SEATTLE — Tim Lincecum’s last known address is tucked behind a partial fence, just off a sloped dead-end street near the shores of Lake Washington.
Getting to the front door of the barn-red building requires crossing a short bridge. It feels like walking the plank.
No such luck. Lincecum, the Giants’ two-time Cy Young Award winner, never answered the door, and neither did anyone else. Whenever I pressed the doorbell, the lone stirring came from annoyed dogs.
My editor dispatched me to Seattle because people miss the living daylights out of Timothy LeRoy Lincecum. This has been the first Major League season without him since 2007, when the tiny kid with the big fastball first set AT&T Park ablaze.
“It was a little guy taking on the world,” recalled broadcaster Duane Kuiper. “Everybody likes that.”
Over the course of nine Giants seasons and three World Series victories, The Freak entranced, enthralled, delighted and sometimes maddened.
Lincecum was the best pitcher in the league for a stretch and then, almost inexplicably, one of the worst. Either way, he put on a show that made him one of the most popular and fascinating players in San Francisco history.
His absence feels particularly acute this season, with a team devoid of both wins and personality.
Where have you gone, Tim Lincecum? The Giants turn their last-place eyes to you.
“The vibe around the Giants was different because of Timmy,” pitching coach Dave Righetti told me shortly before my trip. “You’re talking about every walk of life — kids, women, little girls, little boys, grown men. They just wanted to watch this guy.”
It wasn’t just that Lincecum threw in the upper-90s or that that he led the National League in strikeouts three consecutive times. It was that he did so with a bat boy’s physique and a skateboarder’s cool.
Lincecum’s starts were holidays. He could turn a Tuesday night in August into a happening. People wished each other a happy Timmy Day.
“It was a happy fit because he was San Francisco. He is San Francisco. Quirky. Eccentric. Marches to his own beat,” Giants CEO Larry Baer said. “When it was Timmy Day, it wasn’t just that he was good. It was like a lot of the fans felt their son was pitching. ‘Here’s our kid going out there.’ He was embraced in that way — your son’s Little League game. You really felt invested, emotionally, in his performance.”
Now, the pitcher you couldn’t take your eyes off is nowhere to be seen. Lincecum last appeared in a game on Aug 5, 2016, for the Los Angeles Angels. Pitching in his hometown of Seattle that day, Lincecum’s fading fastball got knocked around for six runs in 3.1 innings, sending his final ERA to 9.16.>
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He hasn’t retired yet, but when he does Baer is poised to bring him to San Francisco in some kind of official capacity. “There’s definitely a place in the Giants world for Linecum,” he said. “I mean, that goes without saying.”
Until then? Lincecum is believed to be back here inhabiting the shores of Lake Washington, although no one with the Giants could say for sure. Someone thought maybe he was in Arizona. When the team tried to invite him to throw out the first pitch before a playoff game against the Chicago Cubs last year, Lincecum was in Hawaii.
Wherever he is now, he’s keeping a low profile. The Freak is now The Ghost.
Lincecum’s agent, Rick Thurman, told the Bay Area News Group in August that Lincecum is keeping in shape and hopes to pitch again. But Thurman did not respond to voicemails, texts or e-mails in search of additional details for this story. Lincecum’s father, Chris, who was once a frequent and chatty radio guest, did not respond to texts.
Lincecum is not on social media. The last missive from his confirmed (but never verified) Twitter account came in 2012, when the four-time All-Star tweeted about a “food coma” after a trip to Benihana’s.
A handful of Giants employees who specialize in media relations or alumni events say Lincecum is the rare ex-player they can’t keep tabs on. A current Giants player said he sent The Freak a text on his 33rd birthday on June 15. Weeks later, he still hadn’t heard back.
Even Lincecum’s last public sighting came with an air of myth. Fans spotted him among the San Francisco crowd protesting for women’s rights in the wake of Donald Trump’s inauguration in January — and they posted photos on social media to back it up.
But Lincecum did not return a text message seeking confirmation and Thurman, his agent, said he wasn’t sure it was actually him.
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That Lincecum has gone Greta Garbo (or is it Bernie Carbo?) offends nobody who knows him well. Several Giants players were unfazed about the long lapses in communication. No one interprets it as a snub. Even at his peak, Lincecum preferred to lay low.
At the University of Washington, where Lincecum was a two-time Pac-10 pitcher of the year, there are posters and banners commemorating the fire-balling star who struck out more batters than anyone in conference history — more than Tom Seaver, more than Randy Johnson.
But the real Lincecum stays away
“He doesn’t really have much of a relationship at all with the Husky baseball program. It’s not a rift and they’re not at odds. It just falls in line with the way he approached things,” Steve Sandmeyer, the Huskies play-by-play broadcaster, said in a phone interview.
