First Things First -- Barry Svrluga on the latest sports news

Jun 08, 2010

Post sports writer Barry Svrluga discusses the most amazing and outrageous news from the world of sports.

Merry Strasmas, everyone. It's finally here! Drop by at 9:30 to talk Strasburg and Harper, Harper and Strasburg, the current Nats, the '05 Nats, and whatever other sporty thoughts you have.

Barry Could you please remind Nats fans to cool their jets today, tomorrow , next week, this season about WHATEVER the 'Burg is doing? Everyone should remember that Hall of fame pitchers like Ford, Koufax, Gibson, etc only won about 52-54 % of all of their starts. Nolan Ryan won about 42% of his.(You can look it up) So let's cut this kid some slack. I know that's hard in an age of instant gratification and no patience, but folks need to get over themselves expecting this guy to win whenever THEY think he should win. Baseball is the game that teaches you how to lose and live with it. Even the BEST teams rarely win 62 % of their games (100-62).

Here, right off the bat, is the crux of the Strasburg issue. He is a phenom, no doubt, and grizzled scouts have said they've never seen anything like him. But the realist in us says we can't expect too much too soon, and that success for a pitcher has to fit into success for the team, because someone needs to provide him some runs.

But man, think of the 100-62 record broken down another way: Some lousy pitchers have to pitch some of those games, right? The amazing is possible. Ron Guidry went 25-3 in 1978. Roger Clemens went 24-4 in 1986.

I encourage Nats fans to walk the tightrope. Believe he can do almost anything, and hope he lives up to half the hype.

So if you had to bet the house on Strasburg's arm in 10 years, is he more like Tom Seaver or Tommy John?

This, too, gets to the crux of things. In the long run, Bryce Harper is a safer bet, right? Any injury he gets likely wouldn't be career altering, even if he blows out a knee or something (which is less likely, the Nats apparently think, in right field than behind the plate). I know some scouts have expressed some concern about the stress Strasburg's motion puts on his arm. I'm not a scout, and I don't see that. His mechanics look really nice to me.

I'm feeling good today. It's sunny, not too hot. I'm going to a sold-out ballpark tonight to watch what amounts to a major sporting event, whatever happens. I'll say Seaver.

What is all this Post coverage about Strasburg for? He doesn't play for the Redskins, does he? I'm just amazed that the Post found something to talk about for one month between the NFL draft and training camp. Otherwise, it's 11 months a year of Redskins talk.

Can't wait to get out to Ashburn Thursday for another rousing OTA!

(Don't tell anyone, but I've always felt the way you do. RedskinsRedskinsRedskinsRedskins. And I cover the team (though Reid and Maese might argue that's not the case). But man, you just can't argue against the fact that nothing moves the needle in this town like the Skins. Throw in a new, Super Bowl-winning coach and a new, formerly Philly QB, and man, people are going to eat it up.)

What TV Network will be showing Strasburg's first game ?

Locally it'll be on MASN2, and the MLB Network also picked it up, so if you have that, you can see it anywhere.

How about some love for the Utah Ute rugby national champions? They beat undefeated Cal Sunday in my new favorite TV sport--ten minute halves, no huddles, running clock...barely had time to get a couple of drinks in.

Is this question from my brother, a former [insert correct rugby position here] for the Williams Ephs?

Flipped by the rugby semifinals on NBC this weekend. Was stunned to see they were on there. Wow.

How hard is it for scouts to really figure out who the good young hitters are when they only face high school or young college pitchers. How do scouts "interpolate" to their performance against major league pitchers? It must be one of the hardest jobs around, because NFL scouts see how players play against the big time SEC or Big-10 players, etc., but baseball is completely different, yes?

This is a great point. I remember talking to Mike Rizzo -- who is, at heart, a scout's scout -- about this a couple of years ago. A popular cliche about baseball scouting is that "it's a crapshoot," to some degree. Rizzo took offense at this, saying the people who think it's a crapshoot don't work hard enough and don't know what to look for.

