Out on a limb

GM Mike Rizzo has built the Nationals one gutsy decision at a time

Originally Published: October 9, 2012
By Buster Olney | ESPN The Magazine

THE PRIMARY OCCUPANT of the White House might be the only executive in the free world second-guessed more often these days than Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, known in many circles as The Idiot Who Shut Down Stephen Strasburg. As part of their ongoing effort to win today, athletes play with broken arms and legs, are shot up and have fractured extremities taped down. Rizzo, on the other hand, sidelined one of the best players in the world to protect him from an injury that might happen.

The sports universe may never grow accustomed to this kind of deferred gratification. Here's former pitcher and former Nats color man Rob Dibble on Fox Sports Radio this August: "You don't get second chances in life and/or professional sports. The arrogance of Mike Rizzo to think, Oh, we're gonna have this long run." Dibble went on, "He's telling everybody, he knows more than orthopedic surgeons, pitching coaches, everybody." The commenters on sports blogs have been less diplomatic. "The fans here in DC think Rizzo is a fat, stupid naysayer," wrote someone on HardballTalk in late August. And the reaction isn't any better at the stadium. "Hey, Rizzo!" a fan yelled from the stands recently as the Nationals took batting practice in Atlanta. "What are ya doin'??!!"

Rizzo, wearing a sport coat over an open collar and staring into the cage, didn't appear to hear this one voice among the many. He is impossible to miss, as conspicuous as a bouncer. With a goatee and his shaved head, he looks like he would be the first shoulder through the door in an episode of Cops, and when he mentions that he's Italian, he does so intending to explain his passion and his temper -- a temper that has surfaced throughout this testy season.

Buster Olney | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine