Barry Zito

Zito’s Long Contract Leads to a “Small” Nickname

I’m going to do my Bill Maher impression, only without the big nose and weird hair. And you’ll have to pretend I’m at a party at the Playboy Mansion instead of in my dad’s living room in Bayside.

New Rule: If the Giants ever sign another big name free agent pitcher, it can be for no longer than three years.

I’ve waited as long as I could to say this without sounding completely uneducated, but I can wait no longer: Barry Zito sucks. He’s a terrible starting pitcher, without a single pitch Major League hitters fear. Every game it’s like he’s going into a NASCAR race with a Toyota Yaris. Or a project in the south side of Chicago with the Nintendo gun from “Duck Hunt.” Or a singles bar wearing a bolo tie … you get the idea.

Thank God I was in Humboldt County today instead of my apartment in the city, or Zito would have heard me booing from my living room. While it’s obvious Zito has received very little support from his teammates in terms of runs and defense, I can’t help but think it’s partly the fault of The Small Z (hey, if a player as nondescript as Zydrunas Ilgauskas gets to be called “The Big Z,” Zito’s “The Small Z” until further notice).

Zito has never seemed like he actually likes baseball. Although his work ethic has never been questioned, remembering a moment when The Small Z was passionate about the game he plays for a living is like trying to remember Britney Spears being passionate about motherhood. The way he pitches, the way he takes his hat off and pulls it back on while smirking, how he always seems like he’d rather be anywhere else than the mound — none of these things should be a surprise. How do you expect a guy who has reacted to baseball success by constantly staring straight ahead with a blank expression to somehow get emotional when things go wrong? And how do you expect the guys in the field keep their heads in the game when it seems like Zito’s still pouting because his Giants contract prohibits him from surfing?

(Side note: A lot of people are postulating that if Zito was allowed to surf again, he would be a better pitcher. Uh, has Zito ever thought of swimming laps? He can even take a surfboard into the pool and paddle around if he wants; he probably owns about nine pools, right? Although at this point most Giants fans would probably hope if Zito starts surfing again he chooses Solana Beach, or any other area frequented by great whites.)

The last time Brian Sabean was the guy who supposedly made the decision to sign an expensive free agent starting pitcher, the lottery winner was Matt Morris. Terrible signing to be sure, but instead of seven years, $126 million, Morris got three years and $27 million. Even though Morris could just has well have been replaced by a pitching machine during his time with the Giants, the Pirates were still willing to gamble that a guy with his pedigree might make the last year and a half of his deal worthwhile, and gave up Rajai Davis for Morris last season.

On the same week the Giants released Davis (who was immediately signed by the A’s), the Pirates cut ties with Matty Mo. Even though the speedy Davis is about as good at hitting the curveball as former Yankees minor leaguer Drew Henson, getting rid of Morris was one of Sabean’s finest moves since trading for Jeff Kent. Just ask the Pirates, who decided it was worth it to pay Morris near $10 million to go away.

If only Sabean could get the Pirates stoked on The Small Z. It may not Zito’s fault that he throws so softly, but it makes his four-pitch walks much tougher to stomach. When he started off today’s game against the Reds with four straight balls to Jerry Hairston, it was tougher to tell what was more frustrating: the knowledge that a big inning was imminent, how little Zito seemed to care or how each pitch came to the plate with the same urgency as an intentional walk.

It’s tough to admit that The Small Z sucks, for the same reason Sabean won’t be able to pawn him off on some other inept general manager: he’s still got almost six years left on his deal. As bad as Zito has looked since he left the East Bay, he wouldn’t look nearly as bad if his contract was about four years shorter. And that’s why Sabean should pay attention to my Maher impersonation.

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