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'The Franchise': Q&A with Barry Zito

August 31, 2011 |  9:00 am

Barry Zito

It’s been a tough year for Giants pitcher Barry Zito, one of the ballplayers whose lives have been chronicled for the past several months on Showtime’s documentary-style “The Franchise: A Season with the San Francisco Giants.”

On the field, the Giants are stumbling in their bid to repeat as World Series champions — not that their troubles are going to upset too many Dodgers fans. The pitching-rich, hitting-poor Giants — who spent a good chunk of the season atop the National League West — are suddenly looking up at the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks.

Zito, once the highest-paid pitcher in baseball, has struggled to find his groove since joining the Giants in 2007. And this season he’s endured foot and ankle injuries that have limited his playing time and led to a chorus from some in Giants-land to trade or release the one-time Cy Young Award winner.

Off the field, Zito’s father Joe — who once composed and arranged music for Nat King Cole in the 1960s — nearly died last October from a heart ailment.  In a recent episode, viewers learned that the elder Zito took $50 out of his weekly paycheck of $262 to pay for pitching lessons for his son, who now lives in the Hollywood Hills. (The series concludes Wednesday.)

Here's a Q&A with the 33-year-old pitcher and his thoughts on his dad, this season, the television series, and whether he’d watch a similar show about the Dodgers.

The episode with your father was very personal — talk about the decision to bring the cameras along.

Well, it came as a surprise to some close friends because my dad has been out of the social scene for many months now. He hasn’t seen a lot of friends, so nobody has really been over there to see him. And then I thought it was important to honor him on camera; you know, he had a lot do with my upbringing and pitching. So some close friends were surprised that we allowed a camera crew back there before we let them, but it was really important to me, and I’m just really thankful for every day I have with him.

Did you watch the show with your dad?

I was coming back from rehab in Arizona and I got to go home for one night, so I did spend a few hours with him and we watched a recording of it. He really enjoyed it.

You’ve gotten some rough press this year in San Francisco. How has this year been for you?

It’s been difficult. I’m a people person. I’ve always valued people whether it’s someone I just met or a longtime friend. I’m the kind of guy that strikes up conversations with the guy that is making the coffee, the cashier at the grocery store, that’s how I am. I just love the interaction, and I’m curious about all different things, so it’s hard to be that kind of person and not take the negative energy and stuff to heart.

How do you think you came across in the series?

It’s hard to be objective about myself, you know. Maybe I can ask you. I don’t know. My only goal really was to come across as authentic. I don’t feel the need to win people over. That was really important to me in the past. I used to feel that I had to get people on my side, but as I’m maturing I’m realizing that I just want me to be on my side. People can perceive what they want, how they want — my only goal is that I come across authentic.

They weren’t afraid to play up the yoga angle with you.

I think there is an element that people want to see that cartoon character life a little bit. But in reality, cars, houses, money — it’s all meaningless if you don’t have inner peace, and it can all be taken away in a second.

What do you think the general mood in the clubhouse is about the show? Would you do this again?

I don’t think any of us would have an aversion to doing it again. It was never a situation — and we all thought it all might be — where the cameras were everywhere and we couldn’t get away and that we would have no private time. It was just opposite. [The crew] became part of the fabric of the team. It was cool. It was great because it showed people out there that aren’t necessarily fans what really goes on and how we’re just normal guys and we just do our thing.

Do you think the camera changed people’s behavior?

Guys that have been around for years have learned how to be themselves on camera even though there’s a camera right there. That’s a skill you acquire over time. I think there’s pressure though that if we’re sitting there in the dugout and the camera is on somebody and you’ve got the boom mike floating over your head that they are going to feel a little pressure to do something more entertaining than they would normally do.

How do you react to the camera?

For me earlier in my career, I would play up to the camera. I’d try to be a little more interesting or be more off the beaten path.  Because it’s fun. You want to expose those personality traits that don’t come out in a normal interview. But now, I just try to be myself. It’s not about winning anybody over, it’s about speaking my truth.

You chose to live in the Hollywood Hills. Why did you want to live in L.A.?

I’m in love with L.A. really. I grew up San Diego, but ever since I went to Pierce Junior College and USC, I’ve stayed there.  I lived in the flats of Hollywood for four years and actually a buddy of mine that lived right below — and I’d already had three years in the big leagues and a Cy Young Award — and he’s like, ‘Dude, what the hell are you doing here? Why don’t you just go buy a mansion in the hills?’…. About six month later, I bought a house, and I’ve lived up in the hills ever since.
If they profile the Dodgers next year would you watch the show?

I would definitely watch it. The Dodgers have some great personalities on that team, and a couple are close friends of mine. And it would be fun to do it on a team I don’t know.


A look at the Giants' new reality show on Showtime

-- Martin Miller

Photo: Barry Zito. Credit: Marco Jose Sanchez / Associated Press.