With hitters, scouts look for things that won't change, regardless of the level of competition -- bat speed, balance, the way the ball comes off the bat, raw power, etc. The best scouts can tell the best hitters-to-be by looking at the middle of their swings, how their wrists work to generate bat speed through the zone. It's kinda fascinating to talk to scouts like that. They see stuff I don't.

Hi, Barry, Loved your book National Pastime! Didn't know until I read it that then-GM Jim Bowden had a deal in place for Dave Roberts to be the Nats' CF and leadoff hitter, but that he was holding out for Jose Guillen. Why? Isn't it more difficult to find a legitimate leadoff hitter than a 20-HR corner OF? Wilkerson had to play out of position and bat in the wrong lineup spot all season, and his production suffered. Moreover, Bowden gave up an extra prospect that he could have kept. And some people wonder why Bowden earned a reputation as one of the worst GM's in MLB...

I wouldn't think that Bowden's rep as one of the worst GM's in baseball would be centered around Jose Guillen over Dave Roberts. (Smiley Gonzalez? Hmmm.)

The thinking, at the time (and thanks for buying the book, or having someone buy it for you, or finding it on top of a Dumpster and bringing it home), was that the Nats needed power from somewhere. Brad Wilkerson hit 32 homers in 2004 in Montreal, but that wasn't going to happen again. Nick Johnson was more of a doubles hitter than a homer guy. Vinny Castilla? The RFK air is a little thicker than that in Colorado. And the Nats had someone they wanted to force into being a leadoff guy, Endy Chavez. The thought was they had a better chance of getting Chavez to develop into a speedy CF who could hit some than they did finding power somewhere within the (really, really thin) organization at the time.

Obviously, Chavez didn't work out. Even from spring training.

With Strasburg's debut coming, I've been trying to compile a list of other athletes who were still teenage amateurs -- not including the high-profile worlds of college basketball and football -- when they were already being touted as having a chance of becoming the greatest in the history of their sport. I've got Tiger Woods, LeBron James, and Mike Tyson. Maybe Magic Johnson and Lew Alcindor. I remember the sprinter Houston McTeer got a lot of hype as a Texas schoolboy. Going back before my time, I can remember seeing old Sports Illustrated covers featuring Jim Ryun and Bill Bradley. Anyone I'm leaving out?

I think Syracuse's Billy Owens was on the cover of SI before he ever played a game for the Orange. Who was that Texas schoolboy pitcher -- Jon Peters, I think -- who was on the cover of SI when he went like 51-0 or something.

Tennis is littered with these kids, starting with Jennifer Capriati.

Remember, though: Strasburg is 21, married, and has been through college. He's had some time to mature, and some situations in which to do so.

Seriously - WTF?! It is argubly the second biggest game in Nationals' history and we get relegated to MASN2!!! I understand that normally Nats vs Pirates would take second place to O's vs Yankees but this is ridiculous! The Nats and MLB need to find a way to get Peter Angelos's hands out of the Nats TV deal. this is an embarassment and slap in the face to the Nationals, their fans, and MLB. I don't fault the Nats for this - they have to play the hand they are dealt - but this is utterly ridiculous.

Until I found out that Steinberg has Fios, and that Fios doesn't offer MASN2 in HD, I would have responded to this as, "Who cares?" Now I would say, "Yeah, if you have Fios, this is terrible (but if you have anything else, who cares?)"

As for Angelos essentially owning the Nats TV rights, there was a time when I wholeheartedly agreed with you and thought that the Nationals would be screwed for eternity. But over the last five years, this deal has favored the Nats big-time. They've received more than $100 million from Angelos/MASN for their rights during that time, rights that would not have come close to generating that kind of money on their own given the (until recently, and until tonight) miniscule ratings the Nats have generated, even in DC.

There may be a time when the Nats are a juggernaut and not owning their own rights is a huge drag on their potential revenue-generating ability. But that time has not yet arrived. Far from it.

I read descriptions of Strasburg in the Post, like "shy," "controlled," "media managed," but whenever I read his quotes, there's this voice in the back of my head that keeps asking, "What are the chances he's going to turn out to be a big prima donna and a jerk?"

