The Red Sox needed Clemens, and two years later they were in the World Series because of him, pitching against Doc Gooden, who, a year after Clemens' debut, was running it up at 24-4. We don't know if Stephen Strasburg is going to win a Cy Young Award and an MVP in the same season like Clemens, but we do hold these truths to be self-evident: Baseball needs Strasburg, and Strasburg has already changed the way we watch baseball.
The game has Albert Pujols and Joe Mauer and Roy Halladay. It has great players who would have been great in any era, in any game. But this is a time in the sport's history when we all need someone we can dream on, and Stephen Strasburg walked out in a city where even the best and the brightest fail, struck out the last seven batters, threw nearly three dozen pitches at 98 mph -- or better -- and was clearly prepared to stand up to all the hyperbole and expectations and hope and make a definitive statement: You can dream on me.
We have come through an enduring nightmare of years of wondering what is real and what is not due to performance-enhancing drugs, and we are a few days from the retirement of Ken Griffey Jr., who we all believe was real. Then along comes this 21-year-old kid who walked out to the mound in a city that hasn't had a winning baseball season since Richard Nixon's first year in office to a stadium filled with kids and 30-somethings wearing Strasburg jerseys.
Yes, there were sites at which one could order Strasburg memorabilia -- jerseys, cards sets, posters -- before he'd thrown a Major League pitch.
BALCO and the Congressional hearings and HGH and all that were seemingly lost in the clouds out on the horizon. Monday night, Bryce Harper arguably replaced Strasburg as the most decorated Draft choice in the sport's history. Tuesday afternoon, 20-year-old Jason Heyward moved into the All-Star Game balloting among NL outfielders. Tuesday night, 20-year-old Mike Stanton made his debut for the Florida Marlins in Philadelphia, becoming the second player in that franchise's history to get three hits in his debut.
His box-score line: 5-2-3-0-.600
We need this new world. Oh, veteran players may be cynical and resentful, but this Internet and multimedia world in which fans rant about Buster Posey's promotion or Mike Leake's 6-0 start, and in which my laptop gives me Aroldis Chapman video and we're wondering when it's time for Carlos Santana and Alex Gordon to be called up is a growing phenomenon in the business landscape.
It needs to look and move forward, not peer back at whatever some dank trainer from some crummy gym says Clemens or Barry Bonds or someone else did in another place and time. Baseball needs Strasburg, Heyward, Stanton and Harper to free it from its past.
This is all part of a regenerative cycle that has made baseball history. The Black Sox Scandal rocked the sport, and when the dark winter passed, Babe Ruth came out of the ground. Out of The Depression and World War II, a great man named Jackie Robinson changed baseball and culture, and soon thereafter we had a generation of heroes named Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson and Bob Gibson, among many.
The strike that canceled the 1994 World Series was another bleak, metaphorically nuclear winter that prompted many to declare that they would never come back. But in 1995, Cal Ripken lifted baseball, then came the Yankees of Joe Torre/Mariano Rivera/Derek Jeter, then Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa's wonderful summer of '98 that seemed to bring baseball all the way back.
Until we found out that it wasn't real, and now for nearly a decade, baseball had been viewed through a suspicious, investigatory lens, through which many of the best are questioned.
Commissioner Bud Selig privately is thanking Strasburg. He is privately cheering on Heyward and Stanton. He shouldn't worry about what the Nationals pay Harper by Aug. 16, just hope that he brings what Strasburg has brought, because Strasburg is the most cost-efficient stimulus package in Washington history.
We should not not put Strasburg, Harper, Heyward and Stanton in any historical context yet. That's silly. But we are asking a lot of them, more than was asked of Clemens or Koufax or Willie or Mickey or Henry before they turned 22.
We are asking them to be baseball's LeBron and Dwayne Wade, because it needs them. After nearly a decade of having to question everything, Strasburg and these 20- and 18-year-old kids are reminding us that it's supposed to be fun, and we can dream on them.