THE WASHINGTON

Nationals were desperately seeking Stephen. Many scouting reports project 103 mph righthander and multimillionaire-to-be Stephen Strasburg as a possible immediate impact pitcher.

They got him. Now they have to pay him.

The wretched, last-place team currently playing to acres of empty seats needs a rock upon which to anchor the vagabond franchise. This is serious stuff in a town that lost the Washington Senators twice while more than living up to their most famous depiction: "Washington . . . First in war, first in peace and last in the American League."

Now they are the Nats, last in the National League East with an MLB-worst 15-41 record after Tuesday's games.

In a perfect world, owner Ted Lerner would transfer about 500,000 Benjamins to the account of Strasburg's agent, Scott Boras. Then the new face of the franchise would make a couple of starts before full houses and go off to the minors to learn about pitching every fifth day for 6 months.

When commissioner Bud Selig called out Stephen Strasburg's name Tuesday night on the Baseball Channel, the name Lew Krausse Jr. popped into my mind after many decades of dormancy.

The teenage righthander was the reason I was assigned to cover my first baseball game of any kind, an American Legion All-Star contest at Connie Mack Stadium in early June 1961. My Evening Bulletin sports editor, Jack Wilson, said his baseball writers begged off, even though it would showcase Krausse, whose dad, Lew Sr., was a Kansas City A's scout and former Philadelphia A's pitcher in 1931-32. The kid was expected to sign a big bonus contract in a few days. He had pitched 18 no-hitters as an amateur.

Young Lew was ordinary in that Legion game. I remember him getting hit around a little, but the army of scouts behind the plate were impressed with his velocity. Afterward, he said the things 18-year-old kids have said to sports writers for generations. He felt good. He wanted to pitch for the same team his dad played and scouted for . . .

Whoever signed Lew would be trapped by the harsh bonus rule of the time. Opposition to it finally produced the amateur draft 4 years later. To discourage the escalation of signing bonuses, the rule by 1961 required clubs paying more than a $4,000 bonus to carry the player on the 25-man roster all year (formerly 2 years). Most "bonus babies" sat or were used sparingly. A few days after kick-starting my baseball-writing career, Krausse signed with Kansas City for a record $125,000 bonus.

On June 16, Krausse, still 18, made his major league debut against the expansion Los Angeles Angels. The kid who had been hit around in that American Legion game shut out the Halos on three hits, despite walking five. Future Phillies GM Lee Thomas had one of the Angels three singles and was one of Krausse's six strikeout victims.

Krausse limped to a 2-5 record and in 1962-63 was in the minors learning his trade. Arm trouble would haunt him his entire career. You might remember a bonus kid named Rick Wise, who the Phillies were forced to carry in 1964, the year before the first draft. Rick was 5-3, including a gem against the Mets that became a footnote to Jim Bunning's perfecto in Game 1 of a Father's Day doubleheader. The next year, Wise was in the minors.

The highlight of the MLB Channel's first draft was reserved for the No. 25 pick, Millville, N.J., almost-homeboy Mike Trout. One of the things that makes the NFL draft a must-see event is the presence of most of the projected first round picks and the boisterous crowd packing the draft theater, most draped in their team's colors. In the NFL draft, the college stars have been through highly publicized seasons, bowl games and performed at combines, which are now NFL Channel events. The predraft buildup lasts months. Even if you hate watching it, you can't not watch it - at least the first round.

MLB is dealing with athletes with the same relative family-and-friends visibility of the NHL's equally forgettable selection process. The NBA draft goes just two rounds, but we know most of the main attractions. The NFL breaks down the room after seven rounds. But baseball's June amateur draft talent pool is bottomless and its needs endless.

The pastime, with six minor league levels to keep stocked, goes on and on and on, one player after another, most unknown to anybody but Baseball America junkies. In 1996, the Yankees and then-Devil Rays engaged in a final-day charade long after the other teams had closed shop. Neither club wanted to take the final pick. Finally, in the 94th round, with selection No. 1,728, the Yankees called the name of Angelina (Texas) Junior College righthander Clay Condrey. And what were the odds that pick No. 1,728 would wind up with a Phillies World Series ring?

The top prospects were invited to Tuesday's televised first-round coverage, a Baseball America Who's Who. One prospect showed up - Mike Trout. And the outfielder saved a dull telecast with a spontaneously giddy, NFL-level moment he and his family shared.

Meanwhile, being thrown into the big-league fire with no minor league experience probably didn't permanently damage Lew Krausse Jr. He pitched to his ability and wound up plying his trade for 12 seasons. After compiling a 68-91 record with five teams, Lew pitched eight more minor league seasons over 16 years.

Nationals owner Ted Lerner can only pray he gets a little more bang than that for the 50 million Stephen Strasburg bucks Scott Boras is about to pry out of him. *

Send e-mail to bill1chair@aol.com.

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