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Before there was Strasburg, there was McDonald

Jun 3, 2009, 8:27 AM EDT

As we approach the draft, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale has an excellent story this morning about the last
Stephen Strasburg: Ben McDonald, the LSU pitcher who was the first
overall pick of the 1989 draft. Taken by the Orioles, McDonald, like
Strasburg, had ungodly stuff. McDonald, like Strasburg, was expected to
help the big club almost immediately. And most interestingly, McDonald,
like Strasburg, had Scott Boras for an agent:

“I don’t know what it’s going to be like for (Strasburg’s) family,
but for us, tough, really, really tough,” says Larry McDonald, Ben’s
father. “We took Scott Boras’ advice, and he got Ben more money than we
dreamed, but it was so tough on everyone here. Every time Scott Boras
would call, my wife would just say, ‘Oh, here’s that fancy
slick-back-haired California lawyer calling again’ ” . . . Says Rebecca
McDonald, Ben’s mother: “I sat by myself many nights on the porch just
wanting to cry. People were getting caught up in town. Some of our
friends agreed with us, some didn’t. And all Ben wanted to do was play
ball” . . . “People didn’t like Scott Boras too much back then,” Larry
McDonald says. “I guess things haven’t changed much.”

The biggest difference between Ben McDonald’s family in 1989 and
Stephen Strasburg’s family in 2009 is that there exists twenty years of
accumulated and easily accessible Scott Boras history out there, so if
they’re unhappy with his representation they only have themselves to
blame. Yes, he’s unpopular in some quarters, but he’s not coming in
under the radar or anything, and anyone who hooks up with him should
know what to expect. What shouldn’t
be expected is the $50 million that everyone seems to keep parroting. A
deal that big isn’t happening, and even Boras knows that. He’s just
throwing the number out there so that the $25 million + perks (e.g. an
opt-out clause or something) he ultimately gets from the Nationals
seems relatively reasonable.

The funniest thing about all of this is the part of this which will
probably drive Nats fans the craziest — the fact that, thanks to
Boras, no deal will get done until midnight at the August 15th signing
deadline — is likely what will protect Strasburg and the Nats the
most. The article reminds us that Ben McDonald made his Major League
debut the same summer he was drafted, which immediately followed a
spring during which his workload was extreme. While some quoted in the
article lament the fact that a pitcher’s development could be set back
by signing late, there’s no question that McDonald could have benefited
from a little rest in 1989. And who knows? If he got it, maybe he
wouldn’t have suffered so many injuries down the road.

If you’re pulling for Stephen Strasburg — and why wouldn’t you? –
I can’t think of any downside to him getting most of June, July and
August off, be it due to contentious contract negotiations or
otherwise.

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