Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Baseball Blog - It's Mighty Casey's Turn

Casey at the Bat
A poem by Ernest Thayer (from baseball-almanac.com)

"The Outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that -
We'd put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.

But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey's getting to the bat.

But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despis-ed, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.

Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat."

Those are the first five stanzas of "Casey at the Bat", a poem by Ernest Thayer that is many, many, many years old and known, at least as far as the ending is concerned, by many more baseball fans.

What recently became known to many of those baseball fans is that the Nats were last night able to sign Steven Strasburg, a college pitcher who seems to be almost as legendary as Mighty Casey himself.

The tales of Strasburg's baseball exploits while he was in college range from a fastball that clocks in around 100 mph that he throws with good control to a strikeout rate of nearly 2 per inning, an almost unreal number matched only by someone playing as an ace major league pitcher in a video game on the easiest difficulty (and even then, it can be pretty difficult).

The problem facing Strasburg and the Nats is that there is a really low success rate for pitchers (or any players) taken anywhere in the draft. According to espn.com, every single pitcher taken with the first pick in the draft, where Strasburg was taken earlier this summer, has been essentially a bust when it comes to actually playing at the major league level.

To make matters worse, the Nats signed Strasburg at the cost of $15 million, the largest contract for an amateur baseball player ever. At that cost, there is going to be a ton of pressure on him to succeed, or else be certified "The Biggest Draft-Pick Bust Ever" by baseball folks for years to come.

So at this juncture, you are probably thinking that this is all well and good, but wondering where the poem I put in above comes in to play.

Well I assure you it has a point.

Strasburg's being drafted by the weak-spending Nats was something Nats fans were doubting would happen, much like the people of Mudville in the poem doubted that the weak-hitting Flynn would deliver in the clutch.

Then, once Strasburg was signed, Nats fans doubted a deal would happen because the much-hated super-agent, Scott Boras, was negotiating on his behalf and was rumored to be demanding an unbelievable $50 million for his wonder-client. This one sounds an awful lot like the much despised Jimmy Blake, who Mudville fans also had little faith in.

However, much to the Washington and Mudville fanbases surprise, both of those elements came through in the clutch, leaving Mudville with Mighty Casey and the Nats with Strasburg to be their saviors.

Now it is up to Strasburg to save the worst franchise in baseball just as it was up to Mighty Casey to save Mudville that day.

As baseball fans familiar with the poem know, Mighty Casey ultimately didn't deliver and Mudville lost that day.

Time will tell if Strasburg will share Mighty Casey's fate.

I'm hoping he won't, but I'm also a pessimist, hence the comparison.

What do you think will happen?