Postseason legend Madison Bumgarner takes flight and gallops in Arizona now.
Picture the next time Madison Bumgarner surrenders a hefty home run in his home park and snarks over the bomber having fun with the blast. The bomber’s mates will be inspired to produce T-shirts saying not, “Get it out of the ocean” but, rather, “Get it out of the pool.”
Bumgarner has signed for five years and $85 million with the Diamondbacks, and the nearest body of water into which the opposition can hit is the pool behind Chase Field’s right field fence. Until Bumgarner gets to face the team for whom he served so well, mostly, for the first eleven years of his career, in his former playpen, that is.
A few years ago, Bumgarner’s asking price wouldn’t have been as low as $85 million for five years or more. A few injuries and, more important, a heavy workload have taken their toll, though at 30 years old Bumgarner isn’t exactly ready for Retirement Row. But yes, it does feel a little strange that you’ll see him for the next five in something other than Giants’ fatigues.
And, yes, Bumgarner really did prefer going to Arizona if the Giants weren’t going to be that interested in keeping the greatest postseason pitcher in their history. The Diamondbacks, admirably, have continued remaking/remodeling themselves without even thinking about tanking, and Bumgarner is nothing if not a competitor no matter how much his left arm doesn’t always obey his orders lately.
But The Athletic‘s Bay Area scribe, Andrew Baggarly, says it was personal as well: “Bumgarner told me in July that he and his wife, Ali, loved Arizona and he’d be interested in playing for the Diamondbacks. He gets his preferred destination from a life perspective, he’ll play for a team with way more near-term upside than the Giants, he still gets to hit (in a lively ballpark where he loves to take BP) and he still gets to stare down the Dodgers five or six times a year. What’s not to love?”
Thus does it make a little more sense that, yes, the Giants “were interested and engaged in retaining” the lefthander whose arm span as he’s about to deliver a pitch makes him resemble a Boeing Dreamliner with a bearded cockpit on takeoff; but, no, they weren’t exactly rolling the old red carpet for his landing, either.
Baggarly caught the drift at last week’s winter meetings. When he asked the Giants’ new manager, Gabe Kapler, how he was selling both himself and re-selling the Giants to their franchise World Series hero. When Kapler said he hadn’t talked to Bumgarner and (Baggarly’s words) “wanted to give him his space,” but would still reach out “if others thought it was a good idea.”
“And that was it,” Baggarly continued. “That was all I needed to know. There was no way that Bumgarner would continue his career with the Giants.” Because, of course, if the Giants wanted him to stay and thought they had a shot even at $85 million for five more years (they’re said to have offered four and $70 million), “you can bet that calls and meetings would’ve been set up. Kapler would have begun the back-channeling before he even got the job. The Giants would have tried to assuage Bumgarner’s every concern and dispel every bit of unease.”
Bumgarner isn’t the only one now shouldering into a Diamondbacks jersey who’s a bounceback candidate. The incumbent Snakes ace, Robbie Ray, is looking to make a comparable comeback from a somewhat dismal 2019, and much analysis has suggested the team hoped for enough of a comeback to make him attractive at next summer’s trade deadline. Bumgarner’s signing may have made Ray look positively glittering as a trade topic and positively assured of bringing back a haul of delicious enough prospects sooner.
MadBum is almost as renowned for the pleasures he takes in hitting as he is for that lifetime 2.11 postseason ERA, including a transdimensional 0.25 lifetime World Series ERA. He’ll fume at or bawl out enemy hitter taking a little too much pleasure in a monster mash on his dollar, but he enjoys hitting one for distance as much as the next man. Even if he admits he just can’t bring himself to let the kids play, or play with the kids, when he’s the bomb victim.
A shame, too. Two Opening Days ago I had a little mad fun with MadBum’s hitting a pair out, against the Diamondbacks of all people, one a leadoff blast against Zack Greinke in the top of the fifth, the other a one-out shot against reliever Andrew Chafin in the top of the seventh.(In between, then-Diamondback/now-Dodger A.J. Pollock hit one out off Bumgarner in the bottom of the sixth.)
I wrote a puckish column pondering the dialogue between the then Cy Ruth Award candidate and the Giants’ then-manager Bruce Bochy, leaning a little heavily off the day Bumgarner and then-Dodger Yasiel Puig tangled verbally after a ground out, with Bumgarner—who loves Puig about as much as a small child loves liver (after Puig joined the Reds and took Bumgarner deep, Bumgarner cracked, “He’s a quick study. It only took him seven years to learn how to hit that pitch”)—hollering, “Don’t look at me!”
Forgive me, MadBum, but I couldn’t resist looking at you on that Opening Day:
Bochy: Bum, it’s not that we don’t need the runs, but would you kindly remember that your job with this team is not to do your impersonation of Henry Aaron every other time up?
Bumgarner: Skip, don’t look at me!
Bochy: Bum, I know you were p.o.ed about losing the perfect game in the sixth. But you’re not getting paid the gigabucks to beat baseballs into earth orbit. You’re getting paid the gigabucks to throw them, preferably down the throats of enemy batters. Think you can remember that while you’re bucking for the Cy Ruth Award?
Bumgarner: Skip, just don’t look at me!
Bochy: Bum, you’re embarrassing our hitters. Hitting one 410 feet over the left center field fence on 1-2. You realize how many guys around here can’t hit on 1-2? You bucking to get our hitting coach fired?
Bumgarner: Skip, just don’t look at me!
