MIAMI, FL - Pitcher Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals throws against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Stephen Strasburg isn't happy with the Nationals' decision to sit him down. But how unhappy should he really get?
It's not like it was a guarded secret that Stephen Strasburg isn't happy with the Nationals' decision to shut him down, but Nationals GM Mike Rizzo confirmed it in a radio interview, explicitly saying, "He's not happy with the decision." Not that there was any question. It's not like Strasburg was secretly pumping his fist at the thought of paid vacation. "I'm a finally finish Dragon Warrior III and eat a freezer full of hot dogs!"
The innings-limit is something of a tired story -- you'd better believe it is in the Washington, D.C. area -- but it's at least a nuanced story. There's risk, and there's reward. The lines between both are fuzzy, and it's the start of a multifaceted debate on what sports franchises and their fans should value. The glory of a single championship season, risks be damned? Or the extended success of a franchise thinking long-term? Then you get into the physical arguments. How much would the extra innings hurt Strasburg? How sure can we be? What's the cost/benefit to having Strasburg for an extra season or two compared to a championship?
Et cetera. The story is kind of tired, but at least you can see why it riles people up in the first place. It's fascinating in limited doses. The nuance, people. Think of the nuance.
Here is an example, though, of an argument that isn't nuanced: Stephen Strasburg needs to do something. That he needs to stand up for himself. If you think I'm attacking a strawman, let's round up some quotes.
That’s all you need to know. It’s out of my hands. I don’t want it in my hands, even though I’m a professional pitcher trying to — from spring training to the end of the season — win championships....He’s in a totally different world. Remember the Stepford Wives? He’s a Stepford Pitcher
If it was me, it would have to be at gunpoint. There's zero chance that I'm going to go quietly.
If I was him, I’d be throwing a fit
We might hear from Strasburg a little bit. If it was me, if I was Stephen Strasburg, I’d be making a lot of noise, saying, ‘I’m pitching.’"
This is an incomplete collection, but you get the idea. Stand up for yourself, you pansy, say the ex-players. What kind of teammate are you?
This all assumes that, what, Strasburg was called into Rizzo's office last week and given the bad news? This has been the plan for over a year. Possibly two years. Step 1: Get him healthy. Step 2: Get him stretched out. Step 3: Let him continue his career as a normal pitcher. You can argue the wisdom of how they've handled Step 2, and whether it would have been better to start his season in May, or whether he should have been skipping starts periodically through the season. But those are arguments that made sense six months ago. The Nationals made their decision, and they aren't backing down.
And there isn't a damned thing Strasburg can do about it now. His options are roughly:
Make private threats and ultimatums to the owners and front office behind closed doors
I'll never re-sign here if you do this. The second I hit free agency, I walk for the way you mollycoddled me. This is embarrassing, and I'll remember this. Et cetera.
Make a huge public scene
In this scenario, in the first start that Strasburg is supposed to miss, he runs out to the mound and starts warming up. Like, no big deal. When Davey Johnson comes out to get him, there are threats, possibly with the phrase, "I'll cut you, old man" worked in there for effect. It's not that hard to get a butterfly knife, the execution of which is especially intimidating when done properly.
Or perhaps Strasburg just sits on the mound and takes his shoes and socks off, like Richie Tenenbaum, gazing around bewilderedly and freaking people out. Play stops for an hour as they wrangle him off the field, and while he doesn't get to pitch, he makes his point.
Wait, wait. A press conference with a privately hired doctor who announces to the world that, in his professional opinion, Strasburg should be cleared to pitch. Your move, Nationals
Disagree with the decision when it's made, continue to disagree with it while its implemented, and begrudgingly accept the decision without making a fool of yourself
You know, like a normal employee.
Strasburg might have done the first one already. Unlikely, but we don't know. The second one is admittedly absurd, but think of a scenario where he strongly expresses his disagreement without being absurd. Maybe some harsh comments in the press would do the trick. Really nasty, pointed, and unambiguous comments. Good suggestion! Now explain how that helps anything. It sure as hell wouldn't change the mind of anyone in the Nationals' front office.
The third one was probably what happened and continues to happen, assuming that Strasburg is really against the decision. But remember that it's not just one wacky GM making this decision on his own. There are team doctors and trainers and surgeons weighing in on this. Scott Boras -- a smart, smart man, regardless of what you think about him -- clearly had the ear of Strasburg and the Nationals on this. With all of that behind the decision, the disagreements that Strasburg might have would be tempered quite a bit.
There is still room for debate. It's the tip of the Strasburg, amirite? And even if you're tired of the debate, at least you can appreciate that it's hard to arrive at an inalterable truth.
Except when it comes to the idea that Strasburg should do something. That idea is just stupid.