Don’t feel bad if you still hold out hope.
Source: #Angels, should they complete signing of Lincecum, expect him to spend at least 20 days in minors. Would evaluate from there.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) May 17, 2016
Hmmm … “should they complete signing” … remember when Ryan Vogelsong was on his way to Houston? Look how that turned out!
That’s probably not a good comparison, as Lincecum wants a chance to pitch in a big league rotation and the Giants only think of him as a reliever. Truth be told, they’ve thought of him as a reliever for almost four years, since he nearly created an entirely new pitching position during the 2012 postseason. But he’s almost certainly on his way to Anaheim, where he’ll trade scarves with Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson as Giants fans come to terms with a franchise favorite attempting a comeback with the same team that melted their hearts in 2002.
This wasn’t supposed to be a post about Lincecum’s connection with San Francisco — not that it’s something one can easily gloss over. Everyone who feels a kinship with The City sees a place where Lincecum fits. He’s touched those who summered in the Haight back in 1969, kids who skate after hours at the DMV on Broderick, Mission hipsters who bought Giants caps with the orange bill because they saw Lincecum wearing one on the crappy TV at their favorite dive bar, fans cheering at Hi Tops in the Castro, Marina bros and broettes, suits in the Financial District, dealers in the Tenderloin, and just about everyone in between, from North Beach to Ocean Beach.
He let his freak flag fly, and in early 2010 he even made Bill Neukom look like a cooler-than-we-thought dad when he showed up to Lincecum’s court hearing after the two-time Cy Young winner was pulled over for speeding with an eighth of weed and a pipe in his car. Lincecum’s semi-contrite statement to the judge spoke to a lifestyle he probably didn’t feel like tossing aside, just to appease the man.
“I’ll try not to let this happen again,” he said. To his credit, he never did get caught again, and “LET TIMMY SMOKE” shirts would earn thousands of dollars for bootleg retailers outside AT&T Park for years.
Later that year, Lincecum led the Giants to their first World Series win since coming to San Francisco, and, with apologies to Brian Wilson, he was the team’s biggest star.
I’ve attended all three parades, and the latter two did not compare to 2010. And while Wilson was larger than life during that first one, strutting in front of his trolley as if ready to tackle a grizzly bear heading toward him on Market Street, the level of noise when Lincecum rode past still echoes to this day. (Those aren’t my hands in the photo, by the way.) His size, look and enthusiasm made baseball fun before Bryce Harper earned his GED.
We all know the resume. Two consecutive Cys (and a French Bulldog named Cy), one of the greatest postseason starts of all-time in his playoff debut, 5-2 in the postseason with a 2.40 ERA and well over a strikeout per inning, three straight years leading the majors in strikeouts, two no-hitters.
But here’s what made Lincecum truly magical during his first five exquisite seasons: he was unlike anything that anyone under 40 had seen the Giants produce. Hitters? Oh, they’ve had plenty of those. Darryl Evans, Jack Clark, Will Clark, Kevin Mitchell and Matt Williams gave way to Barry Bonds, who was a bridge back to the era of Willie Mays, who played with Willie McCovey for 14 seasons.
Not since Juan Marichal had a Giants pitcher looked as electric as Lincecum in 2007. Like Marichal, his motion was a site to behold on its own. Then the ball came out of his hand. Holy ….
Mike Krukow was really good in 1986. Same with Bill Swift and John Burkett in 1993. Jason Schmidt’s first four seasons with the Giants were outstanding, and Matt Cain was as steady as they came. But no one was like Lincecum.
Giants fans were spoiled with sluggers over the past three decades, but not until Lincecum did they get to root for the best power pitcher in the game. After years of watching starters like Dwight Gooden, Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez star for other teams, they had their first true ace since Marichal and their first Cy Young winner since Mike McCormick in 1967.
Lincecum threw a pitch that traveled 99.90 mph in the last start of his rookie season. He touched 98 mph several times in 2008, his first full (and Cy Young) season. As time went on and the strikeouts piled up, the most unlikely flamethrower saw his fastball velocity drop ever so slightly each year, until suddenly we all realized he was mortal at some point during the 2012 season (although we were starting to see some signs in 2011, too).
The Lincecum with the ridiculous fastball, which made his lively splitter that much more devastating, is the Lincecum Giants fans have been mourning for years. His personality never changed, although his hairstyle, facial hair and clothing sure did. But the most exciting player in Major League Baseball — who symbolically grabbed the torch from Bonds, the previous titleholder — became just another shaky pitcher with release point problems as the innings and strikeouts went down, and the earned runs, hits, walks and home runs allowed went up.
No one ever stopped loving the guy, but with every pitch in the dirt that led to a walk instead of a strikeout, the tenor of his starts changed. The phrase “Happy Lincecum Day,” which dominated Twitter when a lot of us first joined in 2009, started to be used ironically. Eventually, the trust just vanished. That was obvious during the 2014 postseason, when the rotation was dreadfully thin and the Giants only used Lincecum one time: one and two-thirds innings of scoreless ball during their 7-2 loss in Game 2 of the World Series. They didn’t trust him enough to open up a spot in the rotation this year, even when Jake Peavy and Cain looked dreadful, and it looks like the Angels might have been the only team to do so.
It’s a part of the latter years Lincecum experience, holding out hope he can recapture some of his former brilliance while preparing for the chance that he’s simply a wild pitcher with mediocre stuff … and he’s done. That was what I noticed during his showcase. He was missing location on so many of those pitches.
But the snap on his curveball!
This blog started when Lincecum starts were the only reason to watch this team, and the pre-sellout-streak Giants would promote a dollar discount for bleacher seats during Lincecum’s next start by matching the number of strikeouts he accumulated in his previous one. While it was easy to write off a Lincecum start when he faced a bases loaded situation on the road in the first inning, it’s still difficult for me — in a completely irrational way, mind you — to give up on him entirely. He had enough in that arm for one more World Series run, right? Plus, the fans never got to say goodbye.
If Lincecum signs with the Angels and pitches so poorly in the minors that he never starts another big league game, it would be sad in a sense. But we mourned the loss of the well-over-200K-per-year, crazy fastball, cursing Timmy long ago. And he’ll always be welcome back here, no matter what happens. Literally. As John Shea pointed out, Jake Peavy’s contract is up after this season, so you never know …
That’s the thing with Lincecum. When an athlete is that intoxicating, especially for a period of time that lasted multiple years and coincided with the highest points of your life, a relapse is always possible.