Saturday, June 30, 2012


[Explicit, graphic language follows. If this will bother you, CLOSE YOUR BROWSER AND DO NOT KEEP READING. If you go forward, don't e-mail me to tell me I shouldn't have written that, that you're offended, that I'm vulgar. You're a sentient being capable of operating a computer and you have been warned.]


I was wrong about the Jerry Sandusky serial-child-rape case.

Last year, on Twitter, I criticized the focus on everyone but Sandusky, the rapist who had committed horrific crimes against children. It seemed to me that the story had quickly moved past him and on to, if you'll forgive the word, "sexier" names, names like Paterno and McQueary and Spanier. I couldn't understand why there was so much rage against these men who hadn't hurt children, and so little, in proportion, for the man who had. It struck me as cynical of the media to look for a better story, seek out more boldface type, rather than investigate the crimes that did happen.

I was wrong. Sandusky committed evil acts for which he has been tried in this world and, per his own stated faith, will be tried in the next one. He had more help than I realized, however, and in trying to focus my own rage, I did not properly hold accountable the men representing the institution, men who might have come to the rescue of children, but instead did everything but buy Sandusky lube and towels.

On Friday, CNN's Susan Candiotti reported on a series of e-mails among Penn State President Graham Spanier, VP Gary Schultz and Athletic Director Tim Curley in which the "men" discuss the case in pronoun-laden e-mails, taking care to be as vague as possible. These elite representatives of Pennsylvania State University show their deepest concern not for the broken boys strewn about the community, but for their rapist friend and the potential liability created by even having this discussion. The e-mails represent a calculation so craven as to be bewildering, barely human, a desperate attempt to avoid a responsibility that should be built into our DNA: to protect the weakest among us.

As reported by CNN, the e-mails begin 16 days after graduate assistant Tim Mike McQueary told Coach Joe Paterno about finding Sandusky naked and apparently engaged in sexual activity with a boy in an on-campus shower. The language in the e-mails is so stilted that it has to be an intentional attempt to muddy the waters, to make it unclear what exactly is being discussed. What is clear, though, is that the priority of some of the most respected men in Happy Valley wasn't justice, wasn't decency, wasn't even a base desire for revenge. Their priority was to protect a child rapist and to limit the exposure of the university. Despite this being the second specific situation in which Sandusky was suspected of child rape (the first in 1998, and referenced obliquely in the e-mails), these three bureaucrats addressed the issue as if dealing with an employee caught sneaking twenties out of petty cash.

Curley, after a plan had been laid out to alert Sandusky, Second Mile (Sandusky's charity/personal harem) and the child-welfare authorities: "I am having trouble with going to everyone, but the person involved."

After an alternate plan in which only Sandusky would be notified was agreed upon, Spanier said, "I am supportive." He added, in perhaps the worst sentence I have ever read, "The only downside for us is if the message isn't 'heard' and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it."

No, Graham. The downside for you, as you see it, is bad publicity. The true downside is children being raped when you might have prevented it. You think you're vulnerable, Graham? You're not vulnerable. You're a coward. Vulnerable is an 11-year-old boy who doesn't understand why his mentor has his dick in his mouth, but is too fucking scared to run away.

Spanier, praising the plan to protect the child rapist: "Humane and a reasonable way to proceed."

Schultz: "This is a more humane and upfront way to handle it."

Humane. Upfront. Reasonable.

At least four children -- that we know of -- would become Sandusky's victims after this exchange of e-mails.

Humane. Upfront. Reasonable.

Presented with two instances of apparent child rape, and given a choice to protect the rapist of children or the children being raped, these three chose to protect the rapist. They didn't report their suspicions to authorities, didn't try to find the children to check on their welfare, didn't even take Sandusky into a small room and ensure than he never raped again.

They Are. Penn State.

There is nothing that can be done for the victims of Sandusky and Spanier and Curley and Schultz and all the other men who knew something and, each for their own reasons, didn't do enough. Now it's about what can be done from this point forward to send the strongest message possible that we, as human beings, side not with the rapist and enablers, but against them.

So here's one idea: Don't wear white and take a moment in between cheers and beers, face painted, head bowed, thinking in whitewashed terms about victims and the bad man who touched them. Don't pretend that a gesture is an action. Go further. Don't spend money. Don't go to the game. Don't buy a sweatshirt. Don't write a check. Don't read a magazine or engage in a discussion. At least four children were raped in part because the highest individuals on the Penn State organizational chart put, however implicitly, the good name of their school and their football program ahead of the welfare of the children in their community. The only way to counter that is to turn that statement around in a way that ensures that the world gets the message loud and clear.

