Yesterday during his regular pre-game session with the media, Bruce Bochy acknowledged that Tim Lincecum went to Tennessee to see a hip specialist. More specifically, that Lincecum had "degenerative things" going on in both hips. This is terrifying news.
It's not terrifying because the Giants were counting on Lincecum to have some sort of renaissance this season. Those were clearly unrealistic wishes, and they've been clearly unrealistic since before the season started. There was no reason but blind faith to predict great things for Lincecum in the rotation.
No, it's terrifying because I still held out a little hope, deep down inside, that Lincecum was going to have a second career as a reliever somewhere. Not necessarily with the Giants, even. Just somewhere. "If he gets a new role in the bullpen," I wrote in my diary last week,"he has a chance to become great again. You'll see. You'll all see."
That scenario wasn't realistic before the news about the hip condition, but I'm okay with a little wishcasting here and there. There was once a left-handed pitcher with a busted arm, and he went to the doctor. The doctor said, "Well, I'm going to have to invent a surgery to fix this, but I promise I'll name it after you." The pitcher had the surgery, and pitched until he was 46. If that can happen, I'll allow myself the fantasy of Tim Lincecum adjusting to a short relief role and thriving. I call it the Tommy John Theory of Never Admitting Defeat. Because if that guy could come back for 13 more seasons, a pitcher with reduced velocity can find that velocity again.
Of course, Tommy John had a problem that could be fixed. They just didn't have a lot of experience doing it back then. And here we get into the terrifying part: Lincecum's hips won't get better. They'll just be managed. I've already offered dumb legal opinions today, so don't read too much into my dumb medical opinions, but you don't hear or read quotes like, "Well, I had that degenerative hip thing a while back, but I was able to beat it." That's the word "degenerative," alright. It means that whatever's bad will keep getting worse.
There really isn't a good comparison yet. Albert Belle should probably be in the Hall of Fame, and he might have gotten there with two or three more excellent seasons. He retired because of degenerative hip problems, and he was just two years older than Lincecum. Britt Burns had to retire because of degenerative hit problems, but that case seemed exponentially worse than what Lincecum is going through. Charlie Hough and Bo Jackson needed artificial hips for different reasons; neither case really applies to Lincecum, especially since our information is limited to "degenerative things."
It just doesn't seem like there's a happy ending. Andrew Baggarly had some great descriptions of just how unusual Lincecum's delivery was relative to his peers.
Lincecum's arm always was along for the ride. He generated all that momentum and torque from his legs, back and hips. That's how he exploded down the mound with that impossibly long stride and threw so hard with so much deception. His head was tilted so far to one side, most pitchers would have trouble keeping any semblance of a line to the plate, or their balance. You do not see dozens of pitchers throwing with Lincecum's mechanics because they only work for someone who is supremely coordinated and limber.
His hips are his delivery. The size and bizarre mechanics that allowed Lincecum to slip to the Giants in the draft will also be his undoing, it seems.
Again this is all very, very, very premature. I'm not exactly texting Dr. J.W. Thomas Byrd and getting a string of HIPAA violations in return. I'm just guessing, and my only information comes from the term "degenerative things" and "both hips."
It's not easy to hear those words together and be optimistic about anything, though. For the first couple years that Lincecum was bad, I kept waiting for the headline, "Tim Lincecum has MRI on sore elbow," and it was going to be something of a relief. Finally! An explanation! And it's something that can be fixed!
This is the darker side of that sad best-case scenario. This is a shot of explanation without the chaser of hope. Maybe the pain can be managed effectively, and maybe he'll enjoy that second career after all. Maybe he'll settle into his neo-Kyle Kendrick career and be a below-average starter for 10 more years. Maybe he'll even figure out how to put the ball where he wants and become even better.
The last quasi-realistic hope that I had left as a Lincecum fanboy, though, was that he could reinvent himself in a new role. His velocity would tick back up, and his ability to miss bats with the offspeed stuff would give him a head start. Then came the words "degenerative" and "both hips" in the same interview.
I'll hope for more information to confirm I'm making too much out of this. That's the next big hope. But just yesterday, my hope was that Lincecum would succeed again, in some capacity, at some point, for whatever team took a chance on him in the future. That was a much more pleasant hope to have.
That hope is more than a little further away at the moment.