I think I would really enjoy the opportunity to sit and chat with Barry Zito. He is famous for his eccentric personality, including his side gig as a musician. He is a notoriously great guy in his community and abroad, charitable and supportive of U.S. Troops. A first round pick, Cy Young Award winner, and World Series Champion, Zito is still better known for being a spectacularly rich failure than any of those other, more positive things.
I think Barry Zito would have some interesting insight to offer on how to be resilient and how to keep things in perspective. He certainly would be an authority on the cruel impermanence of the game of baseball. Zito’s off-speed pitches are still effective. He is still a thinking man’s pitcher, going through sequences and setting up hitters so that they will get themselves out. He still relies on precise locations. So maybe his cartoonish curveball has a lost a little zip and maybe his already average mid-80’s fastball has lost some life, but really, it is not simple aging that explains Zito’s struggles in San Francisco.
There has to be moments when it just didn’t make sense. For one example, Zito was less than two years removed from going 16-10 and being one of the prized pitchers in the game in 2008 when he went 10-17 with a disastrous 5.15 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, and 4.71 FIP. And then just this past October, Zito was coming off of a 15-8 season and was a key member of the Giants pitching staff in the playoffs. He went 3-0 in the 2012 postseason, including a start where he pitched 7+ innings of shutout baseball against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Giants have World Series rings in no small part thanks to Zito’s contributions. It looked like he had rediscovered himself and would be able to end his horrific 7 year/$126 million contract on a positive note.
That was less than one year ago. Now Zito is kicking back and forth between the bullpen and rotation, back to his middling ways. He surrenders too many home runs and gets hit too hard; he is 4-9 with a 5.63 ERA and 4.78 FIP. He is back to being the overpaid guy who the Giants don’t know how to handle and who everybody wants to get out of town. How could things have gone so wrong, once again, in such a short period of time?
Maybe if the Giants were playing well the good vibes of 2012 would have carried over a little longer; instead Zito is one of the low spots in a stink bomb of a season. As we speak tonight the Colorado Rockies are smacking the Giants 6-0, much of the damage coming at Zito’s expense. He will only remain in the rotation as long as the Giants have no choice, and then it will be back to mop-up duty in the bullpen; that’s a depressing role for many pitchers, but it is an especially tough fall from grace for guys who were once stars. And make no mistake, Zito was a star.
All of this, and yet I think Zito seems to continue to carry himself with a certain calm. He remains gracious in his dealings, does not slam his glove, curse out umpires, or show up his teammates. That contract, if accompanied by anything other than success, was going to subject Zito to plenty of criticism. If he was a jerk, the criticism would be much louder and much more frequent. And through it all, through his struggles with the cruelty of this difficult game, he hasn’t been a jerk. That couldn’t have been easy.
That’s why I think I could learn something from Barry Zito.