Friday, August 05, 2011

As Bad As Colletti Is, He Hasn't Given Out 7/$126M (Yet)

If you can stomach the ninth-grade expository writing experiment that is Grantland, here's "The End and Barry Zito" by Chris Jones:

The computer mainframe in the basement of Scott Boras' battleship offices foretold none of this. It didn't see the injuries, it didn't see the waning confidence, it didn't see the fastball that has become a fastball in name only. It didn't see anything like this end. The computer saw only magic in Barry Zito's future, because the computer can do only math.

The computer — kept in a windowless, climate-controlled room — holds a database that keeps strict account of every pitch thrown in the major leagues since 1971. When Boras prepares to make the case for one of his clients to earn many millions of dollars for playing baseball, he asks his staff to mine that database for corroborating evidence. Boras is well in tune with the needs of the modern game, with its statistical obsessions, with its quantification of all things. For him, as it is for his computer, baseball is just a numbers game.

In the winter of 2006, Boras prepared to shop Zito, then the left-handed ace for the Oakland A's. Zito had recently left his longtime agent, Arn Tellem, to move across to Boras; it was a reversal of the move Zito had made in 2001, when he had chosen Arn — and Art — over Commerce. But now it was time for business, and Zito, uncharacteristically,1 had chosen to slip back inside the battleship.

After Boras had completed his statistical analysis of Zito's career — including projections for how the rest of his time in baseball would play out, ending eventually, inevitably, with a plaque in Cooperstown — he summoned his client into his War Room. (There was actually a sign outside the door that read WAR ROOM.) On a white screen at the front of the room, Boras made his presentation to Zito, the same one he would later make to a select list of baseball's money teams. Rows and rows of numbers danced on the wall.

"They definitely heightened my expectations of myself," Zito told me not long after, remembering that afternoon in Newport Beach. "I was actually kind of aroused."

Boras then had those numbers printed out on crisp white paper and tucked inside blue binders. Each of them was stamped with silver foil: BARRY ZITO, FREE AGENT PRESENTATION. That binder eventually won Boras and Zito a seven-year, $126 million contract from the San Francisco Giants, then the largest ever for a pitcher. But on that afternoon it was a just a binder, science's rigid attempt to define the abstract. Boras gave one of them to Zito, who took it back to his house in Hollywood. He put that binder on his kitchen counter and left it sitting out as a reminder of the things that he had done and the things that he would do.

Barry Zito is a believer in totems. In those days, he had a replica of Reggie White's Green Bay Packers jersey draped over the back of his couch for inspiration. He had a shrine built to Sandy Koufax in his bedroom, near his own Cy Young Award from 2002. A portrait of Carlos Santana was on the wall nearby. And now there was this blue binder sitting on his kitchen counter.

That binder destroyed Barry Zito.

A promising start to an article...however, the rest of the piece loses momentum quickly, almost as if Jones loses interest in the story he's trying to write (he's no Joe Posnanski). Still, in a season chock full of Dodgers disappointments, it's nice to look at a disappointing story that's not our own once in a while.

6 comments:

Dusty Baker said...

"BARRY ZITO, FREE AGENT PRESENTATION"

Scott Boras: Poor Grammarian

Dusty Baker said...

(T-bones Barry Zito)

Fernie V said...

Was Ned Clitoris (cause he gets excited easily and you can take advantage of him approaching the trade deadline) in San fran when this deal was signed.

Fernie V said...

At the time the deal was made I hated our management for not signing Zito. So when we buy the Dodgers make sure I am assistant GM not the GM.

Matt said...

Pierre, Andruw, and Schmidt combined were 127m. I think the giants got more value from Zito.

Steve Sax said...

@Dusty 6:06a: but what if there was a big space between "agent" and "presentation"?

Or "presentation" was on another line?