The End and Barry Zito
Chris Jones
August 5, 2011

Scott Boras is very good at his job. Inside that binder was a compelling case, page after page of something like miracles. "When the Oakland A's score three or more runs for him, Barry's record is 93-11." Over his first six seasons, he was as good or better than a young Greg Maddux in nearly every category that mattered. If Zito only remained what he had been — no better, no worse — Boras had projected that he would have more starts than Eppa Rixey, more innings pitched than Lefty Grove, more strikeouts than Warren Spahn. He would have more everything than his beloved Sandy Koufax, given his injury-shortened career. Zito never got hurt. He never got blown up. He was a lock.

Except — there were things about Barry Zito that defied measure. Numbers couldn't explain everything about him. They could explain nothing about him, in fact.

Zito had a very specific memory of seeing the terms of his contract for the first time. He was having dinner with a friend at a Japanese restaurant when Boras sent him a short, historic, record-breaking text: 7/126.

"I ordered a lot more sake," Zito remembered. "I started to hang, bro."

And in that instant, at that Japanese restaurant, Barry Zito might have in fact been very happy. He might have believed that everything that Scott Boras' computer had predicted would come true. He might have believed that he would finish his career in Cooperstown.

Instead, in the coming days and months and years, all that weight, all that expectation, all that godforsaken math, it pushed Barry — Barry, not Zito — off his delicate and particular balance. Those numbers meant that he would never again be consciously unconscious. He would never again be able to feel his way through his life; now he could only calculate the value of it, when all people ever had to do was watch him throw his curveball and they would know exactly what he was worth.

That's the real tragedy of Barry Zito. It's not that he was reduced to a mathematical proof in the winter of 2006. It's that in the summer of 2011, he has become one: Sometimes the sum of faith and belief and love still isn't nearly enough.

Chris Jones is a Writer at Large for Esquire and is a regular contributor to Grantland. You can find him on Twitter here: @MySecondEmpire.

Previously from Chris Jones: The Art of the Body Shot The Lost Magic of Bartolo Colon Ayrton Senna and the Sports Documentary of the Year The Sad State of the Blue Jays

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