Madison Bumgarner is an odd fit for the bustling lifestyle of San Francisco, California. Hailing from rustic Hickory, North Carolina, he is more at home among the North Carolina pines than the crowded streets of the City by the Bay. He spends the offseasons living on his ranch in the Appalachian foothills, felling trees and caring for his horses. In fact, he feels so out of place without his horses during the season that he decided to bring them with him to spring training this year.
Despite the surface-level lack of a fit between the 6’5” cowboy and the Bay Area, Bumgarner has found a second home in San Francisco; quickly settling in as the ace of a franchise that has captured three of the last six World Series titles. But as he’s closing in on win #100 in the majors, I can’t help but think back to the MadBum of old.
Though Bumgarner was born in Hickory, North Carolina, he grew up in an area just outside Hickory nicknamed “Bumtown.” Bumtown, known only for being the hometown of the Giants’ hurler, earned its nickname from the substantial number of German immigrants with the surname Bumgarner that settled in the area. In fact, Madison even claims to have dated a girl during his high school years that was also named Madison Bumgarner. Imagine those wedding invitations: “We cordially invite you to celebrate the marriage of Madison Bumgarner and Madison Bumgarner.” Unfortunately for comedy’s sake he did not end up marrying his namesake, but instead married his high school sweetheart, Ali.
Bumgarner’s freakish athleticism and high-90s fastball drew the gaze of more individuals than just Ali Bumgarner. Major league scouts and agents walked the grounds of South Caldwell High School so frequently that Bumgarner’s father had to build a wall around the bullpen to provide his son with a place to throw in peace. But the scouts had good reason to spy on Bumgarner’s every fastball. He amassed an 11-2 record with a 1.05 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 86 innings while hitting .424 with 11 home runs as as he led South Caldwell to the 2007 North Carolina 4A State Championship.
After his unbelievable senior season, the San Francisco Giants drafted Bumgarner 10th overall and were able to lure him away from a scholarship offer from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Bumgarner was sent to the Giants’ farm system immediately. Baseball-wise, this was the right move for the Carolinian, who thrived at every level of the Giants’ system. On a personal level, the move was a major struggle for Bumgarner.
As an 18-year-old who knew no lifestyle other than the small-town, outdoors lifestyle he had lived his entire life, Bumgarner was not fully prepared for his relocation to Scottsdale, Arizona to join the Giants’ interleague team. Shortly after his arrival, Bumgarner was having second thoughts about his decision. He was miserable; for the first time in his life he hated baseball. After only a week in training camp, Bumgarner was ready to head home and continue the life he had lived for 18 years.
“I was out of high school and had just turned 18 years old. I had been away from home a couple of times, but never more than a couple of days at a time, and I always had someone with me — family or friends, someone. I was out there by myself. I had no idea what to expect. Honestly, I contemplated just going home and choosing not to have this lifestyle because it was so different from what I was used to.” – Madison Bumgarner
To whittle away his time away from the field, Bumgarner would walk from his room in a Scottsdale hotel to a nearby mall. Rather than spend some of his $2,000,000 signing bonus on new jeans, Bumgarner practiced his lassoing skills on the life-sized statue of a bull in the mall’s courtyard. This is the actual bull statue on which he fine-tuned his cattle-roping technique.
But like any other teenager venturing away from home for their first extended period of time, he got over it. Like the jackrabbit in this Vin Scully-narrated anecdote from Bumgarner’s past, the lefty survived the experience and came out stronger on the other side.
He quickly upgraded from the minors to the big leagues, trading in the bull at the Scottsdale Fashion Square mall for then-roommate Jeremy Affeldt’s patio furniture, which proved to be a much more convenient target for his cattle-roping endeavors. The Giants had virtually no choice but to call him up to the big-time after his utter domination of double-A ball, where he compiled a 12-2 record with a 1.85 ERA during the 2009 season. That is nearly as much domination as he unleashed upon the Applebee’s 2 for $20 deal he devoured all by himself.
“Tim [Alderson] and I split a 2-for-$20 deal. One appetizer, two entrees and a dessert. Bum ordered a 2-for-$20 deal. For himself. The appetizer, both entrees and the dessert. And he ate every bite.” – Brandon Crawford, San Francisco Giants Shortstop
Bumgarner’s minor league success immediately carried over into the majors. He has been nothing short of dominant from the moment he entered the big leagues, posting an ERA and FIP of 3.5 or better in every full season of his MLB career.
That is a remarkable run of consistently-dominant pitching. Did I mention he can hit, too? Bumgarner is the home run leader among all active pitchers, and is the main reason for the creation of the “#PitchersWhoRake” hashtag.
If Clayton Kershaw didn’t exist, Bumgarner would be far and away baseball’s premier left-handed pitcher. However, Bumgarner has the one thing that Clayton Kershaw would trade all of his regular season success for: a World Series ring. Three of them, in fact.
Even at the age of 27, Bumgarner has already earned the reputation as pitching’s version of “Mr. October.” Across the 2010, 2012, and 2014 postseason runs, Bumgarner compiled a 2.14 ERA and 0.88 WHIP over 88.1 innings pitched. While those stats are phenomenal, what truly sets Bumgarner apart from all other pitchers are his performances during each of the 3 World Series titles he has won. I challenge anyone to find a set of pitching statistics more impressive than a 4-0 record, a 0.25 ERA, and a .528 WHIP across three separate World Series.
This brings us to the single most impactful performance in Major League Baseball postseason history: Bumgarner’s masterful performance in the 2014 World Series. It all started with a matchup against the Kansas City Royals in Game 1. Bumgarner won the game for the Giants with a stellar 7-inning outing. But did something shocking along the way. He gave up a single run. To this day, it’s the only run, earned or unearned, he has ever allowed in a World Series game.
But don’t worry. As you would expect, he righted the ship in his next outing by twirling a four-hit, complete-game shutout in San Francisco’s AT&T Park. Despite Bumgarner’s heroics in Games 1 and 5, San Francisco found themselves faced with a showdown in Kansas City to decide the series.
We all know what transpired by now, so I’ll spare you the dramatic build up. Madison Bumgarner entered the game from the bullpen in the bottom of the fifth inning, and proceeded to completely shut down the Royals over the final five innings, leading the San Francisco Giants to their eighth World Series title. Take a look:
What is most remarkable about the longest save in World Series history is the fact that it was achieved on only two days of rest. After throwing 117 pitches during his nine-inning Game 5 gem, Bumgarner had barely enough time to throw an ice pack on his aching left shoulder before closing out the series with a 68 pitch save just two days later. Whatever lingering pain Bumgarner dealt with in the days and weeks following his Game 7 heroics was certainly worth it. He could rest knowing that he delivered the most clutch set of pitching performances in MLB postseason history in order to bring the Commissioner’s trophy back to AT&T Park.
Bumgarner has accomplished more than nearly every other active MLB pitcher, and he’s still only 27 years old. He could conceivably dominate the National League for eight to ten more years, and based on the postseason success he has achieved, is a solid bet to add more hardware to his already extensive collection. He may have to carve a new “trophy case” into the walls of his North Carolina ranch sooner rather than later, because, despite the Giants’ recent struggles, 2016 is an even-numbered year; and if we have learned anything from even-numbered years past, we may be seeing a bit more even-year magic from Madison Bumgarner and the Giants this October.
Author’s note: The idea for this article came from my cousin Luke Moore. Thanks for reading, Luke. Hope you enjoyed it.