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New Wave
Jeff Pearlman
January 15, 2001
Whether riding his surfboard or conversing with his precocious left arm, A's phenom Barry Zito follows his own eccentric path
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January 15, 2001

New Wave

Whether riding his surfboard or conversing with his precocious left arm, A's phenom Barry Zito follows his own eccentric path

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Out of Nowhere

With a strong performance down the stretch for the Athletics as they won the American League West, Barry Zito joined an honor roll of rookies who were called up in midseason and made crucial contributions to their clubs' championship runs.

PLAYER, POSITION, TEAM

FIRST GAME

Whitey Ford, LHP, '50 Yankees

July 1

New York City product, 23, boasts 9-1 record, 2.81 ERA; wins World Series clincher over Phillies

Bob Hazle, OF, '57 Braves

July 29

In 41 games for eventual world champions, 26-year-old "Hurricane" bats .403 with seven HRs, 27 RBIs

Mel Stotlemyre, RHP, 64 Yankees

Aug. 12

Poised 22-year-old has 9-3 record, 2.06 ERA; wins World Series Game 2 over Cardinals

Gregg Jeff eries, 2B-3B, '88 Mets

Aug. 28

In 29games, hits .321 with six HRs. 17 RBIS and five steals for NL East winners; 21-year-old bats .333 in postseason

Livan Hernandez, RHP '97 Marlins

June 15

Cuban emigre, 22, wins nine of 12 starts in regular season, goes 4-0 in postseason for world champs

Jaret Wright. RHP, '97 Indians

June 24

An 8-3 record in regular season includes seven wins following Cleveland losses; 3-0 in postseason

Erubiel Durazo, 1B, '99 Diamondbacks

July 26

Slugging Mexican League alum, 25, bats .329. slams 11 HRs in 52 games for NL West champs

Barry Zito, LHP, '00 A's

July 22

Zito, 22, goes 7-4, with a 2.72 ERA, forAL West winners; shuts down Yankees in Division Series Game 4

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there existed the planet Zito. Its lone inhabitant was a man named Barry, who—by earthling standards-was something of a nut job. He had been known to wear a wedding gown. He played with stuffed animals, to some of which he had given Spanish monikers (Luis the lion, Juan the bear). On every overnight journey he brought his lucky fuchsia satin pillows. To conquer boredom he chatted with the source of his livelihood, his left arm. Hello, Arm. Are you doing well today? Barry, King of Zito, believed that Tupac Shakur was still alive, that surfing cleansed the soul, that the New Kids on the Block's Hangin' Tough was a decent enough tune and that, for the right amount of coin, he could last a round with Mike Tyson. Once, he maintained, he even held a coherent conversation with Rickey Henderson.

There are NASA theories as to how the lone inhabitant of Zito (now known as Barry Zito) arrived on earth, in Oakland, pitching for the American League West-champion Athletics at the tender age of 22 (987 in Zito years). Maybe, like Superman, he was sent here immediately before his frozen planet exploded into billions of pieces. Maybe, like Mork, he is researching our esoteric species.

One thing is certain: Zito—driver's license, Social Security card and cell phone aside—is no everyday American baseball player. He is different, in all applications of the word. Think Bill Lee meets Gandhi meets Kelly Slater. "But not a flake," says A's general manager Billy Beane. "Barry isn't flaky. He's eccentric. He's a kaleidoscope. He takes the Zen approach to things."

This year, in only his second professional season, Zito went 7-4 with a 2.72 ERA in 14 starts as a rookie lefthander for Oakland—and that's probably the 12,471st most interesting thing about his life. His earth parents, Joe and Roberta Zito, met 38 years ago, when Joe was a conductor and arranger for Nat King Cole and Roberta was a member of Cole's backup group, the Merry Young Souls. Zito's earth grandmother, Ann Meyer Makeever, is the founder of Teaching of the Inner Christ, a San Diego-based metaphysical faith with an estimated 50,000 followers. His earth uncle, Patrick Duffy (married to Roberta's sister), played Bobby Ewing on the TV series Dallas. His earth girlfriend of two years, Susie Mora, was a fullback on Mexico's 1999 Women's World Cup soccer team.

Ever since his freshman year at UC Santa Barbara, in 1997, Zito has practiced yoga and meditation. He travels with the satin bed pillows his mom sewed for him, as well as scented candles, which he spreads throughout his hotel room. "They relax me," he says, "and hotels don't always smell so good." He is learning to play the guitar, and he admits to holding dialogues on the mound with his left arm "whenever I need someone to talk to."

Almost all major leaguers either hunt, play golf, or hunt and play golf. Zito has never fired a gun. On his things-to-do list he places golf a close third behind nostril-hair ignition and renting Teen Wolf Too. "The last time I played," he says, "I shot 140 in five hours. Golf sucks."

Instead, Zito entertains himself by shoving a six-foot, six-inch white surfboard into the back of his black Dodge Durango and finding wicked morning waves along the Southern California coastline. By the time spring training begins next February, he will have donned his gray-and-blue wet suit on 60 or more occasions. When he can finally negotiate a major league contract with any degree of leverage—as a second-year player, he has none and will earn only a bit more than the $200,000 minimum in 2001—Zito says he will insist on a can-always-surf clause. "Surfing kicks ass," says Zito, who splits time between apartments in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. "Once, when I almost died, it wasn't so cool. But now it's great. I just get up early, put on...." Whoa! Whoa! Almost died?

Often, in the exuberance of being Zito, Barry rolls right through critical junctures in a conversation. He can be explaining the electoral college, which he does with lawyerlike precision, then, flash, catch the eye of a passing olive-skinned hottie and, bam, offer 12 unsolicited reasons for his worship of Latin women. One minute Zito is praising the $2.75 Hawaiian French toast at the Beach Hut in Manhattan Beach ("The world's best French toast, dude"). The next minute he's explaining the art of throwing the curveball. ("Dude, it's all confidence.") Seconds later he's on to The Roots' new album ("Amazing, dude").

Uh, Barry...about that near-death experience? Well, five summers ago, when Zito was attending UC Santa Barbara's freshman orientation, a bunch of other students asked if he surfed. "Dudes!" replied Barry. "I totally love surfing!"

Huge lie. "I had never surfed in my life," he says. "I just wanted to be cool."

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