Strasburg.