The Strasburg Deal: A Washington Historical Perspective.
In 1907, a young farm boy from Kansas took the field in for the Washington Nationals (although everyone called them the Senators) and began the greatest career a pitcher has ever had in baseball history. Over 5,900 innings pitched and just over 2 runs earned per game. 417 wins, 110 shutouts and 531 complete games. 3,508 strikeouts. Twice he was the American League MVP, and near his seventeenth year in the league, he won a World Series (the only one Washington has ever known).
Walter Johnson is a member of the inaugural class of the Baseball Hall of Fame and is considered by many to be the most dominant pitcher ever. And, according to this article from the NY Times 1914, he was offered the incredibly rich sum of $20,000 a year over three years to play in Chicago. Now Clark Griffin, owner of the Nationals/Senators fought this with Johnson who didn’t honor his contract with Chicago-returning to Washington for the sum of $12,500.
Adjusting for inflation, the far more generous sum of $20,000 works out to $430,702. Assuming his twenty year career earned him $20,000 a year (which it certainly did not) he would have made $400,000 dollars all told (That’s $8.6 million converting from 1914 to 2009 money).
Last night, Stephen Strasburg signed a 4 year $15 million dollar deal including a $7.5 million dollar bonus. In one fell swoop, a 21 year old pitcher who has never taken a major league field has already surpassed the career earnings of one of the game’s (and certainly Washington’s) greatest sports legends. By the end of next year, whether he does well or not, he will have earned more than the Big Train’s adjusted career earnings as well.
Of course this isn’t a particularly fair comparison-baseball at the turn of the century is a completely different animal than baseball today. And to put Walter Johnson’s career in front of a young guy like Strasburg and say “Do this”-well you might as well ask a flashlight to out perform the sun. That said, this deal is done. Boras and Co. have made this young man very rich, and expectations will be (and should be) high even without comparing him to Johnson.
As unfair as it is, I am making the comparison anyway-and I will be expecting monumental things from Mr. Strasburg. Or at least $15 million worth of pitching over the next four years.