Should Strasburg be an NL All-Star?
The debate is on whether baseball's top phenom belongs in the Midsummer Classic
- Greg Fiume/Getty ImagesStephen Strasburg, 21, has a 1.78 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings pitched this season.
Stephen Strasburg will make his fifth career start for the Washington Nationals on Monday when the Nats play the Atlanta Braves. Strasburg has been downright dominant in his first four starts. As a result, should he be included on the National League All-Star team? ESPN.com writers Howard Bryant and Jerry Crasnick debate the topic:
Bryant: Make him an All-Star Crasnick: Don't make him an All-Star Whether Stephen Strasburg belongs in the All-Star Game after all of four starts over 20 days in the big leagues depends on how you feel about the following choice:
1. The All-Star Game is an exhibition in which baseball showcases its best, most popular players for the purpose of growing the sport, both in terms of interest and exposure.
2. The All-Star Game, while an exhibition for the fans and a showcase of the sport, is more than anything else a reward to the players who have enjoyed an excellent first half of the season.
Although I believe the correct answer is both, if I had to choose one, it would be the former, and is there anyone in baseball whom the country would rather watch than Strasburg?
That by itself means he belongs. It is not the purist's decision. Having Strasburg even in the conversation of the All-Star Game despite pitching in the big leagues for less than a month might even be considered an insult to the game and its participants.
But he belongs on the big stage with the best players in the game. Maybe he isn't one of the best players in the game -- how can he be after fewer than a half-dozen times on the mound? -- and instead is one of those comets streaking across the night sky, more phenom than anointed. But Strasburg is the most exciting quantity in baseball right now, and for a sport that is consistently upstaged by football, there is little harm in bending the unwritten rules for a little theater.
The written rules say that each team must field one representative to the game, and Ryan Zimmerman is having a nice season (.290, 13 home runs, 37 RBIs), but no disrespect, is anyone outside the Zimmerman clan going to watch the game because he's in it? Strasburg right now is the best player on the Washington Nationals.
Strasburg is an electric commodity. Only over a handful of years has a young pitcher -- Fernando Valenzuela, Roger Clemens, Dwight Gooden, Mark Fidrych -- immediately energized the sport.
And so, at the end of the day, I say Strasburg should be on the National League roster. For years, baseball has attempted to restore the relevance of the Midsummer Classic, an event undermined by technology and progress.
I grew up in Boston and later southeastern Massachusetts in the pre-cable, pre-DirecTV Extra Innings, pre-interleague play 1970s and '80s. That meant there were the Red Sox, the Red Sox and the Red Sox on television. Save for the occasional Cardinals-Cubs tilt on the NBC Game of the Week, the National League might as well have been a foreign country. That gave immediate power and importance to the All-Star Game.
Now that both leagues are as accessible to the public as McDonald's, the exoticism is gone from the All-Star Game. Talents like Strasburg bring it back.
Viewership would rise on the chance the kid gets in the game. He is playing for a team that is not mathematically out of playoff contention but is 10 games under .500, and thus a national audience would be deprived of a theatrical moment.
And besides, purists know the All-Star Game has already been adulterated -- by baseball, when commissioner Bud Selig panicked after the embarrassing 2002 All-Star Game tie and placed real importance (home-field advantage in the World Series) on a game in which the final score isn't supposed to matter.
So what is worse: a national audience being introduced to the most exciting prospect the game has seen in years or an exhibition that has prevented one league from having home-field advantage during the championship for nearly a decade? I'd rather see Strasburg.
Howard Bryant is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is the author of "The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron," "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston" and "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball" He can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/hbryant42 or reached at Howard.Bryant@espn.com.
The argument I keep hearing for Stephen Strasburg in the All-Star Game is that "it's an event for the fans, and he's the player America really wants to see."
If that's the case, maybe Aroldis Chapman of the Reds can go to Anaheim, too. Sure, he hasn't pitched an inning in the majors yet. But that Cuban defection thing makes for a heartwarming story, he throws 100 mph, and just think what he could do for the Latino demographic.
There's something to be said for actually earning a spot, and as dominant as Strasburg has been since joining the Nationals three weeks ago, 41 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings against the Pirates, Indians, White Sox and Royals falls short of the minimal standards for belonging.
I know we live in an instant-gratification society, but shouldn't a berth in an All-Star Game actually mean something? Jamie Moyer of the Phillies just won his 267th career game at age 47 while relying on a fastball that averages 81 mph. Moyer has pitched 4,005 career innings and logged one inning in an All-Star Game.
R.A. Dickey, a former first-round pick who was written off as a flop, reinvented himself as a knuckleballer and has gone 6-0 with a 2.33 ERA to help save the Mets' season. Why is he any less deserving than Strasburg -- because he throws 20 mph slower and hasn't received as much hype?
Roster construction is a zero-sum game, and if Strasburg goes to Anaheim, some deserving pitcher will stay home.
Maybe it'll be Milwaukee's Yovani Gallardo, who has 115 strikeouts in 103 innings this season. Or maybe it's San Diego's Mat Latos, who's 8-4 with a 2.85 ERA for the surprise NL West leaders. Latos hits 97 mph on the gun, blows huge bubbles coming off the mound and is a lot of fun to watch -- even if most of the country can't spell his first name or correctly pronounce his last.
Strasburg is, by all accounts, a shy, conscientious kid, and I imagine even he would be embarrassed to create a media circus in Anaheim while Ubaldo Jimenez, David Price and other terrific young pitchers are relegated to afterthoughts. And heaven forbid if Strasburg appeared in the game and actually gave up a run; he might be branded a failure for eternity.
Yes, the All-Star Game is an event for the fans, and everyone is dying to see Strasburg. But this isn't the old days when we had to sit around and wait for a "Game of the Week" appearance to get a rare glimpse of the kid. If Strasburg received any more media exposure, there would be closed-circuit cameras in his bedroom monitoring him while he sleeps -- a là Jim Carrey in "The Truman Show."
If Strasburg is as good as he appears, there should be about 12 All-Star appearances in his future. In the meantime, it would be doing both him and the player he displaces a disservice to send him to Anaheim under these circumstances. Let him go as a legitimate All-Star -- not a one-man ratings gimmick.
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