I'm gonna lean toward "shy" here, and I say that not knowing the kid one bit. Dave Sheinin -- who has yet another excellent Strasburg piece in today's paper -- has been around the kid more than any reporter in the country, and I believe he'd tell you that Strasburg is simply not comfortable with all the attention, and that he'd rather not be the focus of it all. As a fan, I think you want him to be focused and competitive. I believe that's what he is. It's odd that the other first-round pick from last year's draft, Drew Storen, is just the opposite -- completely outgoing.

So what was the reaction of the players to the UM course? I used to play there before I moved out of DC--and before they lengthened it--and the course looked in great shape. Is it true the 12th green (short par 4 with the highly-elevated green) is less sloped than before? When I played there you did NOT want to put from above the hole, especially if the pin was in the front. On TV, I didn't see this. BTW, I did notice the course doesn't look as hilly on TV as it really is.

I did not go out to the Nationwide event (sorry admission for a golf writer, right?) and haven't played at UMd since the overhaul. Will try to get out there by summer's end and report back.

G'day, B-Svrl. We've heard lots and lots about Strassy-- his mechanics, his potential to be a franchise pitcher, etc. We've also heard that he's "shy." From what you know, how have his teamates perceived him? Is he truly "one of the dudes?" Also, what is the, as Wibon (I think) says, the "knuckehead factor" (if any) on the Nats? Thanks. You tha man.

"Shyness," I believe, was answered above. Again, from Sheinin, I believe he tries his best to fit in with his teammates, and they do their best to accomodate him, but there's a tacit understanding that he's different, that he's better, and that while some of them are going to be struggling to get to the majors, he was simply being held back, because he deserved to be there from Day One.

Knucklehead factor: Anyone who saw Nyjer Morgan slam his glove into the warning track while the ball sat only a few feet away knows this team doesn't always play smart baseball. How that translates off the field, I'm not sure. I'm just not around them every day like I once was.

Well the day is finally here. The hype is just unreal though. At this point I just hope he doesn't stink up the joint. I suppose we'll learn a bit about his maturity and poise if nothing else. This is bigger than the opening of Nats Park btw. Biggest event in Nats history since the return of baseball in 2005. Agree?

I agree wholeheartedly, and have been pushing that idea. I remember my reaction when Zimmerman hit the game-winning homer on Sunday Night Baseball to beat the Braves in 2008. I couldn't believe that Zim, the face of the franchise, had authored that moment on that night.

But this is different. This isn't about the ballpark. It's about the team and its future, about potentially having a baseball icon in DC for years to come. I think the number of people who want to say "I was there when ..." will completely trump the opening of the yard in 2008.

Strasburg is old news. . .let's talk about the guy who will REALLY be the backbone of the Nats.  Remember, pitchers play only every five days and they don't win games. . .they just don't lose them. To win you have to score runs. I hope Harper comes up soon and scores LOT'S of runs!

If we're preaching patience here -- at all -- I'd preach it with Harper. He is only 17. He is only 17. He is only 17. I'd say it'd be a push to get him here by Opening Day 2012. Maybe the middle of that season? He has to go to the minors, face professional pitching day-in and day-out, and learn to play the outfield.

But this franchise feels different than it did on, say, May 31, 2009, doesn't it?

Steve Carlton won 27 of the Phillies' 59 victories in '72. Of course, he lost 20 games the next year.

Yeah this is a good one.

Barry, the Bog has spent an inordinate amount of time covering the Nats pecadillos, chief among them the decision to play "Sweet Caroline" in the 7th inning, a tradition seemingly robbed from the Red Sox. That said, players can choose their own intro music. Will Steinberg's head explode if Strasburg chooses "Sweet Caroline" as his intro music?

Steinberg's head explodes almost daily. Go figure.

All right, we're already into overtime here. Sorry I couldn't get to all the questions. Steinberg will quench your post-Strasburg search tomorrow morning. Hopefully, I'll see you at the yard tonight. Enjoy it. Bring your camera. Save your ticket stub. Etc.

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Barry Svrluga
Sports reporter Barry Svrluga's assignments for The Washington Post include covering golf and the Redskins.
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