I was goofiest about baseball when I was 18 or so. I was in college in a different state, and my brain wrapped like a vine around anything San Francisco. Being a completely rabid Giants fan was my mullet of self identification -- Oregon in the front, California in the back. This was back when I threw things across the room at blown saves and let bad losses ruin my night. Like, ruin my night. Wouldn't even go out. Just sat there, thinking about a baseball loss.
If that describes you, well, it probably gets better. But my point is that when I was 18, I was also somewhat new to being a complete die-hard. I grew up in a Giants family, going to games and caring in an abstract sense, but I wasn't watching the last game of 1993. I'm not sure I was even aware of it. I took a break from baseball in high school, so I missed a whole bunch, including the pain of the strike.
If the Giants would have brought up a Cy Young-winning marvel in 1991, a pitcher made out of star matter, fuzzy stuff, and liquid dreams, and let him define the franchise for a few years, only to have him decline and leave us with the memories, he would have been lousy right around the time I was becoming an unhinged super-fan. He would have been responsible for far, far more sad-time baseball memories for me than happy-time baseball memories. I would have respected his contributions, in theory, but by year two, I would have taken a firm get-'im-outta-here stance. By year four, I would have been apoplectic.
Which brings us to Tim Lincecum, obviously. There are adult Giants fans who don't remember Lincecum being good. Not because they just hopped on the bandwagon (and if they did, good), but because 2011 was a long time ago. Kids left for college and came back as adults. Houses were bought and sold, jobs left, relationships started and ended. Babies morphed into something that could open the fridge, take out the bottle of maple syrup on their on, and start chugging. And in that time, there are casual Giants fans who became super-fans. Quite a few, considering there were two exciting championship runs mixed in.
This new breed of Giants fan probably doesn't get the Lincecum love, or they might think they get it, but also understand that the power of nostalgia doesn't always have to be used for good. That's completely fair. We aren't the ones with our eyes wide open; we're the ones acting a little medicated when it comes to the idea of Lincecum ever helping another major league team again.
It's up to us to go door-to-door and ask you if you've heard the good word about Lincecum, then. It's up to us weirdos to talk ears off and explain, in great detail, What Lincecum Meant.
In the beginning, there were eukaryotic cells and the sun shared its energy for millions of years and the Giants were terrible. They weren't always terrible, but they were certainly 0-for-San Francisco when it came to championships, and they sure as heck couldn't develop any pitchers. They got about two years with John Montefusco before his arm betrayed him, and the search for the next big thing took decades. Scott Garrelts led the NL in ERA, Atlee Hammaker was an All-Star, Noah Lowry was going to be one, and Shawn Estes was a blown save away from 20 wins, but as quickly as we got used to them, they were ripped away, whether because of injuries or something else.
And then there were the maybe-pitchers, the ones who impressed in short bursts and made you think maybe, just maybe. Jamie Brewington, William Van Landingham, Kevin Correia, and Damien Moss.
There were the prospects, the big prospects, the ones who couldn't miss. The Giants had three of them at the same time, all top-50 prospects, with Barry Bonds hitting dingers and taking walks until they got there. They missed.
There were the first-round picks, the pitchers chosen ahead of 1000s of amateurs. Some of them were valuable enough to be exchanged for major league talent, but that's not why you cared on draft day. Joe Fontenot was going to be the next Roger Clemens. Matt White was going to be the next Tom Seaver. I'm still keenly anticipating the arrival of Boof Bonser.
I'm not going to pretend that Lincecum was the first one to break through this ceiling. That was Matt Cain, and everything up there applies to him equally as much, if not more so. He was the first pitcher to turn into something sustainable, a prospect who transcended the typical prospect dreams. But it was Lincecum who shot out of the draft, into our consciousness, and into complete, unquestioned stardom within a season or so. Then he stayed there for a few years. He was ours. We had earned this kind of young pitcher. The universe owed him to us.
For two-and-a-half years, the Giants won more games with Lincecum, but they didn't come all that close to the postseason. And right when it looked like they had a possible postseason team, Lincecum stalled. August, 2010, was just about the most stressful baseball month of my life, so I can't imagine what he was feeling. He was mortal for the first time. It wasn't a given that he would keep winning Cy Youngs. It wasn't a given that he'd be good at all. Right when the Giants were getting good, their best pitcher was heading in the other direction.
His September was fine, of course, and it's not like he was on wobbly stilts when he got to the postseason, but there was a veneer of vulnerability about him. It's why we freaked out when he gave up a double the first hitter he ever faced in the postseason. It's why I wanted to eat my own face after Lincecum screwed up the rundown in the first inning of his first World Series.
It turns out he had this. He had this. He rebounded in that Game 1, and he came back to outduel Cliff Lee in Game 5. Here's a supercut of the 24 outs he got, set to a little ditty I whipped up a couple years ago:
All I wanted was one. Since then, I've become fat and greedy and gluttonous and completely insatiable, but back then all I wanted was one. Lincecum came out of the waters, won awards, pitched in All-Star Games, and actually won that championship. When he got to the postseason, he pitched the best game of his career, endured the taunts of Phillies fans, and twice outdueled someone in the World Series who was in the middle of a completely historic postseason run of success.
So when someone rolls their eyes at the Timmy-brand nostalgia, that's understandable. They either weren't there, weren't paying close attention, or their heart was surgically replaced with a chunk of limestone. After the first round of the draft exactly one decade ago, I had dreams of Lincecum winning awards and helping the Giants win a World Series. And, hey, look at that. That means when I have dreams of Lincecum returning from hip surgery to sprinkle magic around like Johnny Evenyearbullshitseed, I didn't write them off completely.
The people who run the Giants aren't paid to hang out in hammocks and have dreams, so I get why Lincecum thinks another team will give him a better opportunity. I get why the Giants will let him go.
That doesn't mean there aren't feelings attached, though. Lincecum did so much for the Giants. So very much. I only hope he feels like we reciprocated appropriately and made him feel as welcome as he should have felt. And your job isn't to proselytize or slap people in the face with Lincefacts. It's just to remember what he was, what the Giants were desperate for, and how it all worked out. If you can tell your kids about it, that'd be swell. We were there.
And thank goodness for that. Before his first career start, I couldn't contain my excitement, feeling like a kid before Christmas.
And after the 27th strikeout, he lifted his cap,
Gave a wink and a nod, acknowledged the cheers and the claps
And I heard him exclaim, as he jogged out of sight
"I won this series right now, but I'll win a World Series some night!"
Yep. He sure did.
I hope he wins three more Cy Youngs and pitches like an All-Star for another decade, even if that means going into the Hall of Fame in an Angels hat. Best of luck, Tim Lincecum. Best of luck and thanks.