John Santana isn’t a household name, but rest assured he is the best player in the major leagues right now, and probably has been for the last three years. Today he set a Twins’ record with 17 strikeouts vs. the Rangers, in what was one of the most dominant pitching performances I have ever seen. (All with just a 1-0 lead, all while the Twins are fighting for their playoff lives.)
Johan Santana is so good that he’s going to make an enormous sum of money when he becomes a free agent after the 2008 season, something like $200 million dollars for 8 years. Of course it’s worth asking whether any athlete is worth that amount of money, but know this: If anybody deserves that kind of cash to play a game, it’s him. The Twins aren’t likely to be handing out any $200 million contracts anytime in the next 100 years, so it’s likely Johan Santana will be coming to a large market (Yankees, Red Sox or Mets) near you in the next two years. I don’t hold that against him at all.
Regardless of what happens with the guy and the Twins, it’s been a real joy to watch him pitch. I think he’s everything you would want in your ace, the way he goes after big games, the way he treats his teammates, the media, the fans, everything. He’ll give you your money’s worth every time you go see him pitch. Every time, win or lose.
The only pitcher I’ve ever closely watched as a fan that comes close to Johan was Bret Saberhagen’s 1989 season, after which he was 25 and already had two Cy Youngs under his belt. But Saberhagen was a lout off the field and horribly inconsistent on it, and ’89 was his last great year. I get the feeling Johan can do this for many more years. I feel the same way about him that I do about Kevin Garnett; whether he’s playing for my team or another team, I’ll always be a huge fan.
You know, I understand why some people don’t get into sports, or why they think it’s a horrible waste of energy, money, attention, whatever. I don’t agree with it, but I understand where those people are coming from. But I pity those people, because they don’t have a frame of reference for what a truly great competitor looks like, someone whose intensity, skill and dedication make them stand so far above other people who themselves are the best in the world at a game millions of people play. The great ones like Johan Santana are artists, really. Their accomplishments live in the memories of the witness, they stir emotions that connect us in ways our normal lives, or normal artists, cannot.
Some will scoff. But hey, Picasso and Shakespeare never fanned 17 with 50,000 fans screaming at them, a lineup of 9 huge guys trying to take them deep, and the hopes of a team and city resting on their shoulders.