Winning changing everything for Giants' Barry Zito

Winning changing everything for Giants' Barry Zito
April 24, 2013, 2:00 pm
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Barry Zito found his wife and his religion in 2011, and has performed much better for the Giants ever since. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

My image is something completely different than the person that I set out to be every day of my life.
—Barry Zito

Winning takes care of everything.

The world's No. 1 golfer, Tiger Woods, made this official in a recent Nike ad, but San Francisco Giants have been providing supporting evidence for the credo the past few years.

The May issue of GQ magazine features six Major League Baseball stars -- two from the world champion Giants -- modeling fashion-progressive "baseball jackets." And while the images elicit plenty of quips, it's tough to bash Buster Posey or Barry Zito after the seasons they put together for San Francisco in 2012.

The Giants won Barry Zito's final 14 starts (including three in the playoffs) and Buster Posey doesn't have the shelf space to house his 2012 collection of awards, punctuated by the National League Most Valuable Player trophy. While Giants fans likely question Posey's decision to submit to being photographed in capri pants -- yes, that's what he's wearing -- the immediate fallback remains: "As long as you hit .336 and knock in 103 runs, Sir Gerald Dempsey Posey III, you can wear whatever you like."

Winning takes care of everything.

It's difficult to find much at all about Posey to criticize. A bit more can be said about Zito, who, following the GQ photoshoot, sat down for a revealing in-depth interview.

Zito has been the Bay Area's own intriguing character study since he burst onto the scene with his chiseled jaw and snapping curveball in 2000 with the A's. After winning a Cy Young Award in Oakland and securing a seven-year, $126 million contract from San Francisco, Zito quickly became a polarizing figure -- both locally and nationwide. Known for his laid-back attitude, his proclivity to catch waves and strum a guitar, Zito's Zen image was well established when he joined the Giants. Showtime's reality documentary series The Franchise in 2011 cemented it by highlighting his yoga exploits and healthy cooking habits.

Then GQ, with the publication of a few simple interview questions, effectively dismantled the 13-year construction of Zito's "Hippie" persona.

"My image is something completely different than the person that I set out to be every day of my life," Zito told the magazine.

No kidding.

"I love music, I love surfing, I love yoga," Zito affirmed before revealing his latest passions: religion and guns.

"I've found something that I just really love, which is the Christian faith, and it's new to me. ... I've kind of picked up a new hobby of shooting firearms," Zito told the magazine. "So that's something that I've really gotten excited about lately."

This pro-gun, born-again Barry Zito is not familiar to the public, but it's not a complete 180, either. Zito is holding onto his Zen lifestyle, too.

"It's either/or for people. ... You can either be Christian or you can be into yoga. You know what I mean?" he said. "You can be Christian or you can be, like, an exciting person that's spontaneous. I don't know."

Perhaps it's tough for the 34-year old renaissance man to wrap his head around, but Zito is a complex and talented individual, and he acknowledges that the stereotypes so often bandied about tend to frustrate him. Why can't he be a born-again, pro-gun Christian that likes to surf, play music, eat healthy and do yoga?

For the first time in his Giants career, he can. During his early, and largely unsuccessful days in Orange and Black, Zito's character was over-analyzed after every "revealing" tidbit about his lifestyle. But after GQ turned his national image on its head, the baseball world shrugged a collective, "Whatever works, Barry."

It's 2013 and -- at least while Zito is 3-1 through four starts -- no one is even thinking about questioning him.

Zito says his new-found faith stems from "a need for strength outside of myself," and that his early struggles in San Francisco were "a huge part of the pain and struggle" that led to that realization.

The lefty, who says he became a Christian in the middle of 2011, married former Miss Missouri Amber Seyer in December of that year, and adds his interest in owning guns was a direct result of that union.

"When you have a family and you understand that you have so much to lose if some lunatic is gonna come off the street and try to do something in your home, it makes you feel a little better to know that I'll be able to defend my family," Zito explained to GQ. "It's a utilitarian thing."

Utilitarian is defined as something "designed to be useful or practical rather than attractive." Since Zito has grown a family and acquired the means to protect it, he has been a "utilitarian thing" for the Giants, going 18-9 with a 4.07 ERA and 1.70 strike/walk ratio since the start of 2012.

Winning takes care of everything.

Former Giants closer Brian Wilson may have abused that line of thinking, following the Giants' 2010 world championship with public appearances as a maritime captain, as a Celtics superfan and sporting a snug-fitting tuxedo leotard with Bigfoot as his date. His mysterious jet-black beard continued to grow slowly, but its cult following grew faster than his 2010 heater.

Plenty of fans grew tired of his schtick over the offseason, but, loyal to the colors on his back and expecting another 48 saves, they endured and even championed it.

Two year later, after the Giants failed to reach the 2011 playoffs, Wilson was on the disabled list headed for his second Tommy John surgery. His black-bearded apparel was donning clearance racks across the Bay Area.

Zito, who lived with Wilson in Los Angeles during recent offseasons, knows his former teammate's story all too well. While he's aware that a few losses could spur the old cycle of questions and criticism, Zito is putting his devout focus into every pitch. And for the first time in his Giants career, Zito is considered worthy of his contract.

Winning, it seems, takes care of everything.