Tim Lincecum: The Most Important San Francisco Giant Ever?
His impact is undeniable.
After 15 seasons that can unofficially be dubbed "The Bonds Era," a new era in San Francisco Giants baseball dawned on May 6, 2007.
That was the day a small, fragile-looking 22-year-old named Tim Lincecum took the mound for the first time at AT&T Park. Already nicknamed "The Franchise," Lincecum had to live up to his own hype before he ever threw a pitch in a big-league game.
And did he ever.
In the 50 seasons before Tim Lincecum arrived on the San Francisco Giants scene, the franchise had never won a world championship, despite boasting some of the greatest talent to ever grace a baseball diamond, including Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, Bobby Bonds and his son Barry.
However, just three seasons after Lincecum took the mound on that Sunday evening against the Phillies in 2007, the Giants were finally the champions of baseball.
Can all of the Giants' recent success be attributed to one man? No.
But the unquestionable truth of the matter is, it all started with one man: Tim Lincecum.
While looking at sheer statistics doesn't always tell us the full story about a player or about his team, Lincecum's numbers are off the chart.
In his first three full seasons, Lincecum collected two National League Cy Young awards and led the NL in strikeouts all three years.
His career record through today is 59-30, with an ERA of 2.98. He is already nearing the 1,000-strikeout mark, which he will likely reach in his next three starts (he currently has 973).
Over his career thus far, opponents are hitting just .222 against him. And Lincecum's career WHIP? 1.17.
On May 4 in New York, Lincecum surpassed the great Christy Matthewson for the all-time Giants franchise record for most double-digit strikeout games, achieving his 29th against the Mets. It took Matthewson 17 years. It took Lincecum four.
Lincecum's numbers are already legendary, and baseball historians would be hard-pressed to find another pitcher in baseball history who has gotten off to as good a start as No. 55.
The 2007 season was a pivotal turning point for the San Francisco Giants. As Barry Bonds exited the stage, a new star was emerging.
And this emerging star was nothing like the star that was departing. Tim Lincecum was not a large man. He did not have a physique that resembled that of a bodybuilder, a machine conditioned to hit mammoth home runs.
No, Tim Lincecum was a 5'9", 170-pound starting pitcher that looked more like he belonged on a little league field than on a major league mound. But this little man would dazzle everyone involved with the sport and unbeknownst to Giants fans, would change the fortunes of the franchise.
Lincecum quickly became so dominant that Giants fans began to think of every game he started as an automatic-win. He set the tone for San Francisco's pitching staff in a way that had not been seen in recent memory.
Matt Cain, up to that point a reliable and talented but usually hard-luck losing pitcher, had a precedent to live up to every time Lincecum took the hill and shined. And the newly converted left-handed relief pitcher Jonathan Sanchez followed suit.
Soon, San Francisco had a starting staff that was the envy of every club around the league. By 2010, the Giants had a true ace, the reigning back-to-back NL Cy Young award winner. And his popularity with fans and teammates made him a leader on the team, whether he sought the role or not.
Lincecum gave the Giants and their fans reasons to dream. If so much baseball magic could come from someone so small in physical stature, anything was possible for this club.
"The Franchise" Becomes the Face of The Franchise
Almost overnight Tim Lincecum became the face of the San Francisco Giants. He embodied something the organization and its fans had not seen in a long time: youth, invigorating optimism and strength from a small source. Natural skill mingled with dazzling flair. An unorthodox athlete setting trends for baseball with his long hair and kid-like charm.
Lincecum became the inaugural member of a youth movement in San Francisco baseball. Following him were stars like Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner, all who could more easily transition into their role as major league players because of the man who did it so well before them—Tim Lincecum.
Together, this unit, along with the addition of key veterans like Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell, led the club to its first world championship in San Francisco. Perhaps it was only fitting that the man with whom the amazing transformation of the Giants began recorded the win in the title-clinching victory in Arlington, Tex.
It took 52 years for the Giants to win their first World Series since moving west from New York. And it happened just three years after the arrival of "The Franchise."
He's No Willie Mays, But Tim Lincecum Is the Most Important San Francisco Giant Ever
Willie Mays is undoubtedly the greatest Giant ever. But Mays' greatness transcended location. He began his career with the Giants when the team was in New York, and won his only World Series title as a player with the New York Giants in 1954.
Individually, he was the greatest Giant of them all, whether during the New York or San Francisco eras.
But when considering a player's impact on a team—an impact that culminated in greatness for a franchise—San Francisco's most important Giant has been Tim Lincecum.
Lincecum sparked a dramatic turnaround for a team that was desperately searching for an identity after the collapse of the Barry Bonds experiment: building a team around one man and hoping such a strategy could carry the franchise to a championship.
Lincecum's rise to stardom was not marked by a media circus around one man's locker. And it was not all about him. It was about the Giants as a team, and Lincecum led "a band of misfits" who put team before self to a World Series victory.
Who do you think is the most important San Francisco Giant ever?
If you are struggling with the notion that Lincecum is the most important San Francisco Giant ever, given all of the great ballplayers that preceded him, ask yourself: where would the Giants be today without No. 55? And without him would they be celebrating the first World Series title in San Francisco's history?
Lincecum has been the anchor of this club, the man who is looked to when the team is sliding with a losing streak and needs a stopper, the man who can carry the team on his back by keeping the score 0-0, even when his club can't score a run, the man who generates confidence in his teammates that anything is possible between the foul lines.
Some people say great things come in small packages. San Francisco's most important Giant is living proof.
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