San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner captured Sports Illustrated‘s Sportsman of the Year Award after leading his team to their third World Series victory in five years.
Bumgarner, who now lives in Dudley Shoals, North Carolina, on a 140 acre farm, was born in a log cabin that his father built in Hickory North Carolina. He has a reputation for being a country boy–gave his wife, Ali, a cow for their wedding gift–with a nasty fastball and an unhittable cutter. SI drew on this country background to place the pitcher on the cover in a wheat field.
Sports Illustrated Managing Editor Chris Stone said that “It’s easy to mythologize the small-town sports hero. Baseball, especially, is full of them,” but, he insists that Bumgarner didn’t win the award because he comes from a small town.
Stone contends that it helped make Bumgarner the man that he is, stating that “that town goes a long way toward defining who he is and it gives his story a different texture from past Sportsmen. And while he’s been an outstanding pitcher for the last five years, his Sportsman candidacy was so sudden and seemingly out of nowhere that it makes him the most unique Sportsman in recent memory.”
In 2014, Bumgarner won 18 games with only ten losses, struck out over two hundred batter,s and forged a 2.98 ERA. Yet it was his performance in the playoffs and the World Series that placed the 25-year-old lefthander in a league of his own. Throwing a record 52 2/3 innings in the playoffs, he gave up only six earned runs for a de minimis ERA of 1.03.
After pitching a complete game shutout in game five of the World Series against the Royals–the first World Series shutout in eleven years–Bumgarner pitched five shutout innings in relief to close out the game and etch his name in World Series lore.
After a year in which racists remarks by one NBA basketball team owner and ugly, caught-on-camera domestic abuse by an NFL running back dominated sports coverage, it’s refreshing to have a country boy that does his job on the field and buys his wife a farm animal now and then be under the sports spotlight for a change.
As Sports Illustrated‘s Tom Verducci writes, “The legend of Madison Bumgarner fits neatly in the space where we keep our idea of the archetypal outdoorsy, countrified man, where also reside the embellished, fictionalized Boone [North Carolina] and Mayberry’s Sheriff Andy Taylor. It’s just that in Bumgarner’s case, the stories are true.”