Each baseball era thinks it is unique. But more often, it duplicates past plots precisely. Stephen Strasburg might have been this decade's version of Mark Fidrych, Fernando Valenzuela or Hideo Nomo, rookie pitchers who started All-Star Games in 1976, 1981 and 1995, respectively. But Strasburg, 21, did not make the all-star team because the Washington Nationals did not call him up to the big leagues until June.
Instead, Strasburg will have a few days off next week after starting his major-league career with two thrilling performances and four promising but flawed ones. He can skip a week-long debate about whether he deserves to be an all-star after only two career wins. "We were OK with either outcome. On balance, it's probably better this way," said Nationals president Stan Kasten. "Stephen was embarrassed by it."
If enough National League pitchers get hurt between now and the game, on July 13, Strasburg might still be added to the team. But National League manager Charlie Manuel sounded as if he is not inclined to make that decision. "He got quite a bit of consideration, but what's he got, like five starts? He's going be an all-star for a long time," Manuel said. "I felt like, 'Just leave him alone and let him get used to the major league level.'"
The Nationals and Strasburg may not realise how fortunate they are. Periodically, baseball endorses a kind of mid-summer sacrifice of a young player for the sake of marketing. And with hindsight, many of those young pitchers were at their career peaks on the week they dominated all-star celebrations. In 1976, the Detroit Tigers' Fidrych started the All-Star Game as a rookie, Two days later, he made a regular season start and pitched an 11-inning complete game. A pattern was set - do not take him out of the game; he can finish it. So, he pitched complete games in 31 of his first 37 starts.
By the 1977 All-Star Game he was disabled and won only four more games during the rest of his career. The more amazing the talent, the greater the danger of ruining it by forgetting that the possessor of the gift is just a young man. The attention that Fidrych relished and Valenzuela endured - after starting his career with eight wins, seven complete games and five shutouts - were fame-sated experiences that invert any normal life arc. Over the years, other youngsters were only slightly less adored. The impact on their arms or characters was seldom positive whether it was Dwight Gooden at age 19 or Mark Prior at 22.
Nobody in baseball throws as hard as Strasburg ? he regularly hits 100mph with his fastball, and nobody's change-up is as goofy fast. When it comes to strikeouts-per-nine-innings, Strasburg is ahead of any starter and compares to Randy Johnson in his prime. But, just as important for his long-run place in the sport, Strasburg actually seems to respect the game. That, and a healthy arm, may take care of any all-star debates involving the Nationals right-hander for quite some time.
* Washington Post