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Outsmarting the ghost of Mark Prior

August 28, 2012|By Ben Johnson | For RedEye

In case you've been in Indonesia this baseball season, word is the Washington Nationals are pre-emptively shutting down their perfectly healthy ace, Stephen Strasburg. For precautionary reasons. Apparently the front office doesn't want him to turn into Mark Prior Part 2: a dominant young pitcher who was overworked too early in his career and never fulfilled his promise because of related injuries.

Mark Prior. Just hearing the name makes Cubs fans suck air through their teeth.

You remember Prior. He's the one who would have singlehandedly won the World Series for the Cubbies, if it weren't for Dusty Baker, Steve Bartman and the fact that human shoulders aren't meant to throw 94 mph fastballs. As if Cubs fans needed a reminder about the team's inability to win a championship, here it is again: Strasburg is being shut down because of … Mark Prior.

The Strasburg Shutdown has become the media debate of the season. The dominant opinion is, roughly, "Why would anybody stop their best pitcher from pitching while they've got a shot at winning the World Series?" The media love to bluster about hypotheticals like this, because they can never be proved wrong.

This knee-jerk reaction overlooks the following: 1. Strasburg is the third-best pitcher for the Nationals, 2. Keeping him on the mound doesn't assure World Series victory, nor does removing him assure postseason defeat, 3. Washington hasn't had a professional baseball team with a winning record since 1952, so to Nats fans just watching a team not be terrible is like waking up in Candyland, and 4. Mark Prior Mark Prior Mark Prior.

To Nationals fans, the Shutdown is welcome evidence of an organizational swagger (Strasburg? We don't even NEED him) not seen since the Truman administration. To Cubs fans, this whole shutdown thing must look like a baseball what-if DeLorean set to July 2003.

So as the media wail on, the two fan bases least convinced by the caterwauling will be the Nationals and Cubs, due to their … Prior history.

Ben Johnson is a RedEye special contributor.

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