Boys will be boys, but that sometimes includes getting a little reckless on their off-duty time. Last fall, Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer sliced a thumb with one of his hobby drones and was almost useless to the Indians’ push to break their World Series drought. Now it’s springtime and Madison Bumgarner, on a day off, sprained a bone in his pitching shoulder and bruised a few ribs—breezing along on a dirt bike in Denver until he hit a slippery spot.
That’s almost (underline that) as slippery as the spot his loss for however long puts the Giants, who have enough trouble already being dead last in the National League West. (Yes, this is one of those odd numbered years, but they didn’t exactly go the distance in even-numbered last year, being wiped out by the Cubs in the division series.)
It’s not like established pitching aces can be punched out of a pattern in a factory somewhere. This one’s going to miss six to eight weeks that the Giants absolutely cannot afford if they hope just to stay among the living in their division. “Here’s a young guy, like a lot of them,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, a man lacking in delusions of off-field invincibility, who’s just returned from heart surgery (to repair an atrial flutter), “who think they’re invincible.”
And it’s not as simple as listening to the doctors, caring for the injuries properly, and just getting back on the horse, either. Just ask a Hanover, Massachussetts dentist named Jim Lonborg.
Before he reversed Casey Stengel’s career trajectory (Stengel was a failed dental student before going into professional baseball), Lonborg was a righthanded pitcher who once had a glittering-looking future. He nailed the 1967 American League Cy Young Award (the first year the award was given in each league) and pitched the Red Sox to the World Series. They might have had a chance to win, too, if manager Dick Williams had gone with his baseball sense instead of the public image and not pitched Lonborg on two days’ rest for Game Seven, Bob Gibson or no Bob Gibson on the other side.
Then Lonborg went skiing in the off season and tore up the ligaments in his left knee, his landing knee. Gentleman Jim was never again the pitcher he’d been in 1967. He won five more games over the next four seasons than he’d won in 1967 alone. The Red Sox shipped him to the Brewers, who sent him on to the Phillies. He was serviceable, nothing near greatness. Rumours that he’d been hotdogging it on the slopes in pursuit of Jill St. John didn’t help.
Bumgarner isn’t exactly renowned for good humour in certain situations, so you can be sure, reasonably, that Bauer isn’t going to send a telegram thanking Bumgarner for taking him off the top of the meathead disabled list. On the other hand, long-retired Ron Gant may be tempted to send Bumgarner a text: Welcome to the club.
Of course, Bumgarner could text back, Aren’t you the genius who blew the biggest single-year deal in baseball history to that point by breaking my leg in an ATV accident a week later? That’s what happened to Gant after he signed that deal with the Braves for 1994. The Braves almost couldn’t wait to release him.
In 1998, pitcher Carlos Perez suffered a broken nose while driving . . . and trying to pass the Expos’ team bus while he was at it. Already having a reputation for reckless living, Perez was dealt in due course in the same deal that also made Dodgers out of Mark Grudzielanek and Hiram Bocachica, a deal that made Expos out of Ted Lilly and Vladimir Guerrero’s kid brother Wilton.
Perez lasted until the 2000 season. Poor pitching plus a few other unsavoury incidents ended his major league career soon enough. The Dodgers probably suffered less for his absence, and the Braves weren’t exactly suffering for losing Gant in 1994, either.
But this year’s Giants are suffering already. Johnny Cueto may have rebounded from an ugly first start, and Matt Cain looks surprisingly effective considering his recent history, but still considering that history Cain is an injury risk even if he’s not big on dirt biking. Now throw in Jeff Samardzija and Matt Moore, who’ve been slapped silly for the most part so far. And there’s little to no help on the farm: it’s gotten bad enough at Triple A that they’re handing starts there to Ricky Romero—who merely flamed out of the Show in 2013.
Mark Melancon has recovered from the nightmare that was his Opening Day, but the rest of the bullpen has only Hunter Strickland to be proud otherwise—Strickland hasn’t been pried for a single run in his six appearances thus far. And the man tapped to fill Bumgarner’s rotation slot, Ty Blach, a starter by trade, was working out of the pen a spell and causing some people to spell his surname with an “e” instead of an “a.”
Bumgarner pitched like, well, like Bumgarner, despite the 1.75 run support per start, which is the primary reason all four of his starts ended in losses. (Come to think of it, the Giants might miss Bumgarner’s bat, too, all things considered.) Forget, almost, about the rest of the rotation stepping up in his absence. They could pitch like a rotation of Juan Marichal (out of respect, franchise virtuosi first), Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver, and Lefty Grove, and these Giants would still have two ways of keeping divisional pace: difficult and impossible.
Two years ago, the Angels irked one of their pitchers, C.J. Wilson, when he discovered they set private detectives on him right after he signed with the club—because Wilson’s thing for motorcycles irked the Angels, apparently. Fifteen years ago, Jeff Kent irked the Giants when what he called an accident in which he broke his wrist washing his truck turned out to have been caused by his trying to pop wheelies on his motorcycle.
Wilson has since ended an injury-plagued Angels tenure with his retirement to pursue interests in professional road racing. Kent elected to leave the Giants as a free agent, after they lost the World Series to the Angels, but there was always speculation that the Giants didn’t exactly want him back. He made further stops with the Astros and the Dodgers, helping both to postseasons and raising a few hairs on necks in the clubhouses, until he retired in 2009.
Would the Giants with a history of truck washing bike wheelie injuries and now dirt-biking shoulder bone sprains think about turning detectives on any more of their players with, shall we say, wild and crazy off-duty hobbies? You hope not, of course. You’d like to think that boys will be boys but grown men can take care of themselves. If they could, of course, there wouldn’t be clauses in some contracts (Kent, for one, had one) banning them from certain activities.
Maybe it’ll depend on how and whether the Giants survive without Bum’s rush. But maybe, just to be on the safe side, Giants players otherwise so inclined ought to consider bicycles instead of dirt bikes. And leave all drones unturned.