Bochy: Okay, I’ll give you this one, Bum. That shot you hit in the seventh with one out. 2-0. Now, that’s a more reasonable count to swing on. And you did bust a three-all tie while you were at it. But c’mon, you don’t have to do everything yourself. Even if you’re the one who let them tie it up at three-all in the first place. Well, okay, it was A.J. Pollack, and even you can’t keep him from hitting one out now and then, you’re only human, after all.
Bumgarner: I’m only what?!?
Bochy: I knew that’d get your attention, Bum! Now, about those eleven strikeouts … that’s why you’re getting paid the gigabucks. Wait a minute — hey, Denard! Not a great way to open, getting yourself arrested for attempted grand theft second!
Bumgarner: Don’t look at him, Skip!
Bochy: Anyway, you’re getting paid to strike those emereffers out, not hit them into the Cove, buddy. There’s no Sandy Mays Award in baseball. I need you to start and when necessary close your own games, so far, depending on how much of an improvement this bullpen’s gonna be over last year’s bullpen. Christ, last year we couldn’t get save a thing if we’d had the Red Cross coming out of the pen.
Bochy: What’s eating you, Bum?
Bumgarner: What’s with this Hoover? Who does he think he’s fooling with that slop? Why doesn’t he go back and make his vacuum cleaners where he belongs?
Bochy: He just struck Pence out after Hunter fought him back to 2-2.
Bumgarner: That ain’t exactly beating as you sweep as you clean, Skip.
Bochy: Where’d you learn your history?
Bumgarner: I play Trivial Pursuit just like any normal guy.
Bochy: Normal! Normal! Any normal guy who gets paid the gigabucks to pitch and strike out the other guys but who gets up to the plate and thinks he’s Mike Schmidt. You call that normal?
Bumgarner: Do I look like Mike Schmidt, Skip?
Bochy: Only when you hit.
Bumgarner: When did he ever strike out eleven guys in a game? Hey! We got first and second. Buster walked and Craw singled him to second. Who says I’m the one who has to do it all?
Bochy: Nunez just lined out to right, in case you weren’t looking.
Bumgarner: Looks like Hoover needs to change his beater bar brushes.
Bochy: Come on, Bum, give the guy a break, you had to squirm a couple of times too, you know.
Bumgarner: I twist and shout, I do not squirm.
Bochy: Have it your way, buddy. Look at him. Throws two balls to Hernandez, then strikes his ass out on three straight pitches. Looked like he took a couple of lessons from you.
Bumgarner: OK, give you that one. Poor Gork, forget the breeze, I could feel the hurricane.
Bochy: C’mon, Bum, you did more than your share today. Take the rest of the day off. Law can handle these guys.
Bumgarner: Okay, Skip, but remember who would have hit second in the ninth. For all you know I had another home run in me.
Bochy: Bum, let’s not get into that again, shall we? Can’t you settle for being the only pitcher in baseball history ever to hit two bombs on Opening Day and let it go at that?
Bumgarner: Well, look at poor Law, Skip. Two hitters, two singles, and Goldschmidt coming up. Whoa! Two straight strikes he throws on Goldschmidt. Now balls one and two.
Bochy: Gimme a break, Bum, I didn’t want Pollock to pounce on you again.
Bumgarner: You’re all heart, Skip.
Bochy: Damn! The bastard tied it up with a single.
Bumgarner: He fought the Law and won.
Bochy: Forget it. Jerry Seinfeld you ain’t. Hold on, I gotta get Law out of there.
Bumgarner: Good call, Skip. Blach got the double play. And Strickland got the strikeout. Now I know you’re gonna miss me hitting in the ninth!
Bochy: You gonna start that again?
Bumgarner: Who’s the genius who decided I could take the rest of the day off when I might have had another home run in me?
Bochy: I dunno.
Bumgarner: Well, don’t look at me, Skip!
Bochy: Hey, look who’s pitching the ninth.
Bumgarner: It’s old man Rodney! And Panik triples off him to open! C’mon, Skip, I could have gotten him home without hitting one out.
Bochy: See? Gillaspie got him home! Sacrifice fly. So it’s not like you hitting your third homer of the game, just shoot me.
Bumgarner: Don’t start with me, Skip!
Bochy: Now I got to get Melancon in there. The season isn’t even three hours old for us and already we’ve got a blown save. Thirty last year wasn’t enough, we gotta buck for forty already? Damn, how could we load up the pads on old man Rodney and not cash those guys in? How could we get Span thrown out at the plate to end that inning? Coulda had a two or more run lead.
Bumgarner: Well, Melancon isn’t getting paid the big gigabucks to go up to the plate and hit grand slams, Skip. Damn, Skip! Two outs, he gives up a double to Mathis and an RBI single to Daniel Freaking Descalso!! And Owings sends home the winning run! Why are we paying Melancon the big gigabucks? I told you you should have had me available to hit in the ninth! You ever heard of an insurance run?
Bochy: Don’t look at me, Bum!
The word is that the man who’s been a horse for the Giants even when he wasn’t pitching at his peak performance level owns horses in the Phoenix area and, with his wife, loves the horses as much as the area and as much as baseball. The man who doesn’t want you looking at him when you recover from a knockdown pitch or take him out of your shared baseball real estate isn’t averse to a little horsing around.
But wouldn’t it be something if baseball could give him dispensation for Opening Day, lets him keep a horse adjacent to the batter’s box, then—if he hits one out—lets him mount and gallop around the bases?
All the Diamondbacks have to do otherwise now remind Bumgarner the only body of water into which the other guys can hit is small, behind the fence, and features a hot tub off to one corner. And, keep him away from dirt bikes.