Now it’s time for Part 2, where I get to talk to Madison Bumgarner for a few minutes without interruption (here’s Part 1). Bumgarner is a large, unimposing presence, it that makes sense. He’s obviously pretty tall and has broad shoulders, and he was standing up unlike most of the other players who were seated on the couch in their individual luxury suites (the more prominent Giants each got their own suite) or at various bar tables out in the lounge area. But Bumgarner’s incredibly polite, looks you directly in the eye, and has a real gentle way about him (he’s not the kind of guy who’ll try to intimidate a reporter who asks a question that’s stupid or too personal). His personality during Media Day made him seem quite different from the fearless guy we saw pitch inside with regularity during the playoffs. Or, as a Fresno Grizzly, the pitcher who flew off the handle in that ejection you’ve probably seen on YouTube.
As the fourth guy in a playoff rotation featuring Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez, it’s almost like Bumgarner’s just another really good young pitcher. Actually, he’s a historically good young pitcher. Even if he totally flamed out this season, Foppert-style, what he did last October would still be a startling achievement — especially the 8 scoreless innings he threw in Texas.
I asked Bumgarner about how he honed his pinpoint control, then moved onto stuff like the victory parade, who he hangs out with on the road, and if he’s tired from all those innings he threw late last season. Before the interview I noticed that he wanted to give me a shot to ask questions, because he noticed I was waiting. And afterward, it was Bumgarner who offered to shake my hand before I could even look up from pressing “stop” on my voice recorder. I don’t want to go all “fanboy” here, but Bumgarner, like all the Giants I talked to, was extremely down to earth.
BASG: One of the hallmarks of your career as a pitcher as young as you are is your control. I think that like, at your age, only 10 pitchers in history have had as high a strikeout-to-walk ratio as you in a full season. What do you attribute that too? Was there special training you did as a kid?
(Here’s the stat I was fumbling around for that I remembered reading on McCovey Chronicles: “the starting pitchers under 21 who have had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.00 or better in the past 110 years.” It’s actually only seven pitchers who’ve done it, with Walter Johnson and Dwight Gooden doing it twice. Bumgarner’s SO/BB was 3.31 in 2010.)
Bumgarner: To tell you the truth, when I was younger I had no idea where the ball was going. Especially, like, Little League and stuff, there was no telling where it was going to go. Then, I don’t know, I just started working hard and … when I was little, I didn’t think you could even hit a spot on purpose. I was just trying to throw a strike somewhere. I don’t know, just hard work I guess. When you get into pro ball especially, you can’t afford to miss spots like you can in younger years, younger age, but I don’t know. I guess I’d have to attribute that to our pitching coaches and all that, helping me have ideas about what I’m doing. My mechanics has a lot to do with it, if you can repeat your delivery the same every time you’re going to throw it where you want to. And I think that’s how I do it, just consistency I guess.
BASG: I remember Aubrey Huff, after your amazing start in Texas, saying, ‘You guys don’t know about it, but he’s got some personality to him.’
BASG: How would you react to that? Are you kind of a jokester in the clubhouse?
Bumgarner: Not too much. I think (Huff) does a good job of bringing it out of everybody. He’s an awesome guy, and I’m glad, fortunate to be able to play with him and be a part of the team that he’s on. You know, we got a crazy bunch of guys in the clubhouse, we have a lot of fun. And I think he brings it out of everybody. If you are quiet, he’s going to make you talk and have a good time.
BASG: What did you think of San Francisco your first year here?
Bumgarner: It’s beautiful. We got the most beautiful ballpark, I think, it’s hard to beat.
BASG: How about the crazy fans? Like the parade, was that beyond your wildest expectations?
Bumgarner: Yeah, that was unbelievable. We talked about the parade, I didn’t know what it was like. I’d never seen it, or definitely never been there. But it was … man, it’s hard to explain. Just crazy to have that many people support you and all that stuff. It’s pretty cool.
BASG: When you’re on the road, is there anybody on the team you hang out with more than others?
Bumgarner: I mean, pretty much everybody kind of hangs out with everybody, but normally me and Affeldt, Cain and Buster go out to eat a lot of times when we get there, some other guys sometimes. But everybody’s pretty close, it’s like a family in there. So it’s kind of a cliche, everybody says that, but we truly are … a family in the clubhouse.
That was the first time I heard the running theme that was mentioned on several occasions during Media Day, how much this team genuinely likes each other. Bumgarner’s right, it is kind of a cliche, but even though the trend is for sports journalism to move further and further into the realm of statistics and sabermetrics, the 2010 Giants were a team that surprised many observers last year in large part because they surprised all the numbers people (and the people who don’t pay attention to teams other than the Yanks, Sox and Phillies). While you can’t turn a bunch of bad players into a great team with good chemistry, it’s hard after talking to the players not to at least consider that truly liking and pulling for one another was one of the reasons why these Giants did what so many talented San Francisco Giants teams of the past couldn’t.