The 98 mph-tantrum: Strickland will play villain, or have villainy thrust upon him

The 98 mph-tantrum: Strickland will play villain, or have villainy thrust upon him

Hunter Strickland’s next fifteen-minutes-of-fame moment has not gone well, and without claiming to know him well enough to speculate well, I would guess that he will work very hard to make it not matter.

His decision to throw at Washington’s Bryce Harper in belated response to Harper’s two home runs against him in the 2014 playoffs (and no, we’re not buying the “it got away from me” story) has been almost universally savaged as an act of potentially dangerous petulance. Strickland, who plays at being the defiant sort – a bit like Madison Bumgarner, though comparisons are typically dodgy by their very nature – seemed neither contrite nor even bothered by the event or its aftermath.

He seemed, in fact, like he’d be willing to do it all again if given another chance.

But that’s conjecture, of which there is much, without a lot of evidence, of which there is only the act and its images, like Buster Posey opting out of the subsequent brawl, and Jeff Samardzija taking out Michael Morse like a free-range scud, and Strickland being dragged/mauled off the field against his will by George Kontos, Hunter Pence and Mac Williamson.

We can infer from these things that (a) some of his fellow players are skeptical of his temper, (b) that Samardzija will never not be a wedge-buster at heart, and (c) Hunter Strickland will find out the real price of being reduced to a caricature by Big Hot-Take.

It’s a story as old as electronic scoreboards – the guy who either decides to play the villain or has villainy thrust upon him, and decides to iron-jaw his way through the reaction. Strickland gave in to a moment of three-year-old pique over what was essentially his own failure, forgetting that one of the many unwritten rules of baseball is that while you might throw at a guy in defense of your team, you don’t endanger your teammates by settling an individual score – especially when you’re the one who ultimately won.

Strickland has been one of the best relievers the Giants have this year, so his career was on a slow but discernible rise after its original difficult start. But he has in one moment decided to define himself to the outside world as the guy who reprised one of his lowest moments with a 98-mph tantrum, and the weight that comes with that is heavy at first and only gets worse with time.

And while he is facing it, he is facing it face-first without fully understanding the continuing price of being the designated bad guy. Nobody ever does until they got through it, and only the most obstinate and successful athletes even have a fighting chance to break even with an amorphous public that can’t be seen, felt or argued with.

See Green, Draymond.

Maybe an apology, which Strickland is loath to provide, could change the narrative assigned to him, because let’s face it, we give great deference to the quality of one’s apology. But if Strickland is going to power through this chin-out and in full defiance, his career will be marked by endless replays of the Harper incident, which we feel fairly secure saying he will not enjoy.

But it’s what he seems to be signing on to, on the theory that he will not give in to public pressure or opprobrium. He is going to find out that it isn’t the easy matter it seems, but it is not something he can be told. He will have to experience it, over and over and over again, and the difficulty of carrying that tonnage is not to be underestimated.

In short, in the world of celebrity (and even a setup man in the major leagues like Strickland is a celebrity of sorts), you are defined by the public based on whom that public decides you are, no matter how true or false a read that might be. That’s a tough pull for all but the most successful athletes and hide-bound personalities, because it can go on for years.

We are about to find out which of those types Hunter Strickland is. And by “we,” I mean him and the public that judges him.

Bumgarner undergoes surgery on pitching hand


Bumgarner undergoes surgery on pitching hand

A day after a line drive fractured a bone in his pitching hand, Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner underwent surgery to stabilize it.

A specialist in Arizona added three pins to Bumgarner's fifth metacarpal bone in his left hand on Saturday, the Giants announced. 

Bumgarner told reporters on Friday that the pins will remain in his hand for four-to-six weeks. Then, he will begin to fully work towards a return to the rotation.

The 28-year-old suffered the fracture in his final start of spring training, and was set to start Opening Day against the Los Angeles Dodgers on March 29. In 21.0 innings over six appearances this spring, Bumgarner posted a 3.43 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. 

Bumgarner injury just the latest in recent run of misfortune for Giants

Bumgarner injury just the latest in recent run of misfortune for Giants

Eight years ago in this very space, I postulated that Brian Sabean had done a lucrative deal with Satan.Co to win the Giants’ first World Series in 56 years. He never denied it, so I took that as silent affirmation.

Now, it seems Beelzebub has brought the bill, to be paid in full on receipt of same.

The San Francisco Giants, who needed as few things as possible to go wrong to start this season, just got two full-on groin shots in the space of less than a week, the second of which was delivered when Madison Bumgfarner fractured his hand trying to repel a line drive from Kansas City second baseman Whit Merrifield during Friday’s Cactus League game.

The injury did not look serious at first because, well, because Bumgarner pretends to be made of adamantium, but an X-ray revealed the fracture and though no time for recovery was listed, Bumgarner may return to health before the Giants do.

And yes, I know spring training is no time for fans to lose hope for a cheery season, but you take the fact as they present themselves, and the Giants are already 40 percent down from their projected starting rotation. Jeff Samardzija is already on the disabled list with a hinky pectoral muscle, and as the Giants know all too well, things like this tend to come in sixes, if not eights.

The 2010 Giants hit on every midseason trade and parlayed that good fortune and the assets already on board to a storied October run. A year later, Buster Posey got Scott Cousin-ed, and his broken ankle snapped the team’s hope of repeating.

The Giants then won in 2012 and ’14 without too much incident, but starting midway through 2016, continuing into last year when Bumgarner flipped his dirt bike, and now down to today, it’s been nothing but seeds and stems for Giantvania.

The rumor mill has been quick to offer up possible replacements for the Bumgarner vacancy (though not for his expected results), but at a time in the game’s development when the best and most progressive-thinking teams are talking about four-man rotations and Staff on every fifth day, a strategic development that requires strength in numbers, the Giants have neither that strength nor those numbers.

Their best internal choices are veteran Derek Holland, who might already have been penciled in as Samardzija’s replacement, and phenom-in-training Tyler Beede. But that essentially uses up the in-house bank of usable goods, so Sabean can either buy something very off-the-rack or hope he and Bruce Bochy can fake it long enough for Samardzija (three to four weeks) and then Bumgarner (six to eight, according to ESPN's Buster Olney).

This seems awfully daunting, especially for a team that has buzzard’s luck and a rotting bat rack for a season and a half. But with six days before the regular season starts in Los Angeles against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers...oh, the hell with it. If you’re a Giant fan, start drinking, and continue until further notice. The evil lord of the netherworld will tell you when it’s time to stop.