Barry Zito already retired once, though that was baseball's decision, not his. He worked hard, had a fine season in Triple-A, trying to prove something to himself and baseball at the same time. He made it back to the majors and got one last standing ovation. It was a big one, coming from both sets of fans. He didn't costner up a perfect game or anything, but he got to bask. It was good, deserved basking.
Now he's officially retired, announcing it in an article for The Players' Tribune. The headline/picture combination is maximum Zito.
I showed that to co-worker Marc Normandin and described it as "maximum Zito." He wrote back that it "needs more guitar." Then I scrolled down the article, and, don't worry, the article gets to that, too. All of the bases were covered. Fine work, all around.
In the article, Zito describes his lowest point as a Giant, the 2008 season. It's not just me who can't get over the radioactive despondency of that season. It was sucking everyone into its maw. He led into his description of that season with this:
Through the ups and downs, accepting myself was by far the hardest thing to achieve over the last 15 years.
And then wrote:
The year 2008 was the toughest of my life so far. I was being told by strangers in public places just how terrible I was — my own fans in San Francisco yelling obscenities to my face while I was in the dugout.
Part of me is ashamed at the behavior of my fellow Giants fans. Another part of me knows that the combination of a 2008-like season and $126 million of unrealistic expectations is a nasty cocktail that would have poisoned fans of all 30 teams. Just a bad combo.
But Zito got lucky. There will be other players who get big contracts and don't live up to the expectations, and their team won't have the depth to make the postseason without them. Zito didn't contribute much to the 2012 team, just as he hadn't contributed to the 2011 team. The Giants were forced to start him in the postseason, though, and in his first game -- an elimination game -- he walked four and allowed four hits in 2⅔ innings. It was a very Giants Zito outing.
If the Giants get shut out in that game, if they went home because Zito had to start an elimination game, his legacy is probably as a guy who was just good enough in 2010 to allow the Giants to squeak past the Padres. He was a disappointment for the most part, but he had that one helpful season at the perfect time. It's not a bad legacy, really.
Somehow the Giants won that series, though. Somehow they advanced. And then there was another elimination game on the road, this time against the lefty-mashing Cardinals. It would have been Madison Bumgarner's normal turn in the rotation, except he was so messed up at the time, the Giants had no choice but to start Zito instead. Think about how silly that reads. Three years ago, the Giants declared they had no choice but to start Zito over a healthy Bumgarner in an elimination game on the road, and everyone was kind of like, "Yeah, that makes sense, I guess."
That's how the Legend of the Completely Nonsensical Postseason Legend of Complete Nonsense was born. The Cardinals were dispatched. Then Justin Verlander said "wow," and Zito allowed just a single run in the only World Series appearance of his career. Now Zito's legacy is as a postseason hero, a symbol of the unlikeliness of it all. No one's shouting profanities in his face anymore. They're standing and cheering.
Yet if Hector Sanchez doesn't single and Gregor Blanco doesn't homer off Mike Leake in that Game 4, it might be a totally different legacy. That sentence makes no sense. Except it makes all of the sense because we watched it. It's the Barry Zito of sentences, and now we've come full circle through the looking glass. Zito didn't have to get his chance at redemption -- not just for his Giants career, but for that specific postseason, even -- but he got it. He stunned and awed the world, while making us giggle at the same time. That didn't have to happen.
But it did. And it's one of the better stories of the three championships. Zito is officially retiring, and he'll be remembered fondly around here. That wasn't how it was always going to be.
What do you have planned now, Barry?
Today, I am very excited to be a "rookie" all over again in a new field: songwriting.
Never change, Barry Zito. And thanks.