Lincecum is bigger than Baseball Hall of Fame to Giants fans

  • Editor's note: This story originally was published on Nov. 23.

Monday marked the countdown for Barry Bonds' last chance to make it to Cooperstown.

The 30-player ballot for the 2022 BBWA Hall of Fame class came out and Bonds is just one of a long list of big names to choose from on the writer's ballot. It's also full of former Giants. As this closes a chapter to the Book of Bonds, it begins a brand new one for Tim Lincecum. 

This upcoming year is the first time Lincecum is eligible to make it to the Hall of Fame. For a four-year stretch of his 10-year career, it seemed the road to the Hall of Fame already was being paved for San Francisco's very own Stretch Armstrong. He was nothing the game had ever seen, a ball of rubber bands twisting, turning and flinging himself forward at home plate with a terrified batter waiting for the pitch from a player generously listed at 5-foot-11. 

And then, just as fast as his light flickered and shined brightly through the San Francisco sky, it burned out into the abyss. 

Lincecum won't make the Hall of Fame next year, and likely never will. That also isn't the point of perhaps the most beloved Giants pitcher in franchise history. 

The Hall is about stats, plaques and artifacts. Look at a player's numbers and see how great he was for however many years. They earned it, they deserved it. 

Every once in a while I'll look at Lincecum's Baseball-Reference page and just stare at all the black for statistics he led the NL in, or all of baseball. From 2008 through 2011, when he made four straight All-Star Games and won back-to-back NL Cy Young awards, the black was for stats like strikeouts, strikeouts per nine, hits per nine, ERA+, FIP and even wild pitches. Later on in his career, it was for stats like losses, earned runs, and again, wild pitches. 

In those four All-Star years for the Giants, Lincecum went 62-36 with a 2.81 ERA and had 977 strikeouts in 881 2/3 innings, good for exactly 10 strikeouts per nine. He had dominant outings in the 2010 playoffs, helping lead the Giants to their first World Series win since moving to San Francisco. Nothing could stop him. 

Until his body had enough of his violent pitching motion that ended with a seven-and-a-half foot stride.

The final five seasons of his career -- four with the Giants and one with the Los Angeles Angels -- saw him have a 41-48 record with a 4.94 ERA, just 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings and four walks per nine. He was giant no more, an angel without its wings. 

Still, he starred out of the bullpen in the 2012 World Series and threw no-hitters in 2013 and 2014, seasons where he had a 4.37 and 4.74 ERA. Lincecum and Sandy Koufax, a Hall of Fame southpaw whose left arm ran out of gas too early, are the only two pitchers to win multiple Cy Youngs, multiple World Series rings and throw multiple no-hitters. 

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When I marvel at any of his many statistical feats, it turns back to how Lincecum could make you feel. You reveled in his success, and sulked at the sadness of the end of his career. In the back of your mind, though, you still knew there was that spark that could bring a no-hitter in any given game, no matter how many pitches he might need. 

Really, it brings me back to one day. Not a World Series, not a legendary playoff performance and not any of the two times the San Diego Padres couldn't muster a single hit off him. 

Steph Curry is the only "everyman" athlete who has captured the hearts of Bay Area sports fans quite like Lincecum. They're both the greatest mirage, making many young and old believe they can pull off the same athletic achievements as them. Yeah, good luck with that.

But Curry is the son of a 16-year NBA veteran, stands 6-foot-3 and has built his body with extensive training into something your neighbor never will be able to. Lincecum couldn't cut 6-foot with his spikes on, and only fed his body a mixture of In-N-Out Burger and God's green gift to earth before striking out too many sorry hitters to count. He's a combination of Kelly Leak and Rodney Mullen on the pitcher's mound, except a ball is his skateboard doing 60 feet and six inches worth of tricks, and that isn't a cigarette dangling out of his mouth. 

It's why when Lincecum returned for Bruce Bochy's final game as the Giants' manager, fans gave him a bigger ovation than they ever have for Bonds or anybody else. The same electricity he gave everyone who ever wore black and orange was felt the moment the center-field gates opened, showing Lincecum in his No. 55 Giants jersey -- backwards hat, frosted tips and tied flannel in all. 

"I'm trying to transition," Lincecum said to Amy Gutierrez after Bochy's postgame press conference. "I think the hardest part was coming to grips with who I was after baseball, and I haven't even done it fully yet. I haven't formally retired. I'm not sure if I'm going to or not. 

"So, with that, I'm just trying to find my way. Going through a little bit of family stuff a few years ago, so that put perspective on things. Yeah, I'm just trying to find my way."

Tim Lincecum is who so many of us are, and who even more of us only dream to be.

The Hall of Fame is for a select few players who ever stepped foot on a baseball field. An even smaller group can make you feel the way The Freak did. That means more than any museum.

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