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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Survival of the Least Unfit

By the late innings it was pretty clear that someone wasn’t going to win today’s game as much as they’d survive it. Oliver Perez was awful. Raul Valdes, admittedly asked to do something difficult, could not. Jenrry Mejia failed, as young men finding their way must. David Wright did nothing at the plate except scream at an umpire for his own recent shortcomings. And in the end, the fatal mistake wound up on the Mets’ side of the ledger. Which you had to admit was altogether fitting: The Giants were bad; the Mets were worse.

Well, not all the Giants were bad. Aaron Rowand hit one to the right place in the wind tunnel that was Citi Field at the right time. Brian Wilson correctly deduced that his catcher was the only person on the field he could trust to record a putout, and pitched accordingly. And earlier, before everything became the stuff of farce on both sides, there was Tim Lincecum.

There’s a pleasure in baseball when it’s played wisely and beautifully, and I’d argue even more pleasure in seeing someone play it who hasn’t been altered by the dead hand of baseball tradition. Like every other religion, baseball itself is beautiful and blameless, but ceaselessly dragged down by the failings of its human institutions.

A couple of years ago, Tom Verducci wrote a wonderful article for Sports Illustrated about Lincecum, one he used for a deeper inquiry into the science of pitching. Lincecum is about my height and build — next to the likes of Mike Pelfrey or Barry Zito he looks like, well, a blogger. (Though let’s not take this too far — he’s a superb athletic who’s gymnast enough to be able to walk on his hands, where I can barely stand upright.) His success comes not from size or power — the right arm replaced by a genetic thunderbolt — but from the perfection of his mechanics. Everything about his motion, from the odd cock of his head to his enormous stride to the vicious downward snap of his arm, is designed to maximize the torque and power with which a human being can throw a baseball. Tim Lincecum is the equation that solves a knotty physics problem, and leaves you smiling at the elegance and beauty of the answer.

The wonder of Lincecum is that he went from Little League hurler to Cy Young pitcher without anybody screwing him up. Because that’s a lot of what organized baseball is: an initial winnowing of players who don’t fit ancient, preconceived notions of who is what, followed by ceaseless attempts to dismiss or diminish anyone who escapes that first cut with some individuality intact.

In discussing the mechanics of Lincecum and Mark Prior, Verducci delivers a stinging indictment of organized baseball: Even when discussing mechanics, most scouts and front-office types are really discussing body types, extending the phrenology of the Good Face to the region below the neck. Prior basically pitched from the waist up, with horrible mechanics that put ungodly stress on his shoulder, but was praised as mechanically sound because he looked like what baseball people think a power pitcher ought to look like. Lincecum was passed over by team after team that criticized his mechanics because he looked like a blogger. Miraculously, he got results so quickly that he rocketed through the minor leagues: He pitched 30-odd innings in the Northwest and California leagues in 2006, destroyed the PCL in early 2007 and was in the big leagues with just 62.2 innings in the bushes. That meant there wasn’t time for some Pleistocene pitching coach to force him to pitch like Mark Prior, or cast him as a ROOGY because he was small and slung the ball. He escaped all that and landed at the pinnacle of his profession before anyone could convince everybody else he couldn’t do it.

I knew Lincecum was taught his unique delivery by his father, and had recalled that the father was a Boeing engineer. Which made for a neat story, for Lincecum’s delivery is the kind of thing an extremely smart, intellectually rigorous aerospace engineer might have created.But I hadn’t remembered things quite right. Lincecum’s father, Chris, is indeed smart and intellectually rigorous and does work for Boeing — but in parts inventory. Chris Lincecum is of a similar build to his son, and taught himself to pitch the same way. He taught his older son Sean his mechanics on a backyard mound, then trained Tim. Every start of Tim’s was videotaped and analyzed. His full ride to the University of Washington was contingent on no coach messing with him. “He was the prototype, and I’m Version 2.0,” the younger Lincecum told Verducci. (If that sounds uncomfortably close to the stage-manager dad, a la Gregg Jefferies, Lincecum seems to have always been a good teammate, and to be very much his own person.)

Lincecum wasn’t perfect today — he had trouble commanding the fastball early, and got touched up late. But he kept at it, tinkering with his pitches and repeating that perfect motion, while Oliver Perez fell off mounds and endangered batboys and looked like the pitching equivalent of a weekend golfer carving divots and slinging clubs and shanking balls into the woods. It was a pleasure to watch the other guy, even if he was wearing the wrong uniform.

But then Lincecum is always a pleasure to watch. He does backflips for fun in the clubhouse and doesn’t ice his arm after starts. He is utterly himself, atop a sport that views those who dare to be themselves with fear and horror. It makes you appreciate him all the more.

