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DMA 7-22 Sports


July 20, 2010 11:00 AM

Baseball Should Embrace Strasburg Effect

Washington+Nationals+Introduce+Stephen+Strasburg+eaEw4-NVqMQl.jpg The baseball gods wouldn't have allowed it, but when you see the paltry ratings of last week's All-Star Game, maybe they should have let the "phenom" play.

Unless you have been hiding out since June 8, 2010, when he made his big-league debut for the Washington Nationals, you know the phenom is none other than Stephen Strasburg.

Quick, name another rookie in the decade or so before Strasburg to make such a monumental splash on the game. You can't and would need to go back into the 1990s and Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr. and before that to the 1980s to find Gooden and Strawberry.

Simply, no player, veteran or rookie, is sparking up the pastime right now as Strasburg.

He comes to your town and you want a ticket. You invitingly want to catch his act on television. You are now checking the Nationals boxscores regularly for his games.

But Strasburg in the All-Star Game, debated in major-league ball yards in the days leading up to the July 13 contest in Anaheim, was a no go. After all, everyone against it reasoned, a rookie hurler with just a handful of starts for a last-place team didn't deserve the honor.


Baseball, thankfully, is a game tied to its history. That is part of the allure of the game - that you see the replay of how Bobby Thomson and the N.Y. Giants won the pennant that year and realize what a moment it must have been, that you can pour over the career stats of Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams and debate who was the more prolific hitter, that you think back to the time when Denny McLain amazingly won those 31 games in 1968. Always in baseball, you wonder what is the next piece of history coming down the pike.

Well, in 2010, at least so far, it is Strasburg and his blazing, 100-mile per hour fastball.

This year's All-Star Game drew a 7.5 household rating and an average of 12.1 million viewers, according to the Nielsen ratings company. LeBron James drew almost as many for "The Decision." This year's numbers, down 16 percent compared to 2009 when President Obama threw out the first pitch, amounted to the lowest ratings since the game has been televised, according to reports.

Would a Strasburg appearance have made a difference in bringing more TV eyeballs to the game? Most surely you have to think it would. Just the anticipation a few days beforehand of the rookie being on the team would have generated excitement. The AL lost 3-1, but what if they were leading 3-1 in the ninth and the rookie was summoned to close it out? Wow!

With Strasburg, the buzz is not so much about wins and losses -- although a 4-2 record with a 2.03 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 48.2 innings is darn spectacular. With Strasburg it is more of a yearning among baseball fans just to see him pitch, wondering what he is going to do, wondering if he will get 10 or 15 strikeouts, wondering how he will dominate the game.

tigers-nationals-strasburg-jpg-47cc925098b1f21f_large.jpgMaybe baseball, as great of a game it is season in and season out, should take a page from LeBron, who captivated the full attention of the sports world for two weeks leading to his decision to leave Cleveland and sign with Miami.

Why wouldn't you want to find a way to spotlight perhaps the most marketable commodity in baseball - Strasburg?

SportsBusiness Daily just named him baseball's fourth-most marketable player in a survey of sports business executives and the media. Judging by the Top 10 on the list, baseball would do well not to bury the Strasburg effect, and could have set the stage for him at the All-Star Game.

The survey puts Derek Jeter as the most marketable, followed by Albert Pujols, Joe Mauer, Strasburg and Ryan Howard in the top five, then Evan Longoria, Tim Lincecum, David Wright, Alex Rodriguez and Dustin Pedroia and Torii Hunter (tie) to round out the Top 10. Let's see, Jeter, the pro's pro who plays in the largest media market; Pujols, great hitter, of course, but where is the charisma; Mauer, OK, but has your wife ever heard of him?

All great players in the Top 10, but it is not like we are talking Cal Ripken, Kirby Puckett, George Brett and Tony Gwynn or even Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire from the steroid era.

One of the great moments always in the baseball All-Star Game is the introduction of the lineups when the players line the field. As fans you love this part of the festivities because you get to see the faces of the stars as they tip their caps. Among those introduced this year: Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, Phil Hughes, Fausto Carmona, Neftali Feliz, Matt Thornton, Jose Valverde, Trevor Cahill, Joakim Soria, Jose Bautista, John Buck, Elvis Andrus, Ty Wigginton, Brian Wilson, Corey Hart, Matt Capps, Evan Meek, Arthur Rhodes, Yovani Gallardo, Omar Infante, Michael Bourn.

As baseball fans know, these are all players having good seasons, but something is wrong with this picture: you don't know most of the guys unless you are a die-hard fan. The NBA will roll out Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony for its All-Star Game and the star gazing registers right away. The NFL will have the likes of Ray Lewis, Peyton Manning, Larry Fitzgerald, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Adrian Peterson, Drew Brees and Troy Polamalu trotting onto the field at the Pro Bowl and you can relate.

Strasburg isn't yet the best pitcher in baseball. The All-Star Game's starters, Ubaldo Jimenez of Colorado for the National League and David Price of the Tampa Bay for the American League, came in with respective won-loss records of 15-1 and 14-2. But again, ask yourself, can your wife pick them out? Very likely not.

Baseball's graveyards are littered with phenoms who failed to make it. Remember Brien Taylor, Todd Van Poppel, David Clyde?

But this is 2010, and Strasburg, who turned 22 today, is living up to the sensation after just a year removed from the 2009 amateur draft as the No. 1 overall pick. His debut in June was the thing of legends -- striking out 14 against the Pittsburgh Pirates - called "the most hyped pitching debut the game has ever seen." With massive star power already, Strasburg shouldn't have to wait his turn.

Baseball would do well to forsake a tad of its history, keep this kid on the front burner and expand the game beyond what the Yankees do. That should have included the 2010 All-Star Game.

Maybe Strasburg will flame out like phenoms before him have, but he is the real deal right now, the freshest face the game has going.

  • DMA 7-22 Sports is a blog about sports in the Washington-Baltimore market, covering amateurs, colleges and pros. The title DMA 7-22? Means "Designated Market Area," per use of media rating services, signifying Washington is the 7th largest media market in the United States, and Baltimore is the 22nd. You can reach M.V. Greene at DMA722Sports@gmail.com

Photos: Stephen Strasburg with Ryan Zimmerman, 2009, AP; Strasburg, AP.

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