Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Lone Bright Spot

Forgive my prolonged absence. I’ve been taking a vacation. From my problems. And if you can name that reference, you can take one, too.

But it’s been a long time, so without further ado, let’s get down to business. Because—drum roll—Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum have joined the ranks of Cy Young Award winners.

While Lee was always the favorite for the AL Award, Lincecum’s landslide victory came as more of a surprise. Giants general manager Brian Sabean has summed up the events by saying “In Obama-like fashion, it wasn’t close.” Yes, and the similarity between these two victories probably has a little something to do with the fact that, like Obama, Lincecum launched his campaign on a platform that was based on the need to shore up our economy, rebuild strategic alliances, a 98 mph fastball and, seriously, what the hell are you talking about, Sabean?

Lincecum is a man of many nicknames. And if you know anything about me, it’s that I have an abnormally large number of pet hamsters for a grown-up, I hate when things don’t sound like they’re spelled, and I love a nickname. The most common of Lincecum’s nicknames is “The Freak”. A name that seems, perhaps, not so flattering but is in fact a reference to his freakish greatness. Not to this penchant for playing Dungeons and Dragons with Mike Mussina during the offseason. Tim’s dad, initially troubled by the possibility that the name was meant to be disparaging, called his son up one day to express his concern. Lincecum reasoned with his father, "O.K. is Michael Jordan a freak? Tiger Woods? Jack Nicklaus?" His father responded, "Yeah, I'd consider them freaks. Then, O.K., you're a freak.”

I’m sorry. I need a second. That story always gets me.

Among Tim’s other nicknames are “Seabiscuit,” a moniker he acquired from scouts back during his days in the minors. It’s a reference to the fact that he packs so much power into such a compact frame—five feet ten inches and 172 pounds compact to be exact. There’s also “The Kid.” Meh. Cutesey but not particularly original. And then the rest of them. Well, they are as much a tribute to the pathetic state of the Giants as they are the awesomeness of the Lincecum. There’s “The Franchise,” meant to imply that Lincecum is the Giants. Or, put more depressingly for Bay Area fans, the Giants are Lincecum. And, well, without Bonds, this assessment is sad but true. There’s “The Silver Lining.” (Which made me think, conversely, of a great nickname for A-Rod—“The Thorn.”) Then, there’s my favorite of the nicknames in that it truly speaks to the embarrassingly tragic state of affairs at AT&T Park. A nickname in which Dodgers fans must especially delight: “The Lone Bright Spot.”
If that’s not the sorriest reflection of how useless the Giants are, I don’t quite know what is. The guy might as well be nicknamed, “The Only Thing Keeping Giants Fans From Shooting Themselves In Their Faces.” Or, better yet, “What Am I Doing On This Team?”

What can we deduce from the fact that Lincecum has earned so many nicknames in such a relatively short period of time? (Other than that people shy away from using his real name because it sounds strangely like a cleaning product.) As previously established, a nickname is a term of endearment. So, to break it down Tim McCarver style, I’m going to go ahead and conclude that people are endeared to the Freak. And, it’s with good reason. The guy’s, well, endearing. He’s so unassuming that stadium security confused him for a bat boy when he was first called up. He would never use a word like instrument to refer to his arm or physique to refer to his body. On the contrary, he eats crap before starts and never even so much as bothers to ice after a game. All this probably doesn’t bode well for his longevity as a player, but it definitely makes him easy to like.

Some might argue that all this is just a reflection of the fact that he is juvenile, not particularly committed to staying in great shape. This is definitely true. And people would probably think his personal care routine was a little less adorable if he had a bad metabolism and a tendency to get injured. But I think the reason people appreciate the Freak’s approach is because it so clearly isn’t a reflection of his lack of investment. If anything, the Lone Bright Spot is so unabashed in his enthusiasm for the game that it’s almost refreshing. At the core of every professional athlete is an adolescent boy living his dream. The problem is that too many of them seem to forget to be excited about it or seem to think that it’s somehow unfashionable to let on that they are. Lincecum on the other hand? He seems not to have outgrown his teenage affection for and approach to the game he loves so well. Of course, this maybe suggests some arrested development and that he wouldn’t be the most awesome boyfriend in the world. But it makes for a pretty likable and compelling ballplayer. The kind who, upon hearing that he has surprised everyone including himself by winning the Cy Young Award at the tender age of 24, responds not with feigned composure but by shouting “Woo-hoo!” It’s fun to see someone care as much as we feel like we would if it was us. It makes us feel like they deserve it. And by us, I mean me, of course.

Lee, on the other hand, offered a different sort of response. When asked what statistic he was most proud of from the 2008 season, he responded, “I can’t really think of one. They all look pretty good to me.”

Come on, dude.

True, it probably would have seemed a little disingenuous for Lee to give us the Lincecum 14-year-old boy routine in response to the big victory given that he was such a shoo-in and that it’s not really in his nature, but that doesn’t mean necessarily meant that he had to be such an unabashed pujol about it. I mean, Lee went 22-3 this season and led the league in wins, winning percentage, home run ration, ERA and walk ratio. Out of all of those statistics, he couldn’t have just picked one and pretended it was his favorite?

For the record, Lee, I know being really good is a new thing for you, but in case it isn’t a fluke, let me give you an example of a correct answer to that same question. Lincecum’s answer. "I've always taken pride in trying to strike people out. I've always been that guy. That's the one (statistic) that kind of gets me fired up."

See how much less douchey that sounds?

The other big news on the beat is that we got Swisher. And if you know anything about me other than the fact that I have an abnormally large number of pet hamsters for a grown-up, I hate when things don’t sound like they’re spelled, and that I love a nickname, it’s that I have a real soft spot for the Swish. Last season was certainly far from his greatest, but I think that if he can tap into his real playing potential, we might just have ourselves a first baseman worth his salt. And I would have to imagine he’s the kind of guy you want in your clubhouse. So, sorry Betemit. Looks like we found our betta man. As for Sabathia, I guess we’ll just have to wait and CC.

Man, I’m sorry. That one was bad—even for me.

OK. Thaz it for now. But you can count on me to resume my regular irregular schedule of posting on a fairly regular basis. But since it’s been a while and you might be a person who needs reassurance, I just want to make sure you know that there are, indeed, some things that you can trust to remain the same despite the passage of time. Like the fact that you suck Coco Crisp.


Josh said...

"So, sorry Betemit. Looks like we found our betta man. As for Sabathia, I guess we’ll just have to wait and CC.

Man, I’m sorry. That one was bad—even for me."

Not bad at all. I like the wordplay.

koala said...

Glad to see the Yanks are still coveting Oakland A's 1st basemen.

Giambi, now Swish.....does this mean Jack Cust has pinstripes in his future?