Stephen Strasburg Should Still Be Home
Only glitch I see is, the costuming and location are wrong.
Strasburg should be wearing the blue of the San Diego Padres, not the red of the Potomac Swamp Gnats when his major league debut comes Tuesday.
If you believe in baseball poetry, the San Diego Kid's team should be the hometown Padres. Sort of like Pete Rose, the Cincinnati Kid, starting out with the Reds. Or a Son of the South, Jason Heyward, going to the Braves. Was meant to be.
Only in this case, it didn't happen.
Rest assured that Strassy, as he's known in San Diego, will give the Swamp Gnats everything he's got, which might be enough to turn a forlorn franchise into something formidable.
But when Strasburg told West Coast Bias two years ago that he dreamed of pitching for the Padres, it was like a San Diegan saying he liked fish tacos, surfing and sunsets.
"Strassy was really hoping the Padres would get him," Tony Gwynn was saying the other day.
Gwynn is the San Diego State baseball coach who gave Strasburg a scholarship after all of professional baseball decided Strasburg wasn't worth drafting.
While Strassy was a boy, he rooted for Gwynn as No. 19 was wrapping up a Hall of Fame career, and Strassy's favorite pitcher was Jake Peavy, the team's ace.
When he stares down hitters, Strassy's look and posture recall Kevin Brown, the ornery ace who led the Padres to the World Series when Strassy was a boy.
Strasburg's work address would be 19 Tony Gwynn Drive if he were a Padre.
Give the Gnats their due, though. They figured out that if you're awful as a sports franchise, you might as well be extra awful. They lost 102 games in 2008 -- one more than the Mariners and three more than the Padres. Thus, they got the rights to Strasburg. Signed him for $15.1 million, a record for a drafted player.
One ironic twist is that the Gnats clinched the Strasburg Sweepstakes when the Mariners, managed by Jim Riggleman, won their final three games of the '08 season. Riggleman now manages the Swamp Gnats.
"I knew what I was doing," Riggleman told me last week.
Somewhat jokingly, I told Gwynn that Padres execs should've found creative ways to further weaken their team's roster late in '08.
"You can't look at it that way, man," Gwynn said. "Baseball gods work in mysterious ways."
Baseball's amateur talent is so unpredictable, it doesn't make sense for a club to try to lose enough to move up a spot or two in the draft.
Strasburg was the rare exception -- a mega-talent who can energize an entire franchise and potentially will be worth tens of millions of dollars before he can even become a free agent.
In the summer of '08, when San Diego was rooted in last place, the Padres regarded Strasburg as the best talent available in the following draft. No one else was close. A college hitter named Ackley was second on the Padres' short list. But when the Padres compared him to Strasburg, Ackley could have been Ackley from Catcher In the Rye -- Holden Caulfield's pimply, gawky neighbor.
"Strasburg could step into a major league rotation right now," then-Padres general manager Kevin Towers said in the summer of '08.
Ballplayers should always give 100 percent to win the game, no matter what the game. It's part of the covenant between fans and players.
I agree with a former major leaguer, though, who says Strasburg should've inspired some front offices to get creative without compromising the full effort of players.
"We did something like this in Detroit in 2002 with [GM Dave] Dombrowski," said long-time hitting coach Merv Rettenmund, then a Tigers coach and now a San Diego resident.
Rettenmund laughed at the memory.
"We benched everyone," he said. "Here we've got Randall Simon playing first base having a career year banging the ball, and we bench him the rest of the way. We put players in there who couldn't have really competed in [Triple-A] Toledo, and we took a thumpin'. We lost  games. I tell you what, if you looked at it from where I was sitting, we were trying to lose a lot of games. I'm sure they moved up for a better [draft] pick."
Now, the $38 million Padres are best story in the National League, and they have high hopes for the player they drafted third overall in 2009, outfielder Donavan Tate.
Imagine, though, if Strasburg stepped into a rotation of young guns such as Mat Latos and Clayton Richard.
"A guy like that could have set the Pads up," said Rettenmund, who recently watched Strasburg in a minor-league game. "Boy, his arm goes slow and the ball goes fast.
"The guys that throw it easy and it explodes out of the hand, you go, 'Holy Christ.'"