Monday, September 10, 2012

Ending Strasburg

The Washington Nationals have a good shot at playing some serious post-season baseball.  A team that has spent several years rebuilding itself, now has a chance to make a run at the World Series.  And just as this happens, they shut down one of, if not their absolutely best pitcher, Stephen Strasburg.  Strasburg had surgery last year and before the season began -- when no one thought the Nats would be in such a strong position -- the management announced it would have their fireballer on a strict inning count for the year.  He has reached it and they have removed him from the mound.  But in doing so, they have harmed their chances to take the championship.

It makes sense why they did it.  It is long-term thinking.  If we push his arm too hard this close to surgery, it could take years off of his career and they want him to be strong, healthy, and productive as long as possible.  But is it sporting?  If there is a requirement that one always try one's best to win, is there a problem with this move (admittedly one that may be trumped by the larger moral concern, but is it even there)?

On the one hand, the argument can be made that it is a move designed with competitiveness in mind.  Just as starting catchers are given regular days off and less capable back-ups given games to save the catchers for the length of the season, we are seeing the same sort of calculation over several seasons and not just one.

But, on the other hand, isn't competitiveness limited to only the season at hand?  You only play one season at a time and the injunction to be maximally competitive is limited to a single year's play.  If a football team has been doing poorly in the first half of the year and starts intentionally losing games in order to secure a better draft pick to get a superior player to improve next year's team, there is a big problem.  You have to play to win, even if winning would be a disadvantage later on -- think Olympic badminton.  Couldn't the move to shut down Strasburg seen as an example of this?

If we take trying your best to win to be a duty of professional athletic organizations, is the shutting down of Stephen Strasburg a violation of the ethos of sport?