If perhaps you are worried about Madison Bumgarner’s body breaking down, if perhaps you are concerned that Bumgarner’s historic performance during last year’s World Series — and the 270 innings he threw last season, including those glittering five of two-hit ball on two days’ rest during Game 7 against the Kansas City Royals — might render his left arm into a useless appendage, there is a video that may help assuage your fears. It is an advertisement, actually, a recent shoot for the workwear company Carhartt, but there is an inherent truth to advertising in this case, because the video is of Bumgarner chopping down a tree with an ax.
This is not something Bumgarner does all the time back home on his ranch in North Carolina — “A lot of times we use equipment,” he admits — but it is something he’ll do on occasion, just to liven things up, just to break up the monotony of working out in the gym. In this case, he just happened to be captured on film, approaching the tree from all angles, hacking through it, mentioning in the voiceover how he refuses to have “sissy hands,” and then walking away casually as the tree tumbles to the grass behind him.
“Have you ever done it?” he asks, when I ask him what kind of workout chopping down a tree provides. “It’s pretty ridiculous. It’s not like it looks.”
This is the thing about Bumgarner: All those stories about his rural upbringing, about the work he does on his ranch — these tales are not embellished for Paul Bunyan-esque purposes, in order to fuel his legacy as one of the most compelling figures in baseball. These tales are true. This is a man who really did give his wife a cow as a wedding gift; this is a man who grew up in a log cabin that his father built with his bare hands.
And this is why, in an offseason filled with endorsement offers after one of the most dominating postseason pitching performances in baseball history, Bumgarner chose to go with Carhartt, a company whose products he actually uses. But that upbringing — the inherent strength Bumgarner built up through years of legitimately working the land — is also why the Giants felt so comfortable riding him last season, and why the Giants’ manager, Bruce Bochy, never once concerned himself with overutilizing Bumgarner during the playoffs, or potentially sabotaging his future.
“This is a manchild that just has a tremendous work ethic,” Bochy says.
That historic performance, of course, means Bumgarner will become a target this season for opposing players who want to prove he isn’t unhittable; it was cause for minor concern when he started slowly this spring. But so far, Bumgarner has held up through everything. So far, the body and the arm he’s built through years of organic work hasn’t betrayed him.
“I feel great,” he says. “I’ve felt great, knock on wood, since forever. I’m not taking any of it for granted, and that’s the reason we work so hard and take such good care of ourselves. I try to do the best I can to take care of myself.”
He is still the most imposing presence in the Giants’ clubhouse, and perhaps the most imposing presence in any clubhouse in baseball. And despite his biographical juxtaposition to San Francisco itself — an area known more for hugging trees than chopping them down — there is a realness to Bumgarner that seems to resonate with the people of this city.
He is a legend here, now and forever, for what he did last fall, and he is so revered in the Giants’ clubhouse that when a reporter asked if his teammates had seen the tree-chopping ad, if perhaps they’d made fun of him in some good-natured way for it, Bumgarner regarded him as if he’d lost his mind. “No,” he said. “Would you want to? I’m bigger than all of ’em.”