Now that we’ve seen the jersey and the man paired together in the flesh, it’s time to let Giants fans know exactly who they’re getting in Barry Zito.
First of all, let’s dispel the myth that Zito is something of a flake.
Yes, he’s a Southern California surfer dude who dabbles in music and acting. And he makes his offseason home in Hollywood, in part because he digs that scene. (If you were a good-looking single guy in your 20s with a seven-figure income, you’d dig that scene too.) And yes, his various outside interests open the door to accusations of lack of focus when he’s not performing well.
The reality is that Zito is anything but a flake. In fact, he’s one of the most dedicated athletes you’ll find, and that’s why the Giants made such a lengthy commitment.
Zito’s flirtations with acting and music have all come early during his offseasons, when pitchers typically shut things down. Once that time is up, in early January, Zito dives right into his preparation for the season. And as evidenced by his spotless record of reliability, nobody prepares as well as Zito.
When Zito struggles, it has nothing to do with surfing or music or acting or dating actresses. It’s because he’s not throwing strikes. And if he’s not throwing strikes, he’ll be the first person in the video room after the game to figure out why.
Now, let’s address the seamheads who pray at the altar of number-crunching and think Zito’s best days are behind him. That notion is, in a word, preposterous.
At 28, Zito not only is entering his physical prime. For a big-league pitcher, he’s entering his mental prime. And as devout as he is to his physical preparation, Zito is even more into the mental side of the game.
His agent, Scott Boras, likened Zito to Greg Maddux. And while Boras was ripped for it by some, it’s not a bad call on some fronts. Zito doesn’t have anything close to the command of his pitches that Maddux has used to craft his Hall of Fame career, but he does have the same kind of mind.
Truly great pitchers are those who watch the games they’re not pitching as intently as the ones in which they work. They study the craft of pitching, analyzing what works and doesn’t work and they’re willing to make any adjustments that might help them improve.
Zito is one of those guys. Were he not, he wouldn’t have added a cut fastball and slider to his repertoire AFTER winning a Cy Young. And he’ll continue to add — or subtract — various nuances as he continues to learn on the job. He will, without a doubt, get better.
Will he ever win 23 games again? That’s on the bullpen and the offense. If they give him the kind of support he often didn’t get in Oakland, he’ll be right in the Cy Young picture for the next five years.
Mychael Urban is the author of "Aces: The Last Season On The Mound With The Oakland A’s Big Three — Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito" and a writer for MLB.com.