In baseball, the typical news cycle for a specific issue tends to go from whispered rumor to planned announcement to audience outrage to a complete forgetfulness of the entire item all in a matter of five minutes. It’s a short, but concentrated period of time. This year, there was a topic of discussion among fans, pundits and industry members that lasted far beyond the normally tiny threshold.
It seems as though Washington Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo’s decision to shut down staff ace Stephen Strasburg early in what would’ve been his first full season since Tommy John surgery has been in the conversational spotlight since the season began. The GM did himself or his team no favors in this regard with the media by being simultaneously bold in his resolve to limit Mr. Strasburg’s innings, but vague about what that inning limit would look like. Even after the inevitable happened, and it was announced that the team’s ace was done for the year, the frenzy surrounding the topic would not go gently into the good night.
Like sharks to chum, we read with an active interest when Dr. Lewis Yocum, the name most mentioned when justifying Mr. Rizzo’s contentious decision, suggested that he had nothing to do with Mr. Strasburg being shut down. Then, when Scott Boras stated that this was contrary to what he had been told, we saw an opportunity to attack the owner of one of the largest targets on his back in Major League Baseball.
Of course, it was all simply a matter of misunderstanding, as Dr. Yocum released the following statement on Thursday evening:
I would like to correct the misimpression generated from today’s L.A. Times article, that I have not been a participant in discussions with the Washington Nationals regarding the recovery strategy for pitcher Stephen Strasburg. In fact, I have been contacted repeatedly and have had numerous discussions with the Nationals GM Mike Rizzo and the team’s medical personnel, as recently as mid-August. While the final decision was up to the team, as is standard practice, I was supportive of their decision and am comfortable that my medical advice was responsibly considered.
The confusion seemed to erupt over whether or not Dr. Yocum had a hand in setting the specific shut down date, which he did not, versus his involvement at all. On the surface, this might seem like a legitimate excuse for the confusion, even if it does lay some blame at the feet of Bill Shaikin, the generally well-respected Los Angeles Times reporter who originally quoted Dr. Yocum.
However, there is this one piece from the original article that stands out as a direct contradiction to Dr. Yocum’s statement attempting to clarify his comments:
Yocum said he had not talked with Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo since last year and had not talked with Strasburg since spring training.
Now, I can understand if Mr. Shaikin was confused over whether or not Dr. Yocum was referring to Mr. Strasburg’s shut down or the plan to end his season early when he said, “I wasn’t asked,” but I have a much harder time understanding the confusion that would’ve caused him to quote the doctor as saying he hadn’t spoken to Mr. Rizzo.
Either Mr. Shaikin is at fault here for misquoting Dr. Yocum (and given Mr. Shaikin’s reputation, I find this to be unlikely); or Dr. Yocum has changed his story.
While the importance of this is questionable because the end result will always be that Stephen Strasburg had his season cut short despite the promise of playoff baseball for his team, Mr. Rizzo’s resolve to follow through with his decision becomes a little less admirable and perhaps even less defendable.
This quote in particular from the Nationals GM is a bit more bothersome following yesterday’s edition of getting the quote right:
We’ve got a plan, we’ve got a blueprint of how to do this. This isn’t Mike Rizzo’s plan, he didn’t go to Medical school but Dr. Lew Yocum did and Dr. James Andrews did. We’re taking their recommendations and putting them into place.
Compare that to this direct quote from Dr. Yocum:
It’s based on Mike’s experience. Mike is extremely confident. His track record speaks for itself.