Virtual Voices
Stephen Strasburg sits in the dugout the day after his final game of the season.
Associated Press/Photo by Alex Brandon
Stephen Strasburg sits in the dugout the day after his final game of the season.

The Strasburg dilemma

Baseball

What’s better, a short-term sacrifice for a possible long-term gain, or the possibility of significant short-term gain with a long-term risk? Sometimes baseball depicts the challenges of life, and there is a team facing this dilemma. It has the potential to shape a pennant race and even the World Series.

The Washington Nationals have been, at best, a mediocre baseball team for most of the time since they moved from Montreal to our nation’s capital in 2005. In 2010, though, they received a glimmer of hope when a 21-year-old pitcher named Stephen Strasburg arrived on the scene with his 100 mph fastball and a knee-buckling curveball. He had all the makings of a “stopper,” that pitcher who can end a losing streak. At least it looked that way until a ligament gave way in is elbow and ended his rookie year. Strasburg ended up missing nearly all of the 2011 season after Tommy John surgery, but this year he came back strong and helped the Nationals to a sizeable lead in their division.

So where is the dilemma? It is the same sort of complex valuation of outcomes that we face every day with significant uncertainty. On Sept. 7 Strasburg pitched his last game of the season. He wasn’t injured. In fact, nothing was wrong at all. Team management decided to shut Strasburg down for the year to protect his arm, one of the team’s greatest long-term assets. They determined that even though Strasburg could help lead them all the way to the World Series it was better to take a step that could possibility yield greater long-term success. They took the same sort of precautions we do with our money, our time, and our talents in the hopes of a future payoff.

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But what if the Nationals don’t win the World Series this year? What if they don’t even make it to the Fall Classic? Would having Stephen Strasburg in their rotation have made the difference? In a win-or-get-fired industry like baseball, championships are priceless and rare, so passing on the chance to pursue one all-out could be seen as a gamble—just the kind of chance we choose to take for something we deem more valuable over time.

On the other hand, what if Strasburg finished the season and the Nationals won the World Series, then a year or two down the road he blows out his elbow again? Would resting him have saved his arm and maybe his career? More pressingly, would that trip to the World Series had been worth the career of a young man? It’s a question of sacrifice. Was the sacrifice made worth the reward gained? It’s a question we know well.

We know these challenges, this dilemma. What we choose to risk right now is a great influencer but no guarantor of what rewards we receive. In this life, at least. But it is an uncommon grace to know that those sacrifices we make and the risks we take for eternal aims will bring about a sure reward.

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