One Era Ends; Another Begins; Stephen Strasburg to Retire

We all knew this day was coming — we just did not know when — and the news broke that Stephen Strasburg is set to officially retire in September with the headlines that we had feared for many months, and it still hit many like a ton of bricks when this article went live: Stephen Strasburg, the Nats’ World Series MVP, plans to retire.

The Nationals have tentatively announced a press conference for Saturday, September 9 to make the format announcement. We don’t know why that date was chosen. Interestingly that date is the same day as the Nats host the Dodgers in Nationals Park. It could be a coincidence but the original architect of “The Plan”, and former Nats’ team president Stan Kasten, could be in the stadium on that day as he is a front office executive with the Dodgers. Kasten was part of the original Nats’ ownership group with the Lerner family, and a key part of the plan to tank to rebuild and build up from the farm system that netted the Strasburg draft pick as well as Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, and so on.

Some of those draft picks like Strasburg and Rendon were 2019 World Series heroes, and other draft picks were traded for other players that factored into the winning years of the Nats from 2012 to 2019.

On the day that the Nationals signed Strasburg as a draft pick, they opened the gates early and invited fans to join in the excitement of the future ace. Of course there were a lot of anxious moments until Strasburg was inked to his deal seconds before the signing deadline, and that is still a record deal for a drafted player.

Most fans who have followed the Nationals closely for years have assumed that Strasburg would never pitch again. It became even more clear when Stephen Strasburg gave his body to baseball. Now his future is a mystery was published. The title is somewhat ironic. The first player to have his number retired by the Nationals was Ryan Zimmerman; Stephen Strasburg will almost certainly be the second one. Both are well deserved and both sacrificed their bodies for the team.

“So for me, a little bit has to be put back on Strasburg here…OK, you throw a pitch, it bothers your arm, and you immediately call out the manager and the trainer? Suck it up, kid. This is your profession. You chose to be a baseball player. You can’t have the cavalry come in and save your butt every time you feel a little stiff shoulder, sore elbow…stop crying, go out there and pitch. Period.”

— Rob Dibble said on his radio show in 2010 and days before Strasburg’s diagnosis that he would need UCL “Tommy John” surgery

There was a lot of controversy about Strasburg that started with “he might not sign” to former-MASN announcer Rob Dibble questioning Strasburg’s willingness to pitch through pain, to the 2012 Strasburg shutdown, to other Strasburg injuries, and of course the infamous Strasburg “flu” in the 2017 NLDS. MASN parted ways with Dibble after his public statements, and the Nats parted ways with their head of media relations as well as manager Dusty Baker after the Strasburg “flu”, and nobody will ever know if Baker’s tenure ending had anything to do with the mishandling of the situation. There were radio hosts on the Nats’ flagship radio station that questioned his “manhood” — BUT history should accentuate the positives like his postseason 1.46 ERA in 55⅓ innings that was the best starter’s ERA since the great Sandy Koufax.

There are still quite a few questions to be answered on the details and the timing: Will Strasburg have a future role with the team? It would be great if he is able to teach his change-up to the next generation of pitchers.

Per Mark Feinsand of MLB, Strasburg will be paid 100% per his current contract, and paid-out exactly per those terms with no derivation. That would impact the team at $35 million a year for 2024, 2025, and 2026.

The current Strasburg medical issue is part of nerve-related setbacks due to the thoracic outlet syndrome for which he had surgery in June 2021. But go back to July of 2020 when the nerve issues started just months after his 7-year contact was awarded for $245 million. In August of 2020, the diagnosis was carpal tunnel neuritis. In April 2021, it was right shoulder inflammation, and that led to the TOS diagnosis and surgery. After a brief comeback in 2022, Strasburg went back on the IL with a stress-reaction of the ribs. He never pitched again on an MLB mound. In total, Stras pitched 31⅓ innings after the 2019 season. A total of 3½ full games for the $245 million. A contract that was not backed by insurance. The Nats ownership will eat the whole thing.

Stephen’s first MLB game was a National (pun intended) event. Lots of celebrities showed up, including Ken Burns who threw out the first pitch and was there because he wanted to be present for an event that was historic. He also got to promote the release on PBS of his documentary The Tenth Inning.

Strasburg will be known for being one of the greatest college pitchers and draft picks as well as one of the greatest postseason pitchers in baseball history.

The hope is that Strasburg’s body, away from the grind of trying to pitch, can normalize, and he can live a healthy life. In the end, Strasburg is a person with a life to live, and he just turned 35 years old, a month ago. He has not been seen in the public eye since he walked off the mound on June 9, 2022 which was exactly 12 years and one day from his 14K golden debut in Nationals Park.

The announcement on September 9 will be the end of the era from 2012-2019 when the Nationals were among the best teams in all of MLB, capped off by a World Series run. Strasburg is the last key player from all of those teams.

We now have the next era to look forward to with Crews, Wood, Abrams, Gore, Gray, Ruiz and others. May the next 7-10 years be as enjoyable, entertaining and successful as 2012-2019.

* This article was partially written by Don Henderson

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