“He’s a big believer in moving on. I think he moved on very quickly from Washington. Whenever we had a rare opportunity to talk to him … he really didn’t want to live in the past.
“And I suspect the same thing is happening now. I think for people who want to take a trip down memory lane with him, it would be difficult to get him to talk about that.”
I took a drive over to Liberty High School in Renton, Washington, where Lincecum first established his legend as a 4-foot-11, 85-pound freshman. (By his senior year, he’d ballooned to 5-9, 135).
I dropped in unannounced and asked for permission to take photos of the Lincecum mementos on display. The answer came in the form of a cringe. “We don’t have anything,” the school official said, wistfully.
They haven’t heard from Lincecum since the day he graduated in 2003 — “not a peep” — despite multiple overtures. At Liberty, as with UW, there is no indication of acrimony. The school official said they remain proud of his accomplishments and wish him the best.
Most likely, Lincecum is simply avoiding being fussed over. Elliott Cribby, a former Huskies teammate, said he dines with Lincecum about once a year and it’s always a covert operation.
“When we go out, he’s got a hoodie on top of his head,” said Cribby, now the associate head coach at Seattle University. “He doesn’t want to create a buzz about himself. People recognize him, but at the same time people don’t recognize him because he looks like a normal guy on the streets.
“He’s extremely humble. He comes from that middle-class background where work ethic was instilled in his life. And when he’s off the field, he wants to just relax and keep a low profile.”
And if Lincecum actually does get recognized on the town? Buckle up.
Michael Burgher, a former Huskies outfielder, recalled heading out with his pal not long after the Giants won the World Series in 2010. They went to one of their old hangouts near campus. But it was clear they were no longer simply two college buddies grabbing a bite.
“We were in this bar and there was nobody there. But people started figuring out who he was and the phone calls started coming in,” Burgher said by phone. “All of a sudden the bar is full. The table we’re sitting at is full of shots. And everyone is still sending him drinks.”
As the untouched shot glasses kept piling up like a mounting pitch count, Lincecum grew uncomfortable. He’d only been famous for a short time and the attention unnerved him. Burgher remembered Lincecum turning to him in the bar and saying: “Just don’t leave me. Let’s get out of here. This sucks.'”
They relocated to a pizza place, but the scene was just as unsettling.
“Frat guys were climbing up the light posts yelling down, ‘Tim Lincecum!”’ Burger recalled. “Guys were buying pizza and trying to get him to eat them. ‘Tim, eat my pizza!’
“It was just weird, you know?”
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Lincecum created a stir from the day he arrived at AT&T Park. Baer remembers going down to the clubhouse in 2007 to introduce himself to the Giants’ hot shot rookie.
“I walked right by him. I thought he was one of the bat boys,” Baer said with a laugh. “Where’s Lincecum? Oh, that’s him? It wasn’t just the size. It was the whole look: I think that was part of his endearing quality. He was just so kid-like.”
The 10th overall pick in the 2006 draft appeared just 13 times in the minors before the Giants called him up to face the Philadelphia Phillies on May 7, 2007.
Righetti took Lincecum out to the bullpen to warm up, but it was barely worth the trouble. Most starting pitchers throw between 40 and 60 pitches to get loose. “Timmy got to 13, flipped me the ball and was gone,” Righetti said. “He was ready to go.”
Former Giants catcher Bengie Molina, who would later work behind the plate for some of Lincecum’s best games, barely knew a thing about him before catching him the first time.
“They told me, ‘Be ready. He’s electric,”’ Molina said by phone from Puerto Rico.
It was love at first flight, even if Lincecum’s first stat line was less than dazzling. He gave up five runs in 4.1 innings and Molina still blames himself for calling for a curveball to Shane Victorino, the second batter of the game. Molina was sure Victorino wouldn’t even swing; he belted it for a two-run homer.
But in that first inning of his major league career, Lincecum also showed a glimpse of what was to come. He struck out Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Aaron Rowand — all swinging.
“I loved catching Timmy. He could just cruise through a lineup,” Molina said. “There’s a reason they called him The Freak. His windup was tricky, the way he hid the ball.
“His ball moved everywhere. That’s what people didn’t understand. He threw a natural cutter. Can you imagine having a good changeup to go with 99 mph?”
Over the course of the next five seasons, Lincecum delivered the most dominant pitching stretch in these parts since Juan Marichal was kicking the clouds in the 1960s. Lincecum became the first player in major league history to win Cy Young Awards in each of his first two full seasons.
He set a San Francisco record with 265 strikeouts in 2008, then nearly matched it with 261 more in 2009.
More than that, he was mesmerizing.