You want to make sure this never happens again? I don't want to hear donations to the university are down 10%, 20%. I want to hear that no one gave money, not a dime, to this diseased institution. You want to send a message that football doesn't matter? I want to see games played with no one in the stands, because no one has the heart to cheer a program that would allow these atrocities to occur, no one even wants to be in the same building as it. You want to align yourself against this kind of behavior, ABC and ESPN and BTN? Don't send cameras to any game involving Penn State, and when someone sues you, you stand behind a podium and you say three words.

Humane. Upfront. Reasonable.

You're an alum? Don't light a candle and choke out a tear…and then write a check and put on your gameday gear and walk to the stadium. That stadium? It's a standing 24/7/365 tribute to what Graham Spanier valued, to the choices he made, to the evil of putting a child rapist ahead of children. These things are hard? Please. You know what is hard? Being a ten-year-old boy and having a middle-aged man shove his cock up your ass. Not watching football? Not sending your money to a school? Not televising a football game? These things are six days on a beach in Maui compared to what these children were put through.

Hard to read? Not nearly as hard as it was to live. That's what happened. We use so many euphemisms so that we can discuss these things in public, but we don't do it for the sake of discourse. We do it for ourselves, so that we don't have to think about what really happened here. These words -- "abuse", "touching", "inappropriate behavior" -- only serve to mask the horror of what occurred: a grown man, a trusted member of the community, having sex with young boys under the guise of bringing them from difficult situations into manhood. Charles Pierce said it first and said it best: this is about the rape of children. The victims who came after February 26, 2001 needed the people who could have saved them to tap into the rage generated by a true accounting of what happened. Perhaps had Spanier and Curley and Schultz said, out loud, what they were dealing with, they would have found their humanity.

If we're to wipe these images away, the ones we replace them with have to be just as indelible. They have to be powerful. They have to say that protecting children is more important than watching football. They have to give strength to the victims of Sandusky, and put fear into the hearts of anyone who would, as Graham Spanier did, enable the next beast. Still photos, perhaps Webcam shots, of 22 players outlined against a green field, under a blue sky, surrounded by row upon row of seats unclaimed by a community rejecting Spanier's vision for State College, Pa., will do quite nicely.

The lasting image has to be a football game, an entire football season, played in front of no one but the heavens above. No fans. No cheerleaders. No cameras. No media. Reject the program that let a predator roam free. Let an empty stadium, an impoverished athletic department and an ignored football season be the ultimate judgment upon Penn State University.

You Are. Penn State.

Show us what that means. Show those boys what that means.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Stephen Strasburg

The Joe Sheehan Newsletter
Vol. IV, No. 32
June 1, 2012

Tonight in Washington, Stephen Strasburg will make his 11th start of the season, and move past 60 innings pitched in the third frame. By Flag Day, he'll have set MLB career highs in both those categories, and some time in July he'll surpass his professional peak of 123 1/3 innings pitched, set in his first pro season of 2010. You may remember that season: it ended on August 21, in the middle of the fifth inning against the Phillies when Strasburg, to that point one of the best stories in baseball, tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right arm.

That injury, the Tommy John surgery that fixed it and the rehabilitation that followed have left Strasburg pretty much exactly where he was on that steamy August night on the Citizens Bank Park mound: as one of the most exciting, watchable, devastating starting pitchers in the game. He's not the best pitcher in the NL this year, but his 2.64 ERA, 29.9% strikeout rate and 70/17 K/BB are all fantastic numbers that put him in position to claim that crown by season's end. (As it stands, Strasburg isn't the best Cy Young candidate in his own rotation right now -- Gio Gonzalez has been the best pitcher in the league so far.)

As they did a year ago with Jordan Zimmermann, who was coming off his own Tommy John surgery in 2009, the Nationals would like to hold down Strasburg's workload in his first full season in the majors after the injury. Zimmermann, two years older than Strasburg last season, threw 161 1/3 innings last year over 26 starts and was shut down before September. GM Mike Rizzo has indicated that the team wants to limit Strasburg, although he wouldn't commit to a number or a date. When asked in April if that plan had changed, Rizzo said that it hadn't.

