Mason Saunders

One of the brightest stories of the first half of this decade in baseball was the emergence of battery mates from the South  who had an immediate impact on the National League pennant races. Those two were Buster Posey from Leesburg, Georgia and Madison Bumgarner from Hudson, North Carolina. Both were signed by the San Francisco Giants and, after a very short period of giggling among Giants fans at the prospect of having  a battery of Bumgarner and Posey, they became leaders of a team destined to win three World Series Championships in five seasons from 2010 to 2014. Those three Giants championship teams did not really constitute any kind of dynasty because they were anything but dominant over other teams, but they were each well led by Bruce Bochy and his staff and, more importantly, fiery competitors like Bumgarner, Posey, and Hunter Pence.

The 2014 team was especially marvelous. They won 88 games and lost 74 to finish six games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in second place in the National League West. Once they got into the playoffs, however, it was a different story, and no player was more responsible for that than Madison Bumgarner. The big lefty was 24 years old and looking like the face of a winning franchise for many years to come. He won 18 of his 33 starts with four complete games, 219 strikeouts and, as a batter, a .258 batting average with four home runs that earned him a Silver Slugger award.  His 27 year old  mate Posey had one of his best seasons, batting .311 with 22 homers and 89 RBI. The Wild Card  Game was in Pittsbugh and was scoreless through three innings before Brandon Crawford hit a grand slam in the fourth  off Edinson Volquez. Bumgarner completed an 8-0 shutout and the Giants were on their way. They proceeded to beat Washington in the division series in four games and the St. Louis Cardinals in five games in the League Championship Series.  Bumgarner was the losing pitcher in the third game of the Washington series and then went 7 and two thirds innings to beat the Cardinals in the first game of that series,3-0. Then he pitched eight innings in the decisive fifth game, yielding three runs on five hits before Travis Ishikawa‘s three run homer in the ninth inning won it. Bumgarner then thrilled Giants fans and amazed the rest of the world with his MVP performance in the World Series. He won the first game 7-1, threw a complete game shutout to win Game 5, 5-0, and then finished the seventh game by hurling five shutout innings, allowing only two hits.

 

The big lefty’s legend grew in the next two seasons despite the fact that the Giants as a team began to hit the skids. He was an All Star in 2015 and’16, compiling records of 18-9 with a 2.93 ERA and 15-9 with a 2.74 earned run average. Legend had it that he also once did a roadside repair on the team bus and there was the MadBum competitive glare that  is the kind of thing you don’t mind when a guy is carrying the team but looks kind of foolish when he becomes ordinary. There were noteworthy stare downs with umpire Joe West and flashy outfielder Yasiel Puig of the hated rival Dodgers.

Then came trouble. MadBum did what a lot of reckless twenty somethings, especially the male variety, do. Despite his looming status as a millionaire big game  star with eventual Hall of Fame credentials, he got himself hurt doing something stupid , risking it all  by driving around on a dirt bike and hurting himself in the off season before the 2017 campaign. His resulting late start made for a 4-9, 3.32 record as the Giants continued to fade. He apologized for that and Giants fans were forgiving and sympathetic when, during Spring Training in 2018, he was struck by a batted ball and broke a finger. Another short season made for a 6-7, 3.26 record but this time it wasn’t his fault.

Now,at thirty years of age, Bumgarner is coming off a mediocre season that has baseball people wondering if he has, in fact, become just ordinary. Last year he was a typical .500 pitcher, winning 9 and losing 9 with an ERA of 3.90. The Giants said they wanted him back, but he oddly signed with the division rival Arizona Diamondbacks. It is not difficult to speculate that, if the home run balls continue to fly at record setting rates throughout the major leagues, and given the fact that his new home ball yard is much easier to hit in than the cool gray park in San Francisco, Madison Bumgarner will have a very difficult time holding opponents to fewer than four and a half runs per game. He is also hurt by the disturbing trend toward forbidding starting pitchers to pitch more than five or six innings even if they can field, hit, and bunt. That really hurts a guy like Bumgarner because he has proven that he is strong enough to be more like Steve Carlton or Juan Marichal than, say, Kirk Reuter.

If all that had not been enough, now comes the news that Bumgarner has had a somewhat secret life as a rodeo performer. Using the name Mason Saunders, he has been a competitive roper. That may be good for his macho man self esteem, but it probably excites his manager and pitching coach, not to mention whoever signs his paycheck, in all the wrong ways. Okay, MadBum, you’re a badass, now how about being a team player? The D-Backs were not looking for another Mordecai ” Three Fingers” Brown. Ask the rodeo folks, it does happen. At any rate, Giants fans are probably not so sorry he’s gone at this point.

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