From the day he inked his contract, I couldn’t understand what possessed the San Francisco Giants to hand him a seven-year deal for $126 million. It felt like they were trying to replace another infamous Barry who was on his way out the door, to help ease the sorrows of the fan base who were already in the midst of the “Steroid Bonds” era and year after year of disappointment.
Barry Zito seemed like an impulse purchase — like Brian Sabean had picked up a million dollar pack of gum on a whim to make the debit card minimum at the deli. The high salary paired with even higher expectations did nothing for Zito other than set him up to fail.
For years, we watched Zito struggle with his command. I would pass racks of discounted #75 jerseys at the dugout store and groan inwardly at what was regarded as one of the worst contracts in MLB history at the time.
In 2010, Zito was left off the postseason roster. His abilities seemed to fall short of the rising stars in the organization, including a two-time Cy Young award winner, a 20-year-old southpaw with a wicked changeup, and a farm-raised young right-hander who seemed experienced beyond his years. Zito was quite simply the black (and orange) sheep. And while Tim Lincecum raised his finger in the air with his long hair flowing and an orange World Series banner waving behind him, Zito wasn’t a part of it.
After another mediocre season and his first trip to the disabled list in 2011, Giants fans sighed with relief with only two years left on the blockbuster contract. Zito was almost out of our lives — clearing way money for a big bat, some young arms, and who knows what else?
But in 2012, Zito appeared to be a different man. He had gotten married in the offseason. The laid back surfer had even picked up zen lifestyle changes like avocado scrambles and practicing downward facing dogs. And because baseball surprises us every day with it’s unpredictability, he seemingly resurrected his career with 15 wins and .652 win average — his only winning season with the Giants. Fans began to look forward to the days lanky guitar-playing lefty toed the rubber. Barry Zito days became Win Days. And while his contract still weighed heavily on the team’s payroll, #75 began endearing himself to San Francisco with the movement of his pitches, his tenacious at-bats, and an ability to manufacture base hits almost through sheer will power.
If his regular season was shocker, his postseason was absolutely unbelievable. In his three starts …
- The Giants won all three
- He posted a 1.69 ERA against the best teams in baseball
- He pitched a 7.2 inning shutout in St Louis when the Giants were facing elimination
- He won Game 1 of the World Series
- He even got a hit off Justin Verlander
Suddenly Zito, the man San Francisco couldn’t get rid of soon enough, was a hero. Comments about paying out his contract and letting him find another club were replaced by #RallyZito tweets that swept through the internet, fueling the momentum that Zito carried through the postseason.
His determination and contributions to the franchise’s second championship in three years were not only recognized by the fans but by those who played alongside Barry on the field. While champagne rained down on the clubhouse, his teammates bounced up and down clutching the trophy and chanted in unison:
BARRY! BARRY! BARRY
It was enough to give you chills … and it’s what we love about baseball. We see it every season where an underdog who’s been cast off into the discount bin of used players comes back with a vengeance and tells the odds to shove it. In 2011, it was Ryan Vogelsong. In 2012, it was Zito.
While this has not been his year, his legacy won’t be forgotten. It’s pretty simple – no Zito, no second ring. So when you’re looking back years from now and reminiscing about what could have been with Zito’s huge contract, take a second to remember what couldn’t have been without it.
Personally, when I look back on Zito’s career, I don’t want to remember the dollar signs. I want to remember this:
Left-handed pitcher. Justin Verlander Dominator. #RallyZito Inspiration. 2012 World Series Hero.
And of course, I’ll never forget this moment:
Consider this my curtain call to you, #75. Thank you for all you have done for the city of San Francisco. We’ll never forget you.