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Why Barry Zito Has It Easy

Oh How Different Things Could Have Been

Why does Barry Zito have it easy, you may ask? Aside from the fact that he’s sitting on a seven-year, $126 million dollar deal that is already being dubbed by many as the worst contract ever granted a starting pitcher? Two words. San Francisco.

Change those two words to New York, and Barry Zito’s experience would be about as disparate as the coasts themselves. Truth be told, Gary Cohen touched on this briefly during last night’s SNY telecast of the Mets-Giants game, a game which Zito started and quickly departed leaving behind another stellar line: 4.1IP, 7H, 6R (five earned), 5BB, 1K.

Cohen posed the question, and it remained lodged into my head like that freakin’ Subway five dollar foot-looong jingle. It’s really quite an interesting scenario to ponder. Consider in 2006, I was one of the many Mets fans (if we are really being honest with one another) who was clamoring for Minaya and crew to go out and sign Zito. “Do What You Need to Do!” “Lock Him Up!” “We need a lefty ace, this is a no-brainer!” I was not alone. Turns out, maybe Omar knew something when he refused to completely open up the vaults for the (at the time) 28 year-old southpaw.

Back then, Zito was still Zito. His record was 102-63. He had a Cy Young under his belt. He had his nasty 12-6 curve and a respectable 90MPH fastball that was more than enough to set up his soft stuff. Last night, he was barely hitting 84 on the gun with his heat, leaving far too narrow a gap between fastball, curve and change. The results have been staggeringly ugly. For even the casual fan, the phrase “shell of his former self” seems perfectly apt when watching him on the mound in 08.

In the Bay area, this performance is certainly not applauded, but one couldn’t help but notice the generally warm reception (all things considered) Zito received when he descended the mound and slowly sauntered to the dugout after another beatdown last night. That’s when it hit home for me. Even the media coverage on the Zito debacle is somewhat tempered on the left coast.

So, what would it be like in New York? “Decidedly different” would be a mild understatement. For better or worse, Mets fans express their opinions. Those feelings seem to be infused with far more passion surrounding the team’s biggest stars. When those stars underperform, particularly those who’ve commanded big-time dollars, the reaction is often merciless. One only need reference Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado in recent years. Aaron Heilman has also felt the wrath of the Shea “faithful” early and often this season.

The sh*tstorm that would be brewing (and would have been festering now for over a year) around Zito is mind-boggling to think about. He would be getting absolutely abused by the fans, sportstalk radio and the media in New York. The covers of the local tabloids would certainly come up with typically tasteful and far less-friendly headlines than “Back Off Track: After a decent May, Zito descends to 1-9 with a poor outing.”

Zito would be booed before he took the mound. Showered with boos when his name was announced by the PA announcer. Assailed by the boo birds every time he walked a batter. And after departing from a start like last night? Who knows, but it would not be pretty.

So, if Zito’s psyche is fragile out West, he may just want to count his lucky stars. Because if you were to gin up the worst possible scenario for an athlete coming to New York, the Barry Zito story could very well be it. It might have rivaled the Zeke saga in terms of discussion and intensity (in this city). It actually would have been quite amazing to see. Although, I sure am glad his dead arm and lost stuff has found it’s home at AT&T Park instead of Shea.

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  1. Jeff V

    June 4, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    If Zeke Coached in a place like San Fran it wouldn’t have even been national news.

  2. P-Cat

    June 4, 2008 at 1:40 pm

    Wow, I’m a Yankee fan, but I sure didn’t want Zito a couple of years ago. Maybe because I saw more games as an AL watcher, but he just wasn’t the same pitcher he was when his teammates named him Cy Young (and Roger Clemens Cy Old). He just lost his stuff and now he a junkballer and not even a good one. And heck yes, you make a good point. On the north side of this coast, we’d hang Zito on a daily basis.

  3. Cecilio's Scribe

    June 4, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    P-Cat – think my nat’l league allegiance did contribute to that misinformed desire. his stats had already started to tank in 2003, and he has never been close to returning to form. best-paid junkballer of all-time.

  4. MetFanMac

    June 4, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    You may not believe me, but at the time I actually did NOT want the Mets to sign him. I had a hunch that his career was about to spiral down, and I was correct.

    I also never liked the idea of Aaron Heilman relieving either. Trust me!

  5. Jeff V

    June 4, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    That reminds me, why isn’t Zito in the pen in the first place?

    I never like the idea of having junkball pitchers in the rotation (unless they have a solid fastball too which makes them not a junkballer) but i think Zito might be legitimately hard to hit if he was just coming in for one inning at a time. Not to mention that since he wouldn’t have to save his arm to try to last 6 or 7 innings he might be able to “reach back” a little more and gas up his fast ball into the high 80s.

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