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Dan Bickley

Madison Bumgarner’s rodeo life can’t buck Diamondbacks

(AP Photo/Matt York)

Great athletes come with aliases. They are necessary on the road, to keep fans from cold-calling hotel rooms.

Few will ever carry the mythology of Mason Saunders, rodeo star.

Welcome to Madison Bumgarner’s first illustrious act as a member of the Diamondbacks. He fessed up to The Athletic over the weekend, confirming that he occasionally moonlights as a prize-winning rodeo cowboy. In December, he and Jaxson Tucker roped four steers in 31.36 seconds, winning $26,560 in cash at a high-profile competition in Wickenburg.

Less than a week later, he signed a five-year, $85 million deal with the Diamondbacks.

So, to be clear:

Bumgarner has done nothing wrong. At least not to his new employers. If he was competing on the side, on a horse, during his time in San Francisco, well, that’s on the Giants. They were underpaying him, anyway.

General manager Mike Hazen admitted he was surprised by the news, but made it clear he’s respectful of an athlete’s free time. Torey Lovullo was even more moderate, saying he had never met Mason Saunders, but was very impressed by his obvious talents. For much of the fan base in Arizona, Bumgarner’s exploits represent the kind of shout-at-the-devil, cowboy defiance that made this country so great.

But you can bet Ken Kendrick will put his foot down.

After all, he and his partners are the ones on the hook for the $85 million. And Bumgarner has already sabotaged one baseball season with his off-field activities, missing two months with the Giants following a reported dirt bike accident in 2017.

It’s also clear that rodeo is more than a hobby to Bumgarner. He said he’s been roping steer since he was 16 years old. One of the pictures from his triumph in Wickenburg show him riding a horse in a manner that would make Clint Eastwood blush. He cared enough about his rodeo pursuits to compete two days before a Cactus League start with the Giants, pushing the envelope of recreational activities to the absolute limit.

It’s fair to wonder if his off-field pursuits and love of the rancher’s life led him to Arizona more than our baseball team.

It’s up to him to prove otherwise.

It’s fair to wonder why Bumgarner went to such lengths to hide his identity, guarding one of the best kept-secrets in a highly transparent Twitterverse. Especially when the reveal would be a boon to the niche sport of rodeo. It’s all very weird and wonderful and somewhat frightening.

Except Bumgarner is a great competitor, a three-time World Series champion, a teammate who will do most anything to win a baseball game. Would he dare put his new team in danger?

No.

Either way, it’s probably best if this story ends here. At least for a while.

We can marvel that Bumgarner is country tough enough to compete at the highest level of rodeo. We hope he’s smart enough to shelve this hobby until his new contract expires, knowing that his new employers have never disrespected him, or asked him to work at a bargain-basement rate.

We are not the Giants. And for this to work, he must respect us more than that, setting the right example for every other pitcher in the clubhouse.

Besides, the story is a marketing goldmine. Garth Brooks had Chris Gaines. Michael Vick had Ron Mexico. None of them could rope a calf or win 20 games like Mason Saunders.

The team shop can sell T-shirts and replica jerseys commemorating Bumgarner’s alter ego. The D-backs can stage rodeo night at the ballpark and give away Bobblehead dolls where the only thing bouncing is the rope. They can embrace the story, like the rest of us. While making sure it never happens again.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.


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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier