Good Morning Generation

I had an interesting conversation with my dad last night about the difference between athletes who were born great and athletes who become great.  There is a huge difference between the two, the best example being a much discussed former duo of the New England Patriots.  Randy Moss, more than any other athlete in history, represents the “born great” category.  I will argue with you all day he’s the greatest athlete in the history of the NFL (all apologies to Bo Jackson) and one of the greatest tragedies of our sporting experience was not getting to see him reach his full potential. 

Contrast that with his former quarterback Tom Brady, he of the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL draft and the best example of a “became great” athlete.  Brady had some God-given talent, but nowhere along the lines of Moss.  It was during his college days that Brady developed an unparalleled work ethic that took him from being a good QB to a great QB.  This continued in the NFL and the rest, of course, is history.  When we eventually compare the two careers one day, Brady will definitely be remembered as the better player.  He never left anyone wondering what he could have achieved if only he had fully dedicated himself.  To go all cliche on you, he left everything on the field.  But I’d still be willing to argue with you that Moss was the more talented player, and it’s not even close.

I bring this up to bring up another point my dad and me eventually got to in that conversation.  He mentioned how it was incredibly rare that we see the hybrid of the two categories mentioned above.  The rare athlete who was born great and yet still strives to become greater.  The best modern example of this Peyton Manning with Michael Vick attempting to do the same thing.  The greatest historical example is Michael Jordan.  As Bill Simmons said about MJ in a recent column on Grantland, “When will I see the league’s best athlete, hardest worker, smartest player and most ruthless competitor in the same body again?”  It’s the same thing with Manning.  You couldn’t dream up a better physical specimen to play the quarterback position.  Combine that with the genes and knowledge that was passed down from his father along with an extraordinary work ethic and competitive streak, and you get the type of rare athlete who can single-handedly carry his team to double digit victories as consistently as the sun rises in the east every morning.  My dad wondered aloud whether we would ever see that again.

And God bless sports because I have seen the light, at least I hope so.  Lost among the hoopla surrounding the return of the NFL this week was the return of a certain right-handed flamethrower who has a chance to achieve the rare born great, became great combination.  Stephen Strasburg returned from Tommy John surgery last night and somehow looked even better than the prodigy that dominated MLB for too short a time last season as a rookie.  Strasburg pitched only 5 innings and made a fairly talented Dodgers roster look like they were playing their first season of kid pitch.  What’s scary is that his fastballs only averaged 96.3 last night and scouts and doctors expect that to increase heavily as he rebuilds arm strength in the coming weeks and into next season.

Strasburg was a late bloomer, but there is no doubt that his talent among pitching prospects is second to none.  He combines the remarkable speed of a Justin Verlander fastball with a devastating curve ball along the lines of Barry Zito circa 2001 and a changeup that’s as effective as the once great Johan Santana.  No one in baseball has an array of pitches like that.  There might be better pitchers, there might be smarter pitchers, but in terms of raw physical talent, no one matches him.

Which makes it all the more important that you as a sports fan embrace this kid and everything that he could become for baseball.  Last year we didn’t see the ruthless efficiency that he demonstrated last night when he threw first pitch strikes to 82 percent of the hitters he faced yesterday.  Last year we saw a kid still was doing what I like to call “out-athleting” people, rather than working to develop a mental approach as gifted as the physical one.  By all accounts yesterday, Strasburg gave up only one hard hit ball whereas last season he used to give up many. 

Is it possible we are about the see the next great American sporting icon?  An athlete so rare, so dominant, that you can’t help but root for him, even when he’s facing your own team?  That’s how it feels with Strasburg.  He pushes the limits of what’s physically possible for the human body to achieve in the sport.  He demonstrates a subliminal ability to throw a baseball that is equal parts beautiful and terrifying.  If we could get ten to fifteen years of this level of pitching, who knows what it could do for a sport that is suddenly losing ground to basketball and even soccer?

If you’re a baseball fan, wait, scratch that.  If you’re a sports fan, you should be rooting for Strasburg to succeed.  Jump on the bandwagon now.  Be the first to root for this Kevin Durant of baseball.  And most importantly, do it before a certain future teammate named Bryce Harper makes it to the Show.  If there was ever an example of Randy Moss in baseball, he is it. 

Perhaps Strasburg can take them both to new levels.

Generation Y, where we wish it was Dave Chapelle who was coming out of comedy retirement to host the Oscars.

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Deconstruction Of Criticism Of Strasburg’s Throwing Motion

Does that even make sense?  Here’s a really nerdy article from the blog The Platoon Advantage breaking down why the conventional wisdom that, “by fixing Strasburg’s throwing motion, we could save his career” is actually complete nonsense.  It’s really interesting I promise.  “Similarly, whenever a hot young prospect gets hurt, the disciples of Dr. Mike Marshall, former NL Cy Young award winner and PhD in Kinesiology, trot out “the inverted W”, a position a pitcher’s body makes when he raises his pitching elbow above his shoulder.  Dr. Marshall believes that this causes undue strain on the shoulder and elbow because, as the pitcher lands with his front foot, the arm is dragging behind the rest of the body. In the pitcher’s effort to “catch up,” he generates additional torque on those joints which can lead to the kinds of catastrophic injuries that ruined Mark Prior and have shelved Stephen Strasburg. Marshall claims to “know the injurious flaws in the ‘traditional’ baseball pitching motion that injures baseball pitchers and how to eliminate all pitching injuries. I also know the mechanical flaws in the ‘traditional’ baseball pitching motion that decrease release velocity, release consistency and the variety and quality of pitches pitchers can throw and how to correct these mechanical flaws.”

