If I could have a conversation with Stephen Strasburg

Video: Reading the letter on MLB Network

Stephen, I’ve never met you but I’ve seen you pitch and you are special. I announced your debut on our MLB Network with Bob Costas and John Smoltz. I was very impressed. I imagined being you. I made my debut in 1959 at age 20 and lasted 2 1/3. Never struck out a batter. Took the loss. What you did that night amazed me. I don’t know if I could have found the strike zone with all the advance hype and the high expectations heaped on you. It was quite a treat to witness what you did.

Now I get to visit with the managers and sometimes the coaches when I come in to announce a game on MLB, but I seldom get time with the players. Organizations protect their young stars from media and I don’t blame them. I have heard comments from people from a lot of different stations in life on what should be done about limiting your innings that you pitch this season. Executives, sportswriters, former players and pitchers, TV analysts from not only baseball but also football and other sports! Even some national news correspondents have weighed in on the subject.

Your manager, Davey Johnson, is a former teammate and friend, a man for whom I have great respect. He’s in a tough position. He wants to do the right thing. But Davey, like many of the people who have commented on this, has never pitched.

I can only talk to you as a former pitcher who wanted to be a Major League pitcher since he was 8. My motivation was to pitch in the big leagues, pitch in an All-Star game, pitch in a World Series. You have done two of those three. I can only tell you as one who pitched in two World Series that doing that is the ultimate prize in Major League Baseball. I was fortunate to do it at age 26. Hooked up with the great Sandy Koufax three times in 1965. Had a chance to be a World Series MVP. Sandy denied me that with his great performance. It was 17 years later when I finally got a chance to participate in a World Series again. That’s still a record for the most years between World Series appearances. We won that one. The Cardinals beat the Brewers. I had very little to do with it but it remains my top moment in baseball.

The money is nice but the ring is the thing for an athlete. It ranks high above pitching for 25 seasons in the Majors, 283 wins, 16 Gold Gloves, an All-Star Game where I faced Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente and Hank Aaron. Being on a World Series winner is the ultimate prize. We just had our 30-year reunion in St. Louis, celebrating our World Series win in 1982. Those are memories you’ll always have no matter how long you pitch.

If you can imagine what it would feel like to ride down Pennsylvania Avenue in a victory parade with your teammates and wave to the White house and hundreds of thousands of Nationals fans and feel that feeling . . . . you would give a lot of thought to whether it was right or wrong not to pitch anymore this season. It’s easy for me to say as it was for many pitchers before me who pitched in the Fall Classic. Warren Spahn, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Catfish Hunter, Koufax, Jim Palmer, Jack Morris, many more. We gave no thought to what the condition of our arm might be next year. This was the World Series — the ultimate stage. Who knows if we’d ever get back there again?

Give this some thought. It’s not Mike Rizzo’s career or Scott Boras’s or Davey Johnson’s or even your that of your parents. It’s yours. Do what you want to do, not what others think you should do. Selfishly, I would love to see you pitch in a World Series for the city where I made my debut. The Washington Senators were known for “First in war, first in peace, last in the American League.” You have a chance to do what the great Walter Johnson did for Washington. No one since.

Let me ask you this: “Did you have any symptoms before you injured your arm? Anything that led you to believe you were going to injure it on your next pitch?” I didn’t. I was having the best month of pitching I ever had in September of 1967 when — “pop” — there went my elbow. We pitchers really don’t know when it’s going to happen or if it ever will happen, do we? It’s a fragile profession. I’m just happy I never had to make the decision you should be able to make. If my GM told me in September of 1965 that he was going to shut me down and not allow me a chance to pitch in the World Series, knowing my stubborn Dutch nature, he would have had quite an argument on his hands. My Dad’s biggest thrill was watching me pitch in the World Series. It would have haunted me the rest of my life if I had deprived him of that. Gaylord Perry and Phil Niekro were Hall of Fame pitchers but never got to experience the ultimate prize.

Good luck with your decision, Stephen. But please remember — it’s your career, your arm, your decision. Nobody’s else’s.

13 Comments

This is the stuff that Jim Kaat is made of. It is the compassionate and considerate approach joined with reason. I hope Strasburg hears what Jim is saying here. Futhermore, I read and very much enjoyed “Still Pitching” by Jim Kaat. Kaat belongs in the HOF, by the way.

With all due respect, Mr. Kaat, it’s definitely NOT his decision. He doesn’t get to choose who’s on the active roster, and he doesn’t get to fill out lineup cards. There’s a reason for that – as you well know.

Mike Rizzo was hired and is paid to make these decisions. As GM, it is his luxury and his responsibility to consider every angle, whereas a player’s only responsibility is to play and to do what he can to win. To that end, players regularly insist on playing, even when it is not in their, and their team’s, best interests.

Whether any of us agree or disagree with this decision is immaterial. It’s Rizzo’s job to make decisions, and only Mike Rizzo has the resources and access to make an informed decision. All the research, medical advice, and other input to which he has access has led him to conclude that the shutdown is the right thing to do.

You can disagree all you want, but you don’t know what Rizzo knows, nor do you have the weight of his responsibility on your shoulders.

Finally, the fact that you felt no symptoms before your elbow popped is actually an argument AGAINST allowing Strasburg to make the decision. If there had been medical evidence in your day that could have helped predict whether your elbow was likely to go, would it not have been reprehensible for management to ignore it, no matter how healthy you mistakenly believed you were?

Again, I mean no disrespect. But as a former player, I would have thought you would agree that a player’s competitive nature prevents him from making rational decisions about his health and career.