Of course, that was when his team was 20 games into a season and had that sheen of April fluke. We're about at the one-third mark now, and the Nationals have moved from cute story to June division leader, with the second-best record in the circuit even after a three-game sweep in Miami at the hands of the Marlins. It's hard to call them a favorite in the division -- all five teams are over .500 and separated by just three games -- but the deeper we get into the year, the more they have to be taken, and have to take themselves, seriously as contenders. The Phillies have looked their age, unable to get their best team on the field at any point in the season. The loss of Roy Halladay for six to eight weeks drops their expectation by a game or two. The Braves have located an above-average offense (third in the league in runs with a huge lead on #4) just in time to see their run prevention tank. Save for Brandon Beachy, every Braves pitcher is performing worse than they did a year ago. The Marlins were among the best teams in baseball in May, as Giancarlo Stanton continued his march to stardom; Stanton is one of the only Marlins contributing at the plate, and the loss of Emilio Bonifacio robs the team of needed OBP. The Nationals, frankly, can look at the competition and be very happy about their chance to win this division.

Limiting Strasburg isn't an arbitrary decision based on the guesswork we all do when it comes to young pitchers. No, the surgery two years ago, rather than his age and experience, is what's driving the thought process. It's common to expect less from pitchers the year after Tommy John surgery, whether that takes the form of lessened in-game endurance, a shortened season, or both. In the case of Strasburg, Davey Johnson has clearly been trying to save his starter some pitches: a season high of 108 and just three of 10 outings reaching over 100. Strasburg has yet to face any hitter a fourth time this season. These measures are noble, but even at that Strasburg is on pace for 31 starts and 180 or so innings -- in the regular season. That would exceed Zimmerman's totals by a fair amount, and at that it assumes Johnson continues to exert significant in-game control over Strasburg's workload, and it leaves open the question of what to do in the Division Series.

Take it back a step, though. Why does a team limit the innings of any pitcher? It's not a humanitarian cause, it's an attempt to get the maximum value for the investment in talent. The Nationals are trying to make sure that Strasburg can make 32 starts and go 220 innings in as many seasons as possible while they have him at a below-market cost, so they can leverage that in the pursuit of championships. They're not trying to save Strasburg's 2020 season, when he'll be full-priced and possibly working elsewhere. They're trying to save his 2013; it's enlightened self-interest, not altruism. If the point is to win a championship, though, and we agree that those chances are neither distributed evenly nor predictably, then does it make any sense to pump the brakes on a player who is one of the difference-makers for this team? We can say that the Nationals' window is 2013-15, when they'll have Strasburg and Zimmerman fronting a rotation for a fraction of market value, with Bryce Harper batting in the mlddle of the lineup and their exciting middle infield coming into its own. Well, put on a sweater, because the window is already open. Those two guys are in the rotation. The middle infield has been frustrating (I've been notably wrong about Danny Espinosa), but is certainly not the problem. Harper? He's the best player on the team.

Contention is what happens when you're busy making other plans. If the Nationals elect to hold back Strasburg because they want him to be the ace of a championship team, they may keep him from being the ace of a championship team.

The reason I can advocate for aggression, relatively speaking, is that pitcher abuse doesn't exist any longer in the major leagues. (It's epidemic in the college game and at lower levels, to the point where you root for lawsuits to end the practice.) Greater awareness of the risks involved, of the development curve of young arms, the trial-and-error of figuring out what the upper bounds of workload should be, bullpen specialization that has routinely turned even good starts into incomplete games…all have led to an MLB in which "pitcher abuse" is a term much like "doubleheader" or "polyester" or "color line," a relic of days long gone by. Just to pick a year, in 1991, the first year in which I started arguing baseball online, there were 153 starts in which a pitcher went at least 130 pitches. There were 25 in which a pitcher went 140, and five of at least 150.

In the entire 21st century, there have been 141 starts of at least 130 pitches, 12 of at least 140 and just one of 150 (Livan Hernandez threw exactly 150 pitches on June 3, 2005). Since 2009 inclusive, just two pitchers have cracked 135 pitches, and in both cases they were chasing no-hitters (Edwin Jackson and Brandon Morrow, both in 2010). The practical upper bound is now 130 pitches. Andy Benes was 23 years old on April 16, 1991, when the Padres let him throw 154 pitches in a 1-0 loss to the Reds. A manager who did that in 2012 would be fired mid-inning.

Strasburg isn't in danger of being abused because no professional pitcher, and especially no young pitcher, is in danger of being abused. If he's merely treated like any 23-year-old starting pitcher, he will be well within the safe guidelines for pitcher usage. The special circumstance of "coming off Tommy John surgery" has to be balanced against the special circumstance of "flags fly forever".

In arguing for 32 starts, 195-205 innings and whatever postseason work is necessary, I'm not planting my flag alongside Dallas Green and Dusty Baker. I'm planting it exactly where any team should: at the intersection of team and player needs. Strasburg starts tonight, and if he's thrown 95 pitches through six innings with the Nationals up 2-1 and the top of the Braves' order coming up in the seventh, he should be out there to face them.