Madison Bumgarner, the larger-than-life ace of the San Francisco Giants, carries the backstory of the hero in a tall tale. He began chewing tobacco in the fifth grade; he got married in blue jeans; he chopped up a rattlesnake with an axe and saved the two baby bunnies he found inside. But one story has fascinated fans and reporters more than the rest: Madison Bumgarner is said to have dated a girl named Madison Bumgarner. It’s a wonderful and fitting story, but thanks to confusing statements from Bumgarner himself and those close to him, its validity is remarkably hard to pin down.
The story of the Bumgarner-on-Bumgarner romance first became public when Tom Verducci profiled the pitcher in the 2014 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year issue:
It’s all true. That he was so good so young that he started playing coach-pitch baseball at age four against seven-year-olds, and is so adept with either hand that he shoots a bow, bats, writes and ropes righthanded, but throws from the left side. That his father, Kevin, wouldn’t let him throw a curveball until he had a driver’s license. That before he dated [his wife] Ali, he dated a girl named Madison Bumgarner (“No relation, I’m sure of it”).
The story has been repeated and passed around with regularity since then, and even earned the attention of now-retired Los Angeles Dodgers play-by-play announcer Vin Scully, who did his part to popularize the tale in April of 2015. With Bumgarner on the mound in the bottom of the second, Scully wound up and delivered:
Madison Bumgarner, you would figure that’s kind of a special name. But, actually, in Caldwell County in North Carolina, there are quite a few. In fact, would you believe he actually dated a girl named Madison Bumgarner?
Would you? I set out track down the true story of the young Bumgarner relationship, and this what I found.
I started by calling the town hall in Bumgarner’s home town of Hudson, N.C., to ask about records on resident Madison Bumgarners. (I was told there were no records of use.) A request for yearbooks from South Caldwell High was similarly fruitless (the school said it did not keep yearbooks). I moved on to searching Classmates.com (no luck); and calling Jeff Parham, Madison Bumgarner’s high school baseball coach, and Chuck Raby, his hometown trainer, who is also the director of recreation for Hudson. Neither returned my calls.
I finally got in touch with Libby Brown, the community service director at Caldwell County Schools. I asked if she could help me confirm the existence of the female Madison Bumgarner, or validate the story. She told me she would ask three people “who would know” about it and called me back to say that her sources—one of them was Parham, and another was Parham’s wife—told her that Madison Bumgarner the pitcher had never dated a Madison Bumgarner.
I called the San Francisco Giants, and a spokesman told me Bumgarner had told the team he never dated a Madison Bumgarner. He claimed there were other “inaccuracies” in Verducci’s profile, though he couldn’t name a single one. But just a week earlier, Madison Bumgarner himself confirmed to Dieter Kurtenbach, then a reporter for San Francisco station KNBR, that he did date a Madison Bumgarner.
I asked Kurtenbach about the interaction, and he recalled it like this:
All I remember was that it was around his locker and that he wasn’t giving me much attention. I couldn’t tell you how it came up, either, but I do remember a half-chuckle (quintessential Bum, you’re not sure if he’s being condescending, stand-offish, or genuinely laughing — you’ll never get a full read on the guy and I’m not sure if he’s consciously projecting that) and a “oh yeah” (another wonderful, rich, enigmatic Bumism).
Tom Verducci didn’t want to speak on the record, but Sports Illustrated stands by his reporting. The magazine’s baseball editor, Emma Span, told me that the dating anecdote was “something Bumgarner (… the pitcher, that is) told Tom directly.”
In my reporting, I found a woman on Facebook whose maiden name is Madison Bumgarner. According to her profile, she attended South Caldwell High at the same time as the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner, and studied criminal justice in college. Interestingly, her “liked” athletes on Facebook include Madison Bumgarner’s Giants teammates Buster Posey and Tim Lincecum ... but not Madison Bumgarner.
I reached two people from the Bumgarners’ hometown on Facebook and they confirmed that this was the Madison Bumgarner in question. One of them told me that she did date Madison Bumgarner, though not for a long period of time. The other said he was “pretty sure” they dated, though he couldn’t confirm it 100 percent. However, two of Madison Bumgarner’s high school teammates, one of whom said he had been “best friends forever” with Madison Bumgarner, told me the pitcher didn’t date a Madison Bumgarner. Neither answered followups about how the story might have originated.
Trying to get in touch with the female Madison Bumgarner, I called and Facebook messaged, among others, her, her mother, her father, and other Bumgarners living in or near Hudson, N.C, to no avail. (As Michael Powell wrote in his New York Times story about Madison Bumgarner, the area is known as Bumtown because so many Bumgarners still live there after immigrating to the U.S. from Germany a few hundred years ago. In that story, the father of Madison Bumgarner the pitcher said, “Not all the Bumgarners are cousins, but most are. It’s not like we’re inbred.”)
I also sent Facebook messages to two dozen South Caldwell High alumni who attended around the same time as the Madison Bumgarners. Several messages have been read, but I haven’t received a response.
I called the Giants’ press office again. This time, director of media relations Matt Chisholm reiterated that when Verducci’s profile was published, Madison Bumgarner told the team that he did not date a Madison Bumgarner.
When I asked him to put me in touch with Bumgarner or reach out to ask him about the story again in an attempt to clear up these inconsistencies, he told me the pitcher was rehabbing in Arizona and was not able to be reached. He said he would try to speak with him, but then stopped responding to my messages. He also referred me to Bumgarner’s agent, Ed Cerulo, who has not returned my calls or emails.
So, what do we know? If we are to take Tom Verducci and Dieter Kurtenbach at their word—and this would be a really weird thing for them to both lie about—Madison Bumgarner told them that he once dated a girl named Madison Bumgarner. If we are to believe some of Bumgarner’s high school coaches and teammates—and this would also be a very strange thing for them to lie about—such a relationship never existed. And, finally, if we are to believe the Giants’ press office—okay, why on earth would they lie about this?—Madison Bumgarner himself has denied that he ever dated Madison Bumgarner.
The inconsistencies all seem to be coming from Bumgarner himself, and it will be impossible to clear them up unless and until he chooses to address the story. Until then, the story of Madison Bumgarner dating Madison Bumgarner will remain what it is: a legend, a myth, a tale that begins with Have you heard this one? and ends with Nobody knows if it’s really true. Perhaps that’s the point.