Stephen Strasburg Needs Tommy John Surgery: What Nats' Loss Means to MLB

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Stephen Strasburg Needs Tommy John Surgery: What Nats' Loss Means to MLB
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Stephen Strasburg will likely require Tommy John surgery after an MRI revealed a torn ligament in his right elbow.

Strasburg first aggravated the elbow after throwing a pitch to Domonic Brown during his start against the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday.

The surgery will end Strasburg's terrific rookie season and sideline him for 12 to 18 months. He will probably not pitch again until 2012.

In 12 starts, the 2009 No. 1 overall pick pitched 68 innings and struck out a sensational 92 batters while sporting a 2.91 ERA and a 5-3 record.

It's a major blow to the Washington Nationals, who were relying on Strasburg to be their ace. But it's an even bigger blow for baseball.

The Nationals, sitting at dead last in the NL East with a 54-74 record, are still a few years away from being competitive. They have several talented players on their roster between Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, and Drew Storen, and they have a stocked farm system with guys like Wilson Ramos and Bryce Harper waiting in the wings. But they are still far away from having a complete roster capable of contending for a championship.

For baseball, though, the loss of Strasbug is about more than just wins and losses.

His entrance into the league was accompanied with the sort of hype and fanfare that we get to see maybe once a decade. To his credit, Strasburg lived up to all the acclaim and was well on his way to becoming one of baseball's best and most marketable players.

The league hasn't had a player like Strasburg in quite some time. It takes a special kind of talent and personality to sell the game of baseball to its millions of fans. Strasburg is, in essence, baseball's unspoken spokesperson.

Why?

The biggest superstar in the game today, Albert Pujols, is a native of the Dominican Republic. In fact, most of baseball's stars are not natives of the United States, making it difficult to use them as marketing tools in a U.S.-dominated market. Other stars like Roy Halladay and Mark Teixeira are too deep into their careers to be able to relate well to the league's young audience.

Strasburg is not only American-born (he's from San Diego), but he also has the talent and the drive to be able to be a role model for young baseball players everywhere.

This is the guy who had no interest in pitching in the Minors because he couldn't wait to face the best. This is also the guy who had no problems calling out his now-teammate Harper for engaging in a contractual dispute with Washington.

Commissioner Bud Selig couldn't have asked for anyone better. Having him pitch for a franchise in one of the largest markets of the country is an added bonus. What will happen to the game without Strasburg?

Football revenues are growing every year, and the very real possibility of an 18-game season makes it a serious threat to baseball revenues. Basketball is also popular again with championship-caliber teams in Boston and Los Angeles, and the three-headed trio in Miami. Baseball, meanwhile, is simply treading water.

The success rate of Tommy John surgery is as high as ever, so Strasburg will be back to embarrassing opposing hitters eventually. But what can the league do to sustain interest during his absence?

Strasburg was one of the few captivating stories in the game. The Nationals will recover from his loss, but can baseball?

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