Arena: How Madison Bumgarner Threw San Francisco's Season Away
As a professional athlete, where does the obligation to your team end?
Does it end when you go home after a long day of practice and pick back up when you return the next day? Does it end when the offseason begins and you take a much needed vacation?
The real answer: it does not end until your contract has expired. San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner reminded us of this last week when he made one of the most boneheaded decisions possible. The 27-year-old decided to go dirt-biking with a few relatives just outside of Denver, where his bike flipped during what he called “a freak deal.”
Bumgarner will be out for at least two months after suffering injuries to his ribs and throwing arm and there is no guarantee he will be ready to pitch after the extended hiatus. He will likely need to be enrolled in some sort of throwing program to get accustomed to throwing 100 pitches. This puts the 9-17 Giants in an awkward position of either waving the white flag one month into the season or trading away top prospects for immediate help that may not even get them into the playoffs. Either way, San Francisco is screwed and their workhorse pitcher is to blame.
The 6’5” southpaw who practically willed the Giants to a World Series victory by himself in 2014 is now holding his team and its fans in baseball purgatory.
San Francisco was already struggling mightily to start the year. They currently have a team ERA of above 5.00 – worst in the league – and their outfield is atrocious. This led to a franchise worst 6-13 start and a flabbergasted fanbase that has gotten used to winning. Bumgarner was perhaps the lone bright spot for this team as he had a 3.00 ERA and smashed two homers on opening day. The last thing the Giants needed was for their best player to jeopardize his season.
Bumgarner had an obligation to his team to keep himself healthy and ready to pitch every five days. An obligation to sleep well, not use PEDs, not use drugs and stay safe. He should not be partaking in a dangerous activity like dirt-biking, whether he was being safe about it or not. Even high school athletes are told to stay away from skateboarding, skiing, dirt-biking and other “extreme sports” because there is such a high possibility of suffering an injury.
Contracts are guaranteed in baseball, so despite a perceived obligation to a team, a player’s only real obligation is to himself so he can make more money in a future contract. Many players have mentally checked out after signing a contract that guarantees them multi-millions.
If a player’s lifelong goal is to become a millionaire and they don’t give a damn about what fans think, who is to blame them for simply going through the motions after achieving financial security? They made it. They fulfilled their dreams. However, if their goal was to become the best baseball player they can be, they owe it to their fans, their team and themselves to work as hard as possible and stay out of situations that could put their careers in jeopardy.
Professional athletes are held to a higher standard than regular people with regular professions. If you are an accountant and you injure yourself on a ski trip, your firm is not going to fire you or go up in flames; but for a pro athlete like Bumgarner, his injury could set off a chain of events that alters the course of the entire franchise.
In the MLB there is no real incentive to tank for draft position if your season is not going well like there is in the NFL or NBA. Thus, throwing in the towel on the 2017 season only serves to exacerbate the Giants’ loyal fan base. If San Francisco decides to push all their chips to the center of the table and deal away top prospects for immediate help, they may have a chance to overcome their slow start. However, with their ace sidelined and no clear timetable for his return, making such trades may seriously dampen their future without improving their present situation all that much.
After the cause of his injuries became widely known, Bumgarner addressed the media in a post-game press conference saying “I realize that was definitely not the most responsible decision I’ve made.” There is an opt-out clause in most MLB contracts that protects teams from players who make stupid off-field decisions and suffer injuries as a result – a clause the Giants could use if they like. Bumgarner’s talent is so great, however, that there’s absolutely no chance they give up on their homegrown ace.
Yes Bumgarner’s actions are inexcusable and will likely result in a lost season for the Giants, but it is not quite the end of the world. San Francisco still has core players like Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford and Johnny Cueto, who are all under team control for the next few years. With patience and proper execution in free agency, the Giants could bounce back and contend for a championship as soon as next season. This injury will hold them back this season, but by this time next year, Giants fans will have gotten over their irrational fear of dirt-bikes.
This is by no means an ideal situation, but it can serve as a learning experience for Bumgarner and the rest of the people lucky enough to call themselves professional athletes: save the dirt-biking and ski trips for retirement.