The Nationals 2019 World Series MVP, Stephen Strasburg, officially retires!

Real life can throw you curveballs beyond your control. In normal life, retirement is reserved for sexagenarians, generally speaking. In baseball terms, the mid-30’s is a very common point for a player to retire. When Stephen Strasburg opted-out of his original contract extension with the Washington Nationals, and subsequently signed a 7-year, $235 million deal, after the 2019 season, his retirement should have transpired at some point after the 2026 season. But health issues from thoracic outlet syndrome clearly caused an early baseball retirement to be a reality — sooner than later — and that day came today via a simple transaction log entry on MLB’s website. No press release, no advanced notice from the PR department, and just a single line entry as if this would not trigger “breaking news.”

Per sources, this new retirement plan was in the works for several weeks and just delayed due to “lawyering” which had to make it official from both sides. Strasburg is due $105 million in straightline salaries plus the Nationals owed him deferrals with interest. Our source said that both sides hammered out an agreement that satisfied the team, Strasburg, and his agent.

“We’re having conversations with [Strasburg]. I think it’s going to end up where we want it to end up. And, you know, we’re not going to say much more about that because we don’t want it to be a distraction, and he doesn’t want to be a distraction.”

— General Manager Mike Rizzo said to Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post at the end of February

Of course, many remember that both sides tried to hammer out a retirement deal last August and September and that did not happen at the time. At this point, the final terms that led to the retirement were not disclosed, but does it really matter? Shouldn’t some details remain private and confidential? Why do people care so much about the fine print if Strasburg signed off on this. Why has every unfortunate step of this man’s life become tabloid fodder? Like most Strasburg stories, there are more twists and turns than a John Grisham novel.

Some would say the disrespect started when Strasburg was just a young boy on his San Diego Sting travel team. His childhood teammate, Mike Leake, would make fun of him and later said, “He was overweight, pouty and used to cry. …” Maybe that toughened Strasburg up for what was to come later in life. Was there any wonder that Strasburg tried to keep most of his life private and has not been seen in public since the summer of 2022.

The player from San Diego State University was the first overall draft pick in 2009, and there were three teams in the midseason of 2008 vying for the chance to draft him in what was dubbed the “Strasburg Sweepstakes” because the team with the worst record would get this player in the 2009 draft. The Nats were the worst team, by record, in 2008, which gave the team the clear path to draft Strasburg, and that changed the future for the Washington Nationals as well as the mien in the fanbase. He received the biggest draft signing bonus in the history of baseball — a record that still stands today. From despair to jubilation, everything for the Nationals changed for the better.

Here were three quotes from scouts who spoke to Sports Illustrated at a college game where Strasburg was pitching for San Diego State prior to the draft:

“I’ve never seen anyone like him,” said one scout. “He’s a once-in-a-lifetime talent.”

“He doesn’t need the minor leagues,” added another scout. “He’s ready for the majors right now.”

“The only pitcher I could even compare him to is Roger Clemens in his heyday,” offered a third scout. “This is something you have to see to believe.”

With NL East titles in 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2017 along with the 2019 Wild Card berth and World Series win that culminated with Strasburg as the World Series MVP and hero, his status is forever etched in D.C. sports history. His name will be in the Ring of Honor, and possibly a statue one day at Nationals Park.

In the pantheon of the greatest postseason pitchers ever — Strasburg’s name has to be in that short discussion. When the Nats were in another elimination game in the postseason, they turned to Strasburg for Game 6 of the 2019 World Series. He delivered big-time pitching into the 9th inning of 2-run baseball for his 5th win (an MLB record) of the postseason and the biggest win of his career. He absolutely etched his name alongside Sandy KoufaxMariano Rivera and Madison Bumgarner as the best postseason pitchers in MLB history. Strasburg’s career postseason ERA is 1.46 in 55 1/3 innings. Bumgarner is a 2.11 in his postseason history. Koufax retired with an 0.95 ERA over 57.0 innings in his postseason history. The Sandman’s postseason record was all in relief. The great players step up in the biggest spots.

