We don’t know what’s wrong with Lincecum. And “we” means everybody. Fans, reporters, coaches, front office execs, former pitchers, even meddling fathers of pitchers. The amount of questions — along with the absurdity of some of the questions people are asking — is enough to make anyone’s head spin.
Is he overworked after throwing 225 innings in two Cy Young seasons? Are his mechanics off? Is his body too small to sustain any sort of power-pitching (mid-to-upper 90’s fastball) regimen? Is he injured? Does he have dead-arm? Has he lost weight? If he has, is the lost weight due to too much partying? Is he smoking too much weed? Is he not smoking enough after having his wrist slapped last winter? Is he chewing too much tobacco? Has the 2-year, $18 million deal he signed last winter gotten to his head? Has he slacked off on conditioning? Is he doing long-toss? Should he work out with Brian Wilson and Barry Zito during the off-season? Is his hair too long? Has he completely lost it mentally, causing him to become tight and lose flexibility? Since he already acknowledged seeing a therapist, does he need a different one? Does therapy itself cause the kind of self analysis that can paralyze a baseball player? Does he have a long-term girlfriend who’s sapping his energy? Did he break up with his girlfriend, sending him into a funk? Has the whole “Happy Lincecum Day” phenomenon/jinx lead to a cosmic shift, damaging his once positive aura and chi? Should the Giants bring Chris Lincecum in as a special assistant perched on Dave Righetti’s shoulder?
Of all the ridiculous, laughably questionable theories, the “Father Knows Best” thing is where the needle gets lifted off the record. I have no idea what Tim’s habits are; I couldn’t possibly imagine what his life has become after becoming not just a Bay Area icon, but one of MLB’s hopes for a star personality in the muted, post-steroidal era. It’s not just the video game cover. We’re talking a flood of cameo appearances since last season. Some flattering, like the ESPN commercial and the countless times MLB Network shows Lincecum highlights during its commercials and in the background during their highlight shows; some less distinguished, like the diabolical Timmy and Bus cartoons.
Take fame, then add to it the unique family situation. There’s a mother who left the house when Lincecum was a high school junior whom we’ve never seen, which wouldn’t be a big deal if his father weren’t so omnipresent. Stage dads come in all shapes and sizes, and Daddy Lincecum’s ability to talk (and give interesting insight from time to time, if we’re being honest) has masked the fact that he’s an intruder on his son’s life. I love my dad, no doubt about it. But if he were to tell everyone who’d listen how he taught me how to write and called my editors to talk about how I am writing (at my 9-6 job, of course — BASG has one editor and one writer and they’re both the same person), I’d plead with him to knock it off.
If I can put on my Bill Simmons mask for a second, forget whether Righetti or Mark Gardner get insulted by fans suggesting Chris Miyagi is needed to help young Timmy-san find the way. Pitching coaches are used to being second-guessed by ignorant fans, but it’s rare that Major League pitchers, let alone elite pitchers, hear that they should hang out with their dads on the road and get lectured. And when you’re 26 — even if it comes from a good place — almost all fatherly advice sounds like an unwelcome lecture. It’s bad enough that Tim lost 5 mph on his fastball and spends probably most of his waking hours wondering how he can get it back, but to have people saying you need your dad to come fix you is the equivalent of saying he’s nothing more than a precocious child who made to to where he is not based on his own talent and hard work, but due to the wizardry of his father. And it’s his dad’s fault for letting it get to this point.
We have a hard time separating looks from the equation when we characterize people, and Lincecum’s baby face has caused us to act as if he’s 10 years younger than he is. But this is one complicated adult, and he’s visibly upset. No longer does he hang on every pitch, cheering in the dugout like he’s in the Little League World Series. It might even be that Lincecum is so tired of his childish looks and image that he’s left that childlike exuberance behind permanently. And I doubt I’m alone in thinking that while it’s understandable, that sort of change in Lincecum’s on-field behavior would be unfortunate.
And there’s nothing “we” can do about any of this. If Lincecum has a problem with his father’s media activities, he needs to say something to him. If his body is breaking down due to overuse, he needs to forget baseball code and let the coaches know before overcompensation in his motion leads to serious injury. If his conditioning has suffered he needs to remedy that, starting about two weeks after the season ends. If a new, rougher lifestyle is a problem, he needs to seek help from good influences in his life and on the team if he truly is in danger of becoming Doc Gooden 2.0. Not to say there’s a probable chance of that nightmare actually coming to pass, but a combination of familial pain and a career in flux has led to similar slides for all sorts of people, let alone men with a surplus of money and free time. And after two All-Star Game attendance mishaps, the brush with the law and a face that seems a tad worn lately, it’s a concern. And it isn’t just fans who are concerned.
While this post could seem as obsessive and neurotic as we fear Lincecum may have become, by no means is the future anything but bright. It’s hard to remember after outings like Sunday when he couldn’t place his fastball to save his life, but this is still one of the most technically skilled athletes in existence. After two Cy Young awards, one slightly above average season doesn’t change that. If he wants, he can change his repertoire, become a pitcher who throws a cut fastball with pinpoint precision, making his suddenly lonesome changeup relevant again. Maybe he doesn’t have the makeup required to become the next Greg Maddux, but he can certainly turn into a pitcher who can figure out how to make his fastball move again, and move where he wants it. Especially if he leaves the obsessive over-analysis to us. Because if Tim Lincecum is going to get back to being the Tim Lincecum who frightened opposing hitters, it will be up to him and him alone.