All of us have come to love the uplifting and inspirational story of a rookie making good on his promise. Case in point, Ike Davis. When that rookie comes with superstar billing, it becomes universal and even historical.
The past few weeks Major League Baseball was introduced to the 2010 edition of this story when Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals made his major league debut against the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates. Doug Thorburn of the Baseball Daily Digest said:
“Stephen Strasburg’s debut was so highly anticipated that the first pitch to Andrew McCutcheon was removed from the game, to be immediately sent to the Hall of Fame. Never before has a ballplayer’s debut attracted such national attention, and the expectations were impossibly high.”
Strasburg went on to pitch 7 innings giving up a mere 4 hits, 2 earned runs and a stunning 14 K’s. Stunning to say the least and oh so reminiscent of one, Dwight Eugene Gooden. On April 7th, 1984, the future “Doctor K”, made his debut against the Houston Astros.
He didn’t fare quite as golden as Strasburg, finishing the game going 5 innings giving up 3 hits 1 run walking 2 and striking out 5. Anthony Mccarron of the New York Daily News, interviewed Davey Johnson, former Mets manager and current special adviser to the Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo , regarding the similarities between Strasburg and Gooden.
“I’ve had a lot of great pitchers and he’s right in that top echelon with Gooden.”
Echo’s of the past seem to reverberate through time every so often. If you recall the Cubs once thought they hit the lottery when they were blessed with the two golden arms of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior.
In fact Wood received the same pre-Hall of Fame billing as Gooden and Strasburg. As time has often shown us, very few players have come along with such impossible expectations and delivered.
Very soon the Mets may probably come face to face with Strasburg and his 100 + MPH fastball. During the fourth of July weekend the Mets will travel To Washington to take on the Nationals.
While baseball fans and the league itself continue their torrid love affair with Strasburg I offer this caveat, let history be your guide my friends. Yes he certainly is blessed with an incredible arm and his demeanor is rivaled only by his curveball.
However, he’s still a mere mortal. The last thing the Mets should do is allow themselves to be caught up in the Strasburg hysteria. In fact here is my game-plan, devious as it may be, on how Jerry Manuel should approach this if the Mets are to face Strasburg during the 4th of July weekend.
Manuel needs to take a page out of the Zen master’s book; none other than Phil Jackson. Jackson is the master manipulator whether it be getting into the minds of his players or their opponents.
During this past NBA Playoffs, the Lakers took on the talented Phoenix Suns. Phil immediately set his target hairs on their superstar point guard Steve Nash. Jackson unleashed his mind games when responding to a question asked by reporters over whether it will be tough to prepare for the frenetic style of play of Steve Nash.
“Yeah, because you can’t carry the ball like he does in practice,” while making the gesture of palming the basketball. “You can’t replicate picking that ball up and running with it.”
Nashs’ witty response to Jackson’s statement was
“It’s news to me. I’m fortunate. I don’t know if I’ve been called for a carry yet. I’ve never heard of anyone accuse me of carrying it. I mean, the best coach in the league, Greg Popovich of the Spurs didn’t have a problem with it last week!”
Obviously not witty enough since the Lakers took 4 out of 6 against the Suns and eventually went on to win the 2009-2010 NBA title. Vintage Phil. Well played Jackson. Sorry Mauer.
The Mets and Manuel will be inundated with questions regarding Strasburg. Their best weapon, lavish Strasburg with as many platitudes in every interview. By the time Kevin Burkhardt has finished his interview with Manuel, he should have given Cooperstown enough time for the bronze to set on the Strasburg plaque. To those who may argue that players don’t read about themselves or watch themselves on TV, allow me to let out a –please. Watch the broadcasts carefully, you’ll catch a player occasional staring up at the HD jumbotron at Citifield before their at-bat. They’re not admiring the pixellation ratio trust me.
Strasburg will have a challenge if he faces the Mets. The Mets aren’t the Pittsburgh Pirates or the Kansas CIty Royals. He may have the tools but the Mets have the experience to match. Like the Zen master once said…
“Wisdom is always an over-match for strength.” – Phil Jackson
Oh and Jerry, it wouldn’t hurt to rub a rotund man’s belly either. I offer my services free of charge. Call me.