Albert Pujols

Stephen Strasburg = Tommy John

I normally wouldn’t worry too much about what fans in Washington D.C. think, except at work I’ve almost been forced to become a D.C. Sports Guy. My next-door cubicle neighbor, Max, is a 25-year-0ld little guy with a mop of hair that looks like it sees shampoo about once every two weeks or so. And he’s neurotic and an admitted serial whiner, so think Woody Allen combined with Harry Potter.

Max grew up in Maryland, so I’ve been inundated with D.C. sports news for about a year now. If I get an IM out of the blue from Max, 9 times out of 10 it’s a link to Dan Steinberg. Max would probably dispute this, but like many D.C. fans, he’s leans towards the fair weather side of things. He lives and dies with the Caps, has a detached sort of optimism about the Redskins, mentions John Wall once every couple weeks, and until Strasburg was called up, couldn’t care less about either the Nationals or the Orioles.

Since Bob Costas got caught up in all that Nationals pride and called Strasburg the next Walter Johnson, all I heard at work from Max was regarding K/9 ratios that he could quite recall (so I’d look it up for him on Fangraphs and tell him it was over 12, which always made Max happy), and how Strasburg was going to be the best pitcher of all time. Sure, it was a little tongue and cheek, but it was clear that part of Max believed that his new hero would probably be the best pitcher in baseball next year, and for the next 10 after.

Of course, that led me to needle Max all the time about him. First I told them the Nationals were going to shut him down in September because he’d thrown so many combined innings in 2010, so he wouldn’t win Rookie of the Year. Then when Strasburg went on the DL in late July due to shoulder inflammation, I told Max he’d get shut down immediately. Then he came back and pitched, and I laughed out loud about his 6 ER, 4 1/3 inning performance against the Marlins. I called him the Nationals’ future closer (which Max got really defensive about, maybe because I called closing games Strasburg’s “best case scenario”). I sent IMs to Max with links to the career-destroying comments Rob Dibble made about Strasburg’s inability to shrug off pain. I gave Max my condolences that his team’s new phenom was actually a lemon. Yesterday morning, we had this conversation when Max got to his desk:

Me: “Hey, did you hear about Strasburg?”

Max (visibly worried, expecting the worst): “No, what?”

Me: “They had to amputate.”

Max (freaking out for a split-second, then realizing I couldn’t hold a straight face): “Well, God wants his right arm back.”

Great line, and I was tempted to text him this morning and see what his reaction would be to the torn elbow ligament announcement, which almost certainly will lead to a Tommy John surgery for Strasburg that will keep him out until at least the beginning of the 2012 season. But even though all my actions I just detailed would speak to the contrary, I’m not that mean.

Not only would I be unhappy with someone who decided to bust my balls about one of my favorite athletes going under the knife, but it’s really unfortunate for all fans that Strasburg’s gone. Baseball is excellent right now in terms of the quality of play, and I love that drug testing has led to a decrease in video game baseball. But individually this sport isn’t offering much to get excited about beyond what your favorite team is doing.

Does Evan Longoria excite you? Roy Oswalt? Joey Votto? The two guys getting over drinking problems who also happen to be battling it out for the title of “best hitter in the AL”? How about Albert Pujols, who hit his 400th home run last night to only slightly more fanfare than what Nellie got when he broke the all-time wins record? Strasburg provided a much-needed caffeine boost to the season for all of us, but especially millions of D.C.-area fans who’ve had very little reason to care about baseball for generations, unless they rooted for the Orioles decades ago.

You know what? I’m not that worried about Strasburg. He’ll come back in a year and a half and still throw 98, and Max wasn’t even a Nationals fan anyway. Gotta go, I’m off to pick up a sympathy card at Walgreen’s.

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