“You have a great year, and you can run into a buzz saw. Maybe this year, we’re the buzz saw.”

— Strasburg famously said after the Nats’ swept the Cardinals in the 2019 NLCS to head to the World Series

Expect a formal announcement shortly, and hopefully as previously discussed, a retirement ceremony with Strasburg appearing in-person or via the big screen. Two weeks from now is a weekend filled with daily celebrations for the 5-year anniversary of the World Series win with the first 20,000 fans through the gates receiving a replica World Series ring two weeks from today. In fact, the team will have members of the World Series team in-person for the weekend. Could you imagine Strasburg attending the event?

Unable to pitch since June 9, 2022 in an MLB game, which coincided almost to the day of his MLB debut a dozen years before on June 8 of 2010, the Nats’ greatest homegrown pitcher was a shadow of his former self. It was over at that point even among the prayers bestowed on the player known as “Baseball Jesus,” he never made it back. Strasburg, per reports was not functioning well physically. It was over, and the rumors surfaced in September of last year that he would retire at that point — until sordid details surfaced that certainly looked bad on the team — and there was a smaller minority that blamed the player. It was a lose-lose situation with hard feelings all around.

While Rizzo made many public comments that didn’t seem to sit well with some, the offseason gave this a pause for both sides to try again to work towards a retirement. Strasburg did not show up at Spring Training this year, and the team as expected placed him on the 60-day injured list on March 28. Two weeks prior, Rizzo addressed Strasburg’s status one final time.

“We’re discussing things with Strasburg’s camp, and we hope we get something settled with that, so we can embrace the man like he’s supposed to be embraced.”

— Rizzo said in mid-March

There was a locker at the CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches, the Spring Training home of the Nationals, that still had Strasburg’s clothes on hangers, and cleats in boxes, and mail and packages shoved in there. Untouched for years — it felt like a shrine. A sacred place that new players just walked by and observed as a player they all knew as part of the successes of the past.

Strasburg, 35 now, needed UCL “TJ” surgery in 2010 after just 12 starts in his young MLB career, and his rehab from that surgery led to what was called the “shutdown” which was controversial, and that seemed to be the way things went for Strasburg with multiple injuries and swirling negativity in the media. He was called “soft” by a DC radio voice, and a former MASN TV analyst, told him to “rub dirt on it” when he first injured the elbow. His unfortunate 2017 sickness in the NLDS was handled poorly in miscommunications to the media, and embarrassed Strasburg, and that played a part, per a source, in a change of managers as Dusty Baker‘s contract was left to expire. While other sources denied that the NLDS debacle played a part in Baker’s departure, it was at the very least just another chapter of disconcertment.

In all, Strasburg would end up making 247 career regular season starts across parts of his 13 active seasons with a 113-62 record, 3.24 ERA, a 3.02 FIP, and an impressive 10.5 strikeouts per 9-innings with a 4.37 K/BB rate. But again, nothing more eye-popping than that 1.46 ERA in the postseason. Strasburg once threw triple-digit fastballs, and had a curveball and changeup that were second to none. He was named to three All-Star teams, received various Cy Young votes — while never winning the award. He once looked like a lock to win multiple Cy Young awards like his former teammate Max Scherzer — and Stras had something that Scherzer never got — the World Series MVP award.

“I’d like to thank Stephen for all he’s done for the Washington Nationals. It was a privilege to watch him grow as a player and a person throughout his illustrious career. He gave us so many memories that will live in our hearts forever. No one can dispute the indelible impact he had on our organization. He put us on the map as World Champions and changed the face of our franchise. Thank you, Stephen — for everything — and congratulations on a tremendous career.”

— said managing principal owner Mark Lerner in a statement

So Strasburg should be elevated to legendary status because as they said in the Sandlot movie, “Heroes get remembered — but legends never die.”

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