The Urkel Effect

Media, Players, Spring Training

Does it need to be said that Barry Zito is better than Jeff Suppan?

The mere concept of the Giants releasing a pitcher who’s owed $64.5 million through 2013 is ridiculous in and of itself, but it might make some semblance of sense if the replacement weren’t Suppan.

Aside from that, t’s nonsense.

And naturally it’s coming from Buster Olney.

You can see the important bits and pieces from the MLB Trade Rumors link here.

What happened to Olney?

There was a time when he was a respected baseball writer for the New York Times; but since moving to ESPN, he’s become little more than fodder for jokes and the equivalent of a tabloid journalist taking half-truths and innuendo and—as a matter of connectivity with his employer—blowing them out of proportion to gain readers, viewers and reactions.

Such was the case last year with the “rumor” that the Phillies and Cardinals were considering a swap of Ryan Howard for Albert Pujols. It was written up as if it were viable; Olney went on ESPN News to discuss it and, with the hostess uttering such inanities as “So, Buster, how close is this to happening?”, he launched into a discussion of it “not being close” but indicated that such a bit of derangement was possible.

It wasn’t and Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said so; in fact, he sounded further aggravated than he presumably already was as he was still under siege for his decision to trade Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay; he didn’t need to be answering questions about idiocy at that point and conducting an investigation of his underlings as to whom Olney’s “source” was—if said source actually existed.

Now that I think about it, the deal was close. It was about as close as NASA is to sending an astronaut (or a trained monkey) to Pluto.

I don’t want this to turn into an indictment and diatribe against ESPN and Olney alone; looking at the concept of releasing Zito in favor of Suppan is outright lunacy and salary has little to do with it.

You can compare Zito to the old TV character Steve Urkel played by Jaleel White on Family Matters. When he was a kid, Urkel was cute, funny and entertaining; the suspenders, nerd glasses and hiked up pants made him a household name; but years later in the final stages of the show and as White grew to be very tall, it wasn’t funny anymore; it was disturbing.

The Giants are “frustrated” with Zito? Obviously and it’s got nothing to do with anything other than his salary and his performance.

The canned quirkiness; the special pillow he needed to sleep; the teddy bear; the hipster clothes and funky personality were all accepted and promoted while he was winning 18 games for the Athletics and dating starlets—all were part of the Zito “personality”. Now that he’s a financial albatross with an 85-mph fastball and the fifth wheel in a championship-winning starting rotation, it’s not cool anymore.

Regarding the implication that Suppan could take Zito’s spot, it’s not just crazy in the financial sense. Suppan’s not any good. He’s got little left in the tank; his career rise stemmed from the way the Cardinals, Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan utilized him and from superior playoff performances; apart from that, he’s never been more than a journeyman with mediocre stuff.

Here’s what I would do if I were the Giants and wanted to salvage something from Zito: send him to Rick Peterson.

I don’t care about stepping on pitching coach Dave Righetti‘s toes; I don’t care about the perception that they’d be perpetrating an end-around on the baseball people that have tried to fix Zito and failed. The Giants have a lot of money invested in a pitcher who, at this point, is nearly useless in comparison to a baseline big leaguer.

What do they have to lose? And if there was ever a consideration of dumping him and eating the salary, wouldn’t they be derelict in their duties if they didn’t try that one last Hail Mary and send him to a pitching coach for whom he had his greatest success? Isn’t that better than releasing him because they were concerned about the pride of their staff?

What’s more important?

As for Righetti, he’d get over it. And if he doesn’t? So what?

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