As good as it’s been, forget what Barry Zito has done on the mound the past three times out. In terms of salvaging a season that can’t be qualified as anything but lost, it’s way too little, way too late.
It’s not too late for Zito to salvage some sort of a relationship with Giants fans, though, and what he’s been trying to do in the clubhouse these days represent huge steps in the right direction.
Actually, “trying to do” is the wrong way to put it. What Zito is doing is simply being himself, and that shouldn’t require any effort, right? Wrong. When you’ve spent the past six months wearing someone else’s personality, it’s hard to take it off.
The personality Zito started wearing the day his new windup caused such a ruckus at spring training was that of an aloof, overly serious and borderline condescending professional athlete. And thank god Roger Clemens called and demanded his act back, because it didn’t work for Zito in the slightest.
The Zito who was so beloved in Oakland was anything but aloof; he was accessible and engaging.
He was the opposite of serious for the most part, too. Nobody is more serious than Zito about preparing for his starts, but during his time with the A’s he was a straight goofball off the field.
And condescending? Not in Oakland he wasn’t. If someone had a suggestion for him, he was all ears — a sponge for life and all it offered.
That’s the Barry Zito to which the Giants gave what was then the richest contract in history for a pitcher. That’s the Barry Zito who, when he’d struggle for a few starts here or there, was given some space and leniency from the Oakland fans who loved him.
That’s the Barry Zito who is only just now showing up in San Francisco.
It’s a good thing, too, because if that Zito never showed, the Clemens-clone Zito would be miserable here for the life of his contract. But the old Oakland Zito announced his arrival last week by admitting that the contract and the scrutiny that came with it rattled his cage, got in his dome.
Smart move. People tend to dig honesty.
And Giants fans badly want to dig Zito, but until very recently, he’d given them — via the perception-shaping media — nothing personal to which they could cotton. So all they had to evaluate him with was his contract and his performances, and we all know what a nasty little concoction that turned out to be early on.
Zito will never be able to live up to the contract in the minds of many fans. Nobody could. But rather than try to live up to anything, he needs to just live. If he does that, Giants fans will come around.
Mychael Urban is the author of “Aces: The Last Season On The Mound With The Oakland A’s Big Three — Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito” and a writer for MLB.com. He also hosts the weekend edition of “Sportsphone 680” on KNBR (680 AM).