Strasburg Ambiguity Mars The Nationals’ Magical Season

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How can anyone involved with the Nationals justify looking into Stephen Strasburg’s face and telling him that while the team is on its way to the playoffs and is a legitimate World Series contender that because of a random number of innings and the edicts of one person’s dictatorial, unchecked authority, he can’t be a part of it?

The number (supposedly 160 innings or thereabouts), so random and capricious with no ironclad guarantee that it’s going to help him stay healthy over the long-term, predicates that Strasburg should resist and use his power over the situation to escape it.

There are so many compelling stories with the Nationals that the looming shutdown of Strasburg is marring all they’ve accomplished and it’s coming down to the self-proclaimed final word, GM Mike Rizzo. Given the number of GMs who’ve been celebrated in recent years and either found themselves fired (Omar Minaya); on the hotseat (Jack Zduriencik, Dan O’Dowd); or seen their reputations shattered (Billy Beane), Rizzo might not even be there in 2015. Manager Davey Johnson and pitching coach Steve McCatty are going along to get along, but Johnson’s style in his prior stops and the atmosphere in which he spent his formative baseball years—the Earl Weaver Orioles of Jim Palmer throwing 300+ innings—do you really think Johnson, at age 69, wants to hold back on the once-in-a-lifetime arm of Strasburg when he might be writing his ticket to the Hall of Fame with another World Series win? A win that could hinge on Strasburg being allowed to pitch? Do you believe that McCatty, who saw his own career demolished by Billy Martin’s and Art Fowler’s abuse, doesn’t understand the limits of a pitcher and when he needs to have the brakes put on? It’s inexplicable to hire qualified people to do their jobs and not let them do them; to have experienced baseball people whose in-the-trenches understanding of the game are dismissed in the interests of self-protection and “I’m not gonna be the one that’s blamed if he gets hurt.”

That’s what Rizzo is doing. It’s got nothing to do with studies or protecting the player; Rizzo is protecting himself. No one else.

The implementation of pitcher workloads has become a circular defense and is a logical fallacy. Because Jordan Zimmerman underwent the same Tommy John surgery as Strasburg and was limited to 160 innings last season, it’s presented as validation for Strasburg’s final number of 160 or so innings. But they’re two different pitchers with two different levels of talent and two different thresholds along with dozens of other variables that aren’t being publicly accounted for in the interests of a short and sweet, salable list of “reasons” to place Strasburg on the sidelines as the kid who has to take his piano lessons while the other kids in the neighborhood out enjoying the sun and playing ball.

No one’s saying to abuse him as the Cubs, chasing a dream and trying to slay ghosts, did to Kerry Wood in 1998. But to just say STOP!!! and be done with it is a different form of abuse.

Strasburg doesn’t want to have his season ended prematurely, but if the Nats get to the playoffs or World Series, he’s not going to be a participant; or if he is, it will be after a month of barely pitching. It’s ludicrous and could also hinder his career rather than save it. Strasburg has to have some recourse. Saying all the right things and being a willing accomplice are separate. If I were Strasburg and his representatives, I’d push back. Agent Scott Boras, no stranger to hardball as a former player and negotiator, knows the terrain of arm-twisting organizations in the interests of his clients. Strasburg and Boras have a large share of the say-so in this situation. The point of power is to use it. If it’s put out publicly that Strasburg won’t sign any long-term deal with the Nationals if they continue to put their constraints on his career, what’s going to happen? Strasburg could refuse to report to the club next season and force his way out of Washington; he could be a test case because the Nats are not operating in his best interests. The blowback of Strasburg tearing at his chains legally and in a public relations blitz would be fierce and Rizzo wouldn’t have a choice but to back down.

The number of great players in sports who have been part of teams that made it to the pinnacle of team achievement or came thisclose but didn’t close the deal are legion. Ernie Banks, Don Mattingly and the new Hall of Famer Ron Santo are three of dozens of examples who would’ve traded years of their careers for a title shot.

Exacerbating this travesty is that the Nationals—or simply Rizzo and Rizzo alone—didn’t take steps such as the 6-man rotation to specifically prevent the need to end Strasburg’s season in September.

It’s easy to suggest that what the Nats have built will be sustainable and they’ll have multiple opportunities to make it back again and again; that with Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and the young pitching staff, they’ll be contenders for years to come. Facts and history say otherwise. It’s not true that they’re absolutely going to have chance after chance. Ask Dan Marino if he’s stunned by never having made it back to the Super Bowl after his sophomore season in which he demolished the NFL record books and carried the Dolphins to the NFL’s ultimate game. Then ask him if he’d have sat by quietly if the coaches and front office decided that he’s thrown too many passes after 13 games and they were sitting him down to lengthen his career. You can say it’s not the same thing, but it actually is the same thing. Strasburg is a baseball player; he’s a pitcher. Sometimes, regardless of how they’re handled and babied, they get injured as happened with Strasburg two years ago. Nothing is to be gained by sitting him down with numbers that have no basis in reality. Yet that’s what the Nats are doing and it’s not about protecting anyone other than the GM of the team, which makes it exponentially worse.