9 comments to Survival of the Least Unfit

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jason Fry. Jason Fry said: Sad to see the #Mets lose, but a joy to watch Tim Lincecum. An appreciation at Faith and Fear in Flushing. […]

  • Jacobs27

    I had that same feeling, Jason. Lincecum’s never really at his overpowering best when he faces us–still hasn’t beaten the Mets–but he really is a pleasure to watch. Even Santana who’s much more polished and experienced (and on our side) doesn’t engage me quite the way Lincecum does. The Giants fans are lucky to see him every fifth day.

    Mejia has the potential to actually be a great starting pitcher for this team that produces so few. I feel like they’re retarding his development the way they’re using him in limited relief. And these little set backs don’t help.

  • Yes… Lincecum didn’t have his best stuff today. I wonder what kind of effect the long innings in-between had on him. But getting to watch him every fifth day (being out in SF) is a joy.

    I’m very happy with the Mets though. Last year, 4-0 down to Lincecum means “pack it in, fellas”. The Mets did a great job running counts and making him work, especially later on. Davis and Francoeur had HUGE hits there in the sixth. But I am very worried about the ‘pen, especially on days where Frankie isn’t available. Tough having to use Mejia in that spot there today.

  • Andee

    Wright was right about that final third-strike call, though. It was bullshit, and in fact the home-plate ump was consistently calling strikes in the last half inning like he desperately had to go pee. (Forced potty breaks for umps between innings? No dinner or plane reservations within five hours of game time? Sign me up.)

    Yeah…you wonder if Lincecum’s success is going to force them to rethink how they’ve scouted pitchers in the last 30 or 35 years. Even back in the late 70s, Jim Bouton was complaining that scouts only seemed interested in “some six foot two kid from California who can throw hard, they don’t bother to find out if he has guts or if he’s smart.” Now six-two is probably at the lower limit for what they think is tall enough, but the same principle applies. It might take a while, because I think a lot of people are still convinced that Big Time Timmy Jim is an injury problem waiting to happen. But if he holds up for the next 5 or 10 years, look out. People will be signing up their Little Leaguers for gymnastics lessons.

  • RM

    I’ve been a Giants fan for the better part of forty years, and Lincecum alone renewed my interest not only in the team but in the sport. Not only is he everything you describe, he’s also the ultimate palate-cleanser after Bonds.

    This kid would be a great story if all he’d done is come up, defy expectations, and win two Cy Youngs. But watch him handle the bat in a bunt situation, or see how he fields his position. (Surprisingly, the one thing he hasn’t perfected yet is holding a runner at first..)He’s most impressive on his “off” days when he’s merely a very good, but mortal pitcher. I’ve been most impressed with his outings when he’s been touched-up a bit, yet still gets the win (or as is more likely with the Giants’ offense and middle-relief, keeps them in the ballgame.)

    He’s also a pleasure to watch in an interview .. humble, but not to the phoint of being trite or uninteresting. He handled the hiccup of his pot arrest directly but not in a preachy, “I’m reformed” manner. In a sport so laden with cliche, the guy really is a breath of fresh air. Now if the Giants middle relief and offense can make up for the three wins they’ve cost him I’ll have reason to fully engage myself with the team.

    Nice job with Faith and Fear, by the way. Your insights and angle on the game share Lincecum’s appeal – inspired and delivered from a unique angle.

  • Have to agree with the above, Lincecum is a complete breath of fresh air. I love sport when it showcases real personalities and genuine individuals. Lincecum is a pleasure on and off the mound. It’s so refreshing that someone so incredibly talented is also so human and untainted by the nonsense that surrounds much of baseball. It seems like he’s having the time of his life – I wish every multimillionaire major leaguer looked that way – it would make every game so much more fun to watch.

  • CharlieH

    Is it me or does Jenrry Mejia resemble OM (OG) Al Jackson, facially & in build?

    He’d resemble him even more if he became a starter like he should be…

  • Mets1986

    An article by Tim Joyce (RealClearSports) in July, 2009 conveys a similar message about Lincecum. Joyce said: “There is an absolute purity about him (Lincecum). With his ridiculously youth looks and happy demeanor he seems to be personifying those adjectives that baseball should conjure up: childhood, individuality, decency, wizardry,enchantment.”

  • […] slam off Raul Valdes; you might withstand Tim Lincecum and a whipping wind but you can’t overcome Oliver Perez’s seven walks in fewer than four innings; David Wright might strand a tying run in the top of the ninth and throw away the winning run in […]