Dear Mr. Kaats,

With all due respect, you are talking about an operation and a recovery time that no one on the planet knows exactly how to deal with. As Stephen was obviously going to be shut down when you wrote this, I have to wonder why you would make this pitcher, who might be the greatest to ever pitch 15 years from now, feel like he has to fight against a decision that is in his best interest health wise. Especially when we all knew he would anyway. As a player, you do not have the right to play when you want to regardless, that is a manager’s decision and I think if you have made an investment of enormous monetary value, you deserve an input. With Stephen’s case, the surgeon should have obviously been consulted also. This has been done.

We have all seen what has happened to many great pitchers who have been overworked and their careers have been what could have beens if not for bad management. It may well be that Stephen would have been fine pitching farther into the postseason, maybe even the series, but you will not have to have live with the decision to pitch him that long and potentially further injure him and ruin his career. Davey Johnson, Mike Rizzo and the Lerners do have to live with their decision and they have decided to give him the best chance at recovery by shutting him down. That decision is one of the least selfish decisions I have ever seen in professional sports.

So instead of you writing the real story about how this franchise made the safe decision in the long term FOR Stephen, you cast the Nationals as they organization that “deprived” Stephen of his chance, Because, in reality, it is not Stephen’s decision to play or not. To me, not only is that short sighted, it is ungrateful and insulting not to give credit where it is due. You were a great pitcher and competitor, so is Stephen; but the way you have framed your letter defies logic when you look at the big picture and not just from Stephen’s point of view.

I just hope your comments do not have him thinking that this organization is not looking out for him which it obviously is. I also hope that regardless of what happens this year in the playoffs, you would write an open letter to the Nationals and applaud their concern for this man’s future even if it is the wrong thing to do in your opinion. That would be the right thing to do Jim. You may know that now but I really I think you will realize it when the Stephen wins his second or third series pitching for the Nats in 2020. I do know that is wishful thinking but no one can see the future.

Thanks for your time reading this Jim and thanks for your career and contributions to the greatest game.

Sincerely,

Scott L. Stevenson
National’s Fan since 2005

I agree. What else is there to play for, except to win. To win the ultimate prize is what is dreamed about. The money is always there. Look at Cliff Lee. Twice he had the chance to excel in the World Series and both times he thought of himself instead of his team. He was more concerned with having a long career than having a ring. i have no respect for that type of thinking. Another thing. If a pitcher needs four days rest between starts, the presumption (valid or not) is that he needs the four days rest for his arm so that it will be at its best when he pitches. Yet the day after Matt Cain pitched his perfect game, he was at the stadium lifting weights. How does lifting weights help a pitcher’s are rest between starts.

Kitty,

you can get to him. We can’t.Somehow this blog post has got to read Strasburg. I’m a Yankee fan, but as a baseball fan, I’d love to see him pitch in the post season.

Now – what is going on with my (our) Yankees? *sigh*

Kitty,

You can get to him. We can’t. somehow you have to get this blog post to Stephen. I’m a Yankee fan, but as a baseball fan, I’d love to see him pitch in the post season.

Now, what is going on with my (our) Yankees? *sigh*

Pingback: Strasburg Decision Is A Tough One For Nationals « Artificially Enhanced

Mr. Kaat,
Great blog. I have a question that you may or may not have time to answer. If I remember correctly, when you were announcing with the Yanks, you used to tell a story about a pitcher who when asked what his best pitch was, he replied (I’m paraphrasing) “Depends. What’s the score, the inning, the count?”
Does that ring a bell. If so, can you remind us of the details of that story?

Jim,

First time viewer of your blog. Honestly, I searched for some information about you when I saw the results for this year’s Hall of Fame. I don’t posses the detail analytical knowledge/ability to make arguments for who should be added – I didn’t even search to see if you were in the hall until today. I’m just a fan who appreciated what you brought to the Cardinals, was amazed how many times Herzog had the confidence to leave you in to bat, and was surprised that your HOF elegibilty went by without you getting in. You had the tenacity, competitive spirit and well rounded athletic ability to be a consistent, strong offensive and defensive threat for an amazingly long baseball career. Really just wanted to say I expected to see your name on the list of Hall of Famers and was disappointed to see your name wasn’t there. Thank you for your example and contribution to the game and a very overdue thank you for what you meant to this St. Louis fan.

Barry

Jim – I am a Red Sox fan but seriously believe, actually know that Allie Reynolds should be in the HOF. I know he walked allot of batters, but his philosophy was if I want the next batter, I will walk the current batter. Maybe it burned him sometimes but not often if you look at his record. I know you would put Morris in the HOF, but I want your thoughts on the Super Chief.

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Mr. Kaat,
First off I would like to say what a great article you have posted and how detailed and accurate you were with the information you provided. My intent is not to fade away from this article but to ask you a couple questions as short and sweet as I can. It’s Tuesday April 22nd 2014 and I’m currently watching the Yankees and Red Sox battle it out on mlb network and you happen to be one of the broadcasters which reminded me of something and someone special. Put on your thinking cap on. Do you happen to remember a teammate and a good friend by the name of Roger Herr? He happens to be my grandfather and a inspiration in my life. He use to tell me stories as a kid about how you and him played ball together and I believe you were also roommates. Sadly, Roger passed away in August of 2006 due to many years of battling diabetes . Although this doesn’t have any relation to your article I thought maybe it would bring back some good memories knowing that you were a positive impact on my grandfathers life. Thank you for being a clean, respectful, and humble player over the years and best wishes to you in the future.
Sincerely,
Adam Krug

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