Remember the rumored, planned Stephen Strasburg retirement ceremony which was to take place this past September in Nationals Park, officially ending the 2009 No. 1 overall pick’s playing career after multiple surgeries and difficult recoveries proved too much to overcome for the now 35-year-old right-hander?
And then it didn’t happen.
And then it turned somewhat weird when Washington’s Managing Principal Owner Mark Lerner made statement on the whole situation, which was, according to GM Mike Rizzo, misinterpreted as some sort of challenge to Strasburg ... or something?
Washington Post columnist Barry Svrluga reported that Strasburg, after a few years of trying to overcome injuries and get back on the mound in competitive action, would announce his retirement on September 9th in the nation’s capital.
Strasburg was unable to overcome nerve issues with his right arm which the pitcher and his club hoped would be remedied by Thoracic Outlet Surgery which was performed in 2021.
He’s made just eight starts and thrown 31 1⁄3 innings since helping the club win the World Series in 2019 (then signing a new 7-year/$245M deal the winter after their win in the Fall Classic).
“He has struggled with mundane tasks, such as lifting his young daughters or opening a door with his right hand,” Svrluga wrote at the time.
“Last summer, when he tried and failed to return — making three rehab outings before [a] final start in Miami — Strasburg sometimes couldn’t stand for long without his hand going completely numb. To cope with it, he would lie down on his side and press his hand against his chest.”
When the retirement ceremony didn’t materialize, Lerner released the statement lamenting the fact that the private discussions became public.
“Stephen Strasburg is and always will be an important part of the Washington Nationals franchise,” Lerner wrote:
“We support him in any decision he makes and will ensure that he receives what is due to him.
“It is regrettable that private discussions have been made public through anonymous sources attempting to negotiate through the media. While we have been following the process required by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, behind-the-scenes preparations for a press conference had begun internally. However, no such event was ever confirmed by the team or promoted publicly. It is unfortunate that external leaks in the press have mischaracterized these events.
“It is our hope that ongoing conversations remain private out of respect for the individuals involved.
“Until then, we look forward to seeing Stephen when we report to Spring Training.”
Rizzo, the GM and President of Baseball Ops in D.C., downplayed any controversy when he spoke about the situation after signing a multi-year extension in mid-September.
“I think it was much ado about nothing,” Rizzo said. “I think it was unnecessary controversy.
Stephen Strasburg, Changeup God. pic.twitter.com/1iaAYPwEVq— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 15, 2019
“It was initiated by a lot of miscommunication, a lot of misinformation,” he explained. “So I think it’s unfortunate and I think it was unnecessary. But the player is the one that retires, teams don’t retire players, players retire, and both sides know how these things play out.
“When there’s a player that’s considering retiring on the 40-man roster, there’s a protocol that’s in the CBA that has to be undertaken before we can do any announcements or take the next step.”
He elaborated on the situation in an interview with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies.
“Well, this may be the most misinformed, miscommunicated non-issue of the season,” Rizzo reiterated. “Stephen Strasburg — a pillar of the Nationals, a legend in Nationals’ lore — Stephen is going to be treated with the respect and admiration that he deserves. There’s nobody that loves and cares about Stras and has protected Stras more than me. He’s going to be respected and protected and admired by all.
“There is a protocol that has to be followed with players that are on the 40-Man roster that are under contract that are considering retirement — and that’s a player’s decision, not the team’s decision — that are considering retirement.
“There is a protocol that’s written in the CBA that must be followed before any retirement can take place, be announced, and obviously can have a press conference for.
“Unfortunately there was some misinformation out there and some information that got out that was erroneous that Mark Lerner expects Stras to pitch in Spring Training. That’s a new one. I’ve never head that one until just now. He said he’d like to see him in Spring Training. As would I. I mean, whether he’s retired or not, whether he can pitch or he can’t, we’d love to see him in there because he’d be a great inspiration for the young players that we have. He can teach grips on a superb changeup that he’s always had. He can really add to some learning curves for these young pitchers. So I’d love to see him around, but he’s going to be treated with respect and dignity like we always have. Our intention is that he is going to be a big part of the history going forward and be one of the Nationals’ legends in the very near future.”
As Rizzo attempted to make clear, the line about looking forward to seeing Strasburg when the team reported to Spring Training was not a challenge to retire or pitch again.
Stephen Strasburg, Disgusting 87mph Changeup (spin axis/release). pic.twitter.com/hYoMqjUn1I— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 24, 2019
“Exactly,” he said, “love to see him in Spring Training, love to see him there, obviously, I don’t believe he’s going to be pitching in Spring Training or prepared to pitch in Spring Training. We want to see him there, we love to see him, and just to interact with the players and be around, and be part of the Nationals’ family, just like [Ryan Zimmerman] is, just like [Livan Hernández] is — these guys come to Spring Training, and put a uniform on and teach guys how to grip the baseball and teach them the mental aspect of pitching in Game 6 of an elimination World Series. That’s all good information to have, and that’s all stuff that we would really embrace to have forwarded to our young pitchers.”
As for how Strasburg was doing health-wise, just in terms of his every day life, Rizzo said he hadn’t really seen the pitcher recently, so he didn’t know.
“I haven’t seen him enough to know where he is health-wise and as far as how he can conduct his day-to-day, that type of thing,” the GM explained further.
“And that’s one of the reasons why it would be nice to be in contact with him, see him in Spring Training and get to see where he’s at.”
Stephen Strasburg on Pitch Tipping. pic.twitter.com/F9rxZAr2Vo— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 30, 2019
Three months-ish later, with no further updates on the situation, Rizzo talked, or declined to talk, essentially, at the Winter Meetings earlier this month when asked about the possibility of having Strasburg on the club’s 40-Man roster when the 2024 campaign begins if there is no resolution before then.
“I don’t want to get into the Strasburg situation,” Rizzo said.
“Is it unfortunate that he’s taking up a roster spot? Yeah, it’s unfortunate. But these things are above your and my pay grade,” he told the reporter who’d asked.
“We’re going to let the Players’ Association and Major League Baseball sort this thing out.
“The bottom line is, is Stephen Strasburg’s one of ours. He’s a pillar of the organization.
“His name’s going to be in the Ring of Honor some day. And I love the guy. So that’s where I leave it.”