[The Platoon Advantage]

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There Were Warning Flags Raised About Strasburg’s Mechanics

Here’s an interesting article from the Philadelphia Daily News which details a pitching instructor, Dick Mills, who published a long article weeks before Strasburg was drafted last year explaining why the young phenom was bound to get hurt.  While I realize hindsight is always 20/20 and it’s easy to say I told you so, the article is interesting to read if just to know specifically what’s wrong with his mechanics.  In case you’re wondering, the answer is yes, it’s almost the same exact problem as Mark Prior.

“I have seen lots of analysis of his mechanics where these flaws are pointed out but I have yet to read one diagnosis that suggests what changes could be made to help reduce his risk of injury and possibly improve his velocity and control,” Mills wrote.

Dick Mills wrote all this Strasburg stuff in an online newsletter that was published March 25, 2009, 10 weeks before the Washington Nationals made the college version of Nolan Ryan the No. 1 pick in the draft.”

[Philadelphia Daily News]

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Strasburg Fufills His Destiny As Mark Prior

The phenom pitcher suffered a torn elbow ligament and will require Tommy John surgery which means we won’t be seeing him for 12-18 months.  ESPN, ” Rookie right-hander Stephen Strasburg has a significant tear in his ulnar collateral ligament that probably will require reconstructive Tommy John elbow surgery, the Nationals announced Friday.  General manager Mike Rizzo said an enhanced MRI taken a day earlier revealed the extent of the injury.  The 22-year-old will travel to the West Coast to see Dr. Lewis Yocum for a second opinion. But Rizzo said he anticipates Strasburg will require surgery, ruling him out for 12 to 18 months.”  There is some good news to be had.  Pitchers actually are well-documented as coming back from this surgery throwing harder, if that helps.

[ESPN]

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Would The Nationals Really Shut Strasburg Down?

That’s the thinking from this former Nats beat writer.  “That’s right. If the Nationals are going to have any chance of winning in the next few seasons, Strasburg is going to have to play a major role.  They’re obviously not winning anything this year. Why risk damaging your chances in 2011 and beyond just to see if he can return in 2010?”  I have to agree with the reasoning there, but as a baseball fan this sucks…a lot.  We’re likely going to see the rookie phenom placed on the 15-Day DL within the coming days which also will entail a two week rehab stint in the minors.  This would set a Strasburg return around later August or early September, at which time the Nats will have already secured another top five draft pick in next year’s draft.  This will likely cost him the Rookie of the Year.  I keep flip-flopping on the issue of preserving young pitchers.  I love what the Rangers are accomplishing this year by letting their pitchers have huge pitch counts with the theory behind it being that it helps them build confidence and arm strength.  There are no right answers.  The Cubs ruined two of the top ten arms of the last twenty years by over-pitching Mark Prior and Kerry Wood.  At the same time, the Yankees seem to have ruined any confidence Joba Chamberlain had by refusing to allow him to gradually work towards high pitch counts and get himself through late jams.  Where do you draw the line?  I defer to Chipper Jones, “‘For him not to pitch was a little disappointing, but I applaud what the Nationals did because that’s their franchise for the next 15 years,’ Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. ‘If he wakes up with a hangnail, I’m holding him out. I want to protect my investment, protect that arm for the next 20 years. Because as he goes, they’re going to go.'” [Nats Insider]

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Strasburg vs Heyward Tonight

Prediction: you’re going to wake up tomorrow to a flurry of columns citing how one of these two phenoms clearly differentiated himself from the other and is now more deserving of the ROTY.  The two heralded prospects face each other for the first time ever tonight (7:05 ET), in what will surely be a contest that fails to live up to the hype.  We’re hoping the game gets picked up by the MLB channel because otherwise only the local markets will get to watch it.  Our money is on Strasburg to take the Rookie crown, but what we’re really waiting for Bryce Harper’s ego to find his way into the majors as fast as possible. [CBS Sports]

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All-Star Disaster

by Matt Corder

Stephen Strasburg (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images North America)

Is Omar Infante the worst all-star of all time?  Over the years we’ve had some questionable selections, but it usually results from the rule that every team must be represented at the game.  Charlie Manuel’s choice to include the Braves utility player on the roster has to rank among the worst decisions of the season.  It is unforgiveable that Joey Votto was left off the squad and you can’t convince me that Strasburg shouldn’t be pitching in that game.  Are you telling me you wouldn’t watch that game knowing you would see him face the best hitters in the AL?  Here’s an article that lays out everything that went wrong with this year’s selections.  [Jeff Passan for Yahoo! Sports]

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