Barry Zito

Did Krukow really call Zito a clown?

Mike Krukow should know better. Every time he opens up his mouth and calls somebody a clown, there have been repercussions. The first time it was Damon Bruce, and that caused the biggest Giants vs. KNBR evening host battle since Felipe Alou used to nod off next to the bat rack.

I wasn’t even sure if I heard it right last night, as the game went to commercial with Barry Zito cursing like Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” after being removed from the game after 7 1/3. The camera stayed on Zito just a little longer than a director normally would choose to during a pitching change, long enough to catch a Krukow statement that seemed like it was meant only for Duane Kuiper’s ears. This brought three questions to mind as I tried to replay the scenario in my head (yes, I was too lazy and annoyed discouraged by the Giants’ offensive performance to pick up the Tivo remote and rewind it):

1. Did I just hear Krukow say, “What a clown”? (Yes, I believe I did.)

2. Was he talking about Zito showing up Bruce Bochy or simply displaying a lack of decorum on TV? (It sure looked like it.)

3. Could Krukow have been talking about a Dodger fan doing something stupid, seeing as he hates the Dodgers more than any of the current Giants do and Dodger Stadium is the home of beachballs and fans who yell “Giants Suck” when they aren’t stabbing people? (Definitely a possibility.)

We’ll never know for sure, and Larry Baer came on Gary Radnich’s show this morning and used the beachball alibi, and there’s no doubt Kruk will concur when asked (if he’s asked). But just like I think Tim Lincecum hit Matt Kemp on purpose, I think Krukow was certainly talking about Zito, since unless someone had just ran onto the field naked, how could Krukow pinpoint a specific fan so quickly as to call him or her a clown?

This is the product of the Giants giving their largest contract in team history to one of the most self-aware athletes in local history. You know how athletes say stuff like, “I don’t read the newspapers,” or “I don’t listen to talk radio”? Zito could never claim to be one of those head-in-the-sand athletes with a straight face. Zito’s failed Twitter experiment showed how much he desired adoration but couldn’t handle detractors. He called Radnich a year ago and had it out with him on the air (in a fairly strange and maudlin way, but still). He complained about Ralph Barbieri. Bruce pleaded for Zito to show some emotion, to show that instead of being baseball’s version of Jack Johnson, Zito shared the fans’ worries about the big innings he had been giving up with regularity. That led to Bruce supposedly being given the silent treatment in the clubhouse for insinuating that Zito doesn’t care (actually, there’s probably a lot more to the story than that, with rumors involving the softball game featuring Giants wives and girlfriends, but bear with me). Ironic that now Zito’s so interested in showing emotion, fire, focus, anger and a raging potty-mouth out on the field, he’s started to go so overboard that the cynical among us wonder if it’s from the heart or a calculated attempt to gain favor.

These emotional outbursts aren’t much appreciated by his teammates, you can guarantee that. Too much indulgence in the televised histrionics, even if it’s yelling at yourself about your own performance, can be construed as showing your teammates and/or manager up — or simply caring more about your own individual numbers than the success of the team. Kevin Youkilis gets away with screaming obscenities and throwing his bat and helmet around the dugout after every strikeout because he’s one of the best hitters in baseball, but it drives his teammates absolutely insane. Not that Zito has ever gone to that level, but this “new” Zito who — while he definitely pitches better — tends to drop multiple f-bombs every time he’s removed from a game (especially one where he’s tied or behind, and ESPECIALLY when he’s gotten less than admirable run support), might seem a little contrived to his teammates who’ve seen him try to deal with past struggles by staying on an even keel.

None of this really matters, of course. If Zito finishes the year without missing a start, pitches over 200 innings and keeps his ERA under 4.00, it makes him one of the most valuable players on the team, even if he isn’t providing quite the value you’d hope for a guy making $17M or thereabouts. However, it’s interesting to ponder whether Krukow was really complaining about beachball antics in the stands, or if he was voicing the same frustration with the “new” Zito that others on the team may or may not share.

Or, maybe I’m a clown for focusing on a made up issue instead of the fact that the Giants wasted so many offensive opportunities last night. Hopefully the Giants will still talk to me next time I visit the clubhouse!

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