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Did The Dolphins Sign Ochocinco For Hard Knocks?

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HBO’s Hard Knocks wanted to have the New York Jets on for a second straight season but after the loud mouth of coach Rex Ryan and the lax—at best—discipline and profound lack of team unity contributed to the team’s late-season stumble, they decided against doing the show. Of course HBO would’ve wanted the Rex whose bluster far outweighs reality; would’ve wanted the Tim Tebow sideshow; would’ve wanted the Mark Sanchez reaction as he tries to get past the fan vitriol and the media and fan lust for his less polished but far more likable backup; would’ve wanted to see what Santonio Holmes is going to do to rehabilitate his image with the team after his display in the final game of the season when he was essentially tossed off the field by his teammates.

But it wasn’t to be.

For the good of the organization, if not for the good of the viewing public and Rex-baiting media, the Jets are going to do things a bit quieter. Or as quiet as possible with Ryan, Tebow and company doing their thing.

We’ll see what happens with the Jets on the field and not on HBO.

HBO instead selected the Miami Dolphins as the star of their show.

No one seemed to understand why when the selection was made.

The Dolphins aren’t the annual championship contender they were under Don Shula. There’s no Dan Marino, Mark Clayton, Mark Duper combination to pile up points with a laser show aerial display. The larger-than-life football men that replaced Shula in running the club—Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells—aren’t with the organization. Longtime Dolphin Ricky Williams had spent his final season with the Ravens, but he’s remembered as a Dolphin and his quirky personality and existential musings are gone into retirement.

They have some flashy players in Reggie Bush, but he might’ve been more of a magnet if he were still dating Kim Kardashian. There’s rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but the jury is still split on whether he’s a true prospect or was a product of a high-powered college offense; he’s raw and will take time to develop in the NFL. New coach Joe Philbin comes from the Green Bay Packers where he oversaw the development of Aaron Rodgers and endured an unspeakable tragedy when his son drowned right before the divisional playoff game against the Giants that the 15-1 Packers lost.

Owner Stephen Ross has been somewhat out there in the media eye in an embarrassing fashion. In January of 2011 he met with then-Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh about becoming the Dolphins’ head coach without bothering to dismiss his coach at the time, Tony Sparano.

Harbaugh went to the 49ers and Sparano was given a contract extension as a way of apologizing for embarrassing him, but his time as Dolphins’ coach was coming to an end and everyone knew it. Sparano was fired with the team’s record at 4-9.

Interestingly, he’s now the offensive coordinator for the Jets and has to find some avenue to incorporate Tebow into his hard-nosed offense. Sparano was only the Dolphins’ head coach because he was a favorite of Parcells; had worked for him with the Cowboys; and would implement the Parcells-preferred method of running an offense. Once Parcells was gone, Sparano’s time was running out.

Even with Ross, Bush, Philbin and the other “name” Dolphins, there’s not much juice there apart from the cheerleaders and that they’re in Miami. With Brandon Marshall traded to the Bears, there’s an absence of people to watch and wait to see what they’re going to do.

That changed when the Dolphins signed Chad Ochocinco to a contract. But the question is whether Ochocinco was signed as a threat on the field or a ratings booster for HBO when there are few personalities with the Dolphins upon whom the show can be promoted.

There’s a perception that Ochocinco is a lockerroom malcontent who causes problems wherever he goes, but that’s not the case. He’s not Terrell Owens nor is he Randy Moss. He has been a good player and a good guy. The attention he’s generated has been somewhat like that garnered by the misunderstood types whose reputations were sullied by media dislike but weren’t the problems they were made out to be. It wasn’t a failure to assimilate to the attitude preferred by Bill Belichick in New England as was exhibited by Albert Haynesworth. Ochocinco didn’t fit in because the Patriots offense was centered around their two tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez; and quarterback Tom Brady’s possession receiver Wes Welker and his deep threat Deion Branch.

The Dolphins aren’t paying him a lot of money and didn’t give up any draft picks to get him, so he’s a “why not?” player who’s worth a look and might thrive in a pass-happy offense implemented by Philbin and run by Tannehill.

He can still play at 34 if he’s in the right situation. But he’s more of a signing that the old Cowboys would’ve made in the vein of veterans like Mike Ditka and Lance Alworth who had once known greatness and could help a team on the precipice of a championship win their title with a catch here, a block there, experience and leadership. The Raiders used to do it; the 49ers used to do it; and the Patriots do it.

In other words, he’s not a signing that the Dolphins would’ve made if they were looking for pure on-field use. Their planned appearance on Hard Knocks might’ve been the catalyst for the signing. Bringing in players for reasons other than what they can do on the field and how they can help is a mistake. Ochocinco won’t be dumped because he’s causing trouble or that he can’t play anymore; he’ll be dumped because the Dolphins are using him for HBO. Once the HBO-Dolphins marriage ends, so too will the marriage between the Dolphins and Ochocinco.

Hopefully, for his sake, Ochocinco is aware of this and prepared to look for work elsewhere if he wants to continue his career.

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