Stephen Strasburg's brilliant, but history suggests he might have growing pains

The Nationals and fans shouldn't panic if Stephen Strasburg struggles initially.
The Nationals and fans shouldn't panic if Stephen Strasburg struggles initially. (Toni L. Sandys/the Washington Post)
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By Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Washington hasn't won the World Series since 1924, when Walter Johnson, in his 18th season and already beaten twice by the Giants, emerged from the bullpen on one day's rest to shut out New York in the ninth through 12th innings of Game 7. Clearly, mythic symmetry requires that the most aggrieved of baseball's original cities will, when it becomes champion again, do so in a suitably karmic manner with an unmistakable Big Train plot element.

Hence, Stephen Strasburg.

Even so, can we all just calm down, please?

We don't need to curb our irrational exuberance a lot. Every indication, from scouts to stats to our own eyes, cries out that, as long as he's healthy and pitches as he has in the minors, he will be somewhere between very good and magnificent.

But it would be both civil, and sensible, if we let Strasburg, still 21, have a chance to breath when he gets here.

Last week, Curt Schilling said: "I've never seen anything like this. . . . Nothing close. Not at that age. [When] he comes up he'll immediately, potentially, be the best pitcher in the game."

Thanks for the free gorilla, Curt. The kid shouldn't mind adding that monkey to the menagerie already on his shoulders.

It's conceivable Strasburg is that good already. But, since Sparky Anderson said Kirk Gibson was the next Mickey Mantle, no one in baseball with much class has saddled a rookie with so much unnecessary weight before he's even played a big league game.

All this comes on top of last year's headlines declaring that Strasburg was the best amateur draft prospect in history and often threw 100 to 102 mph. So far, that looks like 96 to 98 with good sink, except when he works from the stretch, when his velocity dips a bit.

Since Strasburg may be at Nationals Park by June 4, let's try to formulate at least a semi-rational basis for what to expect of him.

Luckily for Washington's sports sanity, and all baseball fans' ballast, there is an excellent comparison to the Strasburg of 2010 in terms of development, build, raw stuff and control as well as astronomical hype within the industry -- Roger Clemens in 1984.

Clemens garnered just a fraction of the public hysteria Strasburg is receiving, but there was a fraction of the vapid 24-7 silliness on all topics back then. Otherwise, they're the same 6-foot-4, 220-pound animal.

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