“What I remember most is that when he started a game, you definitely thought the Giants were going to win that day no matter what,” Kuiper recalled. “There are other pitchers that you feel like that about. But in my mind it was an automatic: Unless something really weird happened, we were going to win. If the Giants didn’t win in his start, it was almost like they lost a doubleheader.”
“Because he was so different than everybody else,” said Omar Vizquel, the former Giants shortstop and now a coach with the Detroit Tigers. “Everything he did, everything that he said, the way he acted and the way he pitched was so different than anybody else. You couldn’t teach the stuff that he was doing.”
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Of all things, the hippest player in sports may have been undone by a bad hip.
In that regard, there was an early red flag. A memorable Sports Illustrated cover story — “The Freak,” from July 7, 2008 — mostly detailed Lincecum’s wondrous rise as “the most fascinating ace of his generation” But writer Tom Verducci also raised an air of caution about the pitcher’s mechanics. He noted that the normal stride length for a pitcher is 77 percent to 87 percent of his height. Lincecum’s stride at that time was 129 percent or roughly 7½ feet.
A long stride carries two severe risks for pitchers: 1) It can compromise the ability to rotate the hips; and 2) it can cause a pitcher to land on his heel with a stiff front leg, the equivalent of slamming on the brakes in a car. Jump and then land on your heels. The shock of the impact travels up your legs to your hips. It hurts. Imagine doing it 100 times a game over many games over many years. It’s no wonder that long-stride pitchers … break down.
There are many theories about the cause of death with Tim Lincecum’s fastball, but hip problems remain the leading suspect. He sustained a labral tear (in this case, the connective tissue between the upper leg and the hip socket). The injury was announced in June of 2015, but there were signs of wear and tear before then.
Lincecum — whom skeptical scouts once deemed too small to be a starter — posted four consecutive seasons with at least 200 innings. He also had six consecutive seasons with at least 32 starts.
Cribby, the former college teammate turned pitching coach, had long marveled over Lincecum’s ability to maximize his small frame. But he also watched the power ebb over time.
“I noticed that his stride length was shortening a little bit. And I think that’s some of the reason he had some hip issues,” he said. “It’s because he was really, really pushing that lower half in the extremities to go to points that they’ve never been or points they weren’t supposed to go.”
When Lincecum broke in during the 2007 season, his average fastball traveled 94.60 mph, according to comprehensive data available at BrooksBaseball.net. It was at 94.65 mph for his first Cy Young in ’08 and 93.20 for his second Cy Young in ’09.
By his last season with the Giants, in 2015, The Freak’s average fastball was only 88.74.
Dave Groeschner, the Giants trainer, acknowledged Lincecum’s hip injury ultimately affected the pitcher’s drive off the mound because “you have to use your lower half to generate power and throw. When you have an injury like that, it’s hard to do.”
But he is also loathe to pinpoint one specific cause for the rapid decline. I asked Groeschner if the innings simply caught up with Lincecum.
“Yeah, probably. They do on every starting pitcher,” he said. “Ultimately, I don’t know if anybody has the right answer about why he didn’t last longer. … There are a whole bunch of things that nobody will ever have a definitive word on. They’ll be able to say, ‘I think it was this. I think it was that.’ But nobody really knows.”
Vizquel is in the camp that Lincecum’s small frame was never made for the long haul.
“I think it was because of the way his body was built. He couldn’t take all of the load of the pitches and everything that you go through,” Vizquel said.
“Maybe, also, his windup I think really hurt him, too. The way he delivered the ball, it was a lot of effort. I could see him going back and twisting his arm — it came all the way around. In the beginning, it looked effortless because that’s the way he pitched. But I’m pretty sure that really wore his body out. It’s too bad. It’s like you said: he faded. He started going down and he never recovered.”
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Joe DiMaggio disliked the lyric in “Mrs. Robinson that asks, “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” The Yankee Clipper was so upset that he considered a lawsuit.
Paul Simon knew this when, a few years after the song rose to No. 1 on the pop chart, he approached DiMaggio in an Italian restaurant to elaborate.
“I said that I didn’t mean the lines literally, that I thought of him as an American hero and that genuine heroes were in short supply,” Simon wrote after DiMaggio died in 1999. “He accepted the explanation and thanked me. We shook hands and said good night.”
Lincecum’s vanishing act, too, whether willful or accidental, represents the symbolic end of a golden era. For San Francisco, he was the electricity behind three World Series parades, the long-haired poster boy for the band of misfits.
The Giants are ready to welcome back Timmy when the time is right. They just need to find him first.
Lincecum has left and gone away.
Source : http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/09/21/where-have-you-gone-tim-lincecum-in-search-of-beloved-giants-ace/