Balls interrupts its 123rd NCAA Tournament bracket to bring you this important message …
Be concerned, Giants fans. Be very concerned.
When a Giants player goes down, it’s nothing serious, the higher-ups like to tell us. But Madison Bumgarner is clearly the exception. MadBum is the one guy they absolutely, positively cannot afford to lose for an extended length of time. So when someone dismisses his rib and foot problems as no biggies, don’t buy it. An in-grown nose hair would be news in his case.
As even usually sunny manager Bruce Bochy was moved to admit, “There’s always a little concern when a guy misses a start, but I’m staying optimistic that he’ll be OK.”
Bumgarner is expected to skip at least one start and probably two as a precautionary measure. Heck, if he misses the Opening Day assignment in Milwaukee three weeks from now, so be it. Never mind April. Will he be able to take the ball every fifth day in August and September and October?
“There’s just no sense in trying to pitch through something like that and taking a chance,” Bumgarner hit the target. “It’s just spring training. It’s probably not going to hurt to miss a start or two.”
At his listed 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, Bumgarner projects a Paul Bunyan-like image that suggests he’s beyond human. Since the 2010 postseason, he has averaged close to 34 starts and 220 innings per year. Those are silly numbers in this era of pitch counts and six-man rotations.
Yet let’s not forget that another monstrous Giants lefty named Randy Johnson was supposed to be indestructible himself once. From 1990 through 1995, the Big Unit handled a Bum-like workload at a similar age before a back problem knocked him out of the box. It took him three years to get right again.
Heaven help the Giants if history repeats itself.
BEARS BEHAVING BADLY: The Cal basketball team has waited months to get to this point, but three days before the NCAA Tournament opener, the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors are the least of its troubles.
On Monday, assistant coach Yann Hufnagel was fired after a months-long probe found that he had violated the school sexual conduct policy. The punishment came after recent criticism that the university had become too lax in its ways. He will not accompany the team to Spokane, Wash.
Normally, this wouldn’t bode well for head man Cuonzo Martin, who brought in Hufnagel after the Vanderbilt assistant had helped recruit one of the best freshman classes in the country. Except that Martin still hasn’t signed the five-year deal that he agreed to with the previous administration. Which means that he could leave after the season like football coach Sonny Dykes threatened to only months ago.
“You’re talking about a guy who’s part of your staff and a family member,” Martin said. “We continue to push forward. It’s not an easy thing, but we’ll find our way.”
Hufnagel is the fourth known campus employee to face sexual harassment allegations in the last year, which pretty much tells us what goes on behind closed doors at Berkeley these days.
BUMP AHEAD: Cal got a break to be a fourth seed in the tournament, especially after it lasted only two games in the Pac-12 postseason ball. But the Bears could have done better than to be stuck in the South Region, where they’re on a collision course with No. 5 Maryland in the second round and possibly top-rated Kansas in the finals.
Like Cal (23-10), Maryland (25-8) is better than its record talent-wise. The difference is, in 21-year-old Melo Trimble, the Terrapins have a proven floor leader with tournament know-how. That’s an area in which the Bears have come up short late in games too often.
GAELS GET SHAFTED: There are a lot worse crimes than to deprive a few kids of their dream, but that doesn’t absolve 10 people you probably never heard for the way they stuck it to St. Mary’s on selection day. For the committee to exclude a 27-win team that won the West Coast Conference title in the regular season smells of politics and discrimination.
As coach Randy Bennett put it, “Honestly, if I was trying to explain why we’re not in [the NCAAs], I really couldn’t explain. Like, what else could we have done? I mean, you’re going to lose some games. … So nobody is going undefeated.”
The NCAA can talk about Cinderella all it wants, but the truth is, if you’re a low-profile school with a four-figure enrollment, you’re far more likely to get the glass slipper where you don’t want it.
JUST ASKIN: Aren’t you just thrilled to have to listen to TNT yukster Charles Barkley wax philosophical for the next two weeks? After all, Chuckles watched at least 8½ minutes of college basketball this season, didn’t he?
THE LIST: Odds for state and other Pac-12 teams to win the NCAA Tournament, courtesy of Bovada:
Oregon State, 250-1
Cal State-Bakersfield, 1,000-1
Fresno State, 1,000-1
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