So long Lucky Penny and Tim Lincecum: San Francisco has, at last, surrendered the remainder of its soul

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Farewell to that feeling of invincibility and impossibility mixed with the threat of invisibility and impoverishment. Isn’t that, after all, what great cities are made of?

By Andrew Pridgen

A pair of San Francisco landmarks worth knowing are closing down and leaving town for good this month. They are, Tim Lincecum and the Lucky Penny diner. Both were institutions. Both just got a part of you. Both worked for you 24-7.

They were the last of whatever sliver of your heart you left in San Francisco.

Were I to run into Tim Lincecum or the Lucky Penny late at night—and I did—I felt better about myself in the context of witnessing heights I could never reach and depths I could never mine. They were the best and the worst and the best of the worst.

The Lucky Penny is closing this week. Christmas Eve, in fact. It will be torn down to make way for 21 stupid fucking condos that will look obsolete five years after completion.

The corner of the Giants’ locker room that Lincecum singularly brought back to life after Bonds vacated has already been re-allocated. In December, the team introduced a pair of fully vested replacement righties with a bunch of hashtags: Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto—almost a quarter billion dollars committed to suspect arms and end-of-career gambles—certainly did placate a majority sector of the faithful. Shiny lights twinkle bright only for so long. Then they become sale-rack items.

The Giants built their snow globe dynasty on the back of homegrown pitching talent. They are chasing now. This is what it looks like to patch cracks in the foundation with Silly Putty. When you engineer the blueprint for post-spendthrift/post steroid-era baseball, you are required to explore the nuance of the lean years; what you don’t do is borrow from the Steinbrenner playbook of the decade prior.

Someday, we’ll figure out again the alchemy of what makes cities desirable—and stick with that. It’s not open-air workspaces that placate a gelatinous younger-than-you-yet-harder-to-impress demographic. It’s not Victorians with the built-ins torn out like a bad carburetor in favor of industrial-sized kitchen sink basins. It’s not farm-to-table neighborhoods selling the soul of something prior per hour to the highest bidder. And it’s not the false comfort of convenience lighting up a black screen when all you really need is happening around you. It’s people, real people. Real places. Real experiences. But you already know that in the way you know what makes a Sofia Coppola film go by fast. It’s hard to define unless you’re watching it.

The last time I was at Lucky Penny, my buddy made out with a girl from the neighboring booth. They enjoyed pancakes and coffee on top of whatever other intake that resulted in ending up perfectly temporarily together; they kissed and tousled upon the torn green vinyl. What a beautiful mess. They kissed with intent as if they were junior high kids stealing a moment in the back of the wagon. It was low-lit and euphoric and fleeting. Fucking Baker Street was even playing on the overhead. Can you imagine how good it felt just to be part of that scene? I can. It felt fucking great. I went to bed that night smiling and I woke up head-scratching. All great diners are slide rules, using math to extend out the fallible moment.

I hope someday when we’re both a little older, I run into Tim Lincecum again. I hope we talk. I hope I get to buy him a beer not because I feel like I should but because he may gladly accept. I hope to spare him the narrative that is a constant in my mind; the summary of all the greats of my time, the ones who might not necessarily live in the memories of the collective: The Rich Aurilias, the Randy Winns, the Nate Schierholtzs. The Juan Uribes and the Pat Burrells. Lincecum was a superstar and statue-worthy for his flapping hair and his affable jack-o’-lantern grin symbolizes the most successful era of San Francisco baseball ever and ever will be. One thing Lincecum wasn’t was wholly comfortable as the human embodiment of the outsized statistics that marked the first half-decade of his career. The known fragility that bumped the Golden Spikes winner down to the middle of the first round knocked him out of the box before the seventh inning stretch of his career.

One evening, Lincecum appeared to my buddy and me at a bar just before 10 p.m. He became our third for the night. It was the spring prior to his rookie campaign. He was slight and angular like black-and-white Mary Tyler Moore. Doleful and misunderstood like early Vincent Gallo. He sat on our same bench but left the safety of a one-seat buffer. Mitch Kramer tried to go unnoticed but we ended up offering him a beer and then talking about music and not much else. No asks on either end. I’m sure he forgot the incident shortly after his last sip—it’s what happens. Professional athletes his caliber are often forced to stare down the tunnel and ponder whether that light at the end is from the sun or an oncoming train.

lincecumIIAfter our encounter, this all happened:

2007:

  • Lincecum went 4–0 with a 1.62 ERA his rookie year. On July 1, against the Arizona Diamondbacks, he struck out 12, the fourth highest total ever by a Giant.

2008:

  • Lincecum made the cover of the July 7, 2008, issue of Sports Illustrated and on July 6, he was selected to play in his first Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
  • On September 23, 2008, he broke Jason Schmidt’s single-season strikeout record with his 252nd strikeout of the season against Rockies. Lincecum finished the season with 265 strikeouts (54 of them three-pitch strikeouts, the most in the majors), making him the first San Francisco Giant pitcher to win the National League strikeout title.
  • On November 11, 2008, Lincecum was awarded the NL Cy Young Award, making him the second Giant to win the award. Mike McCormick was the first.

2009:

  • On June 2, Lincecum struck out the Washington Nationals’ Christian Guzman for his 500th career strikeout, becoming the fastest Giants pitcher in franchise history to reach the milestone.
  • In his six June starts, Lincecum went 4–1 with a 1.38 ERA and pitched three complete games. He was named the NL Pitcher of the Month for June.
  • In July, Lincecum made his second NL All-Star team. He was also the starting pitcher for the NL.
  • Through twenty starts in 2009 Lincecum had an 11–3 record with a 2.30 ERA, 183 strikeouts, four complete games, and two shutouts. Lincecum also had a twenty-nine scoreless inning streak.
  • On July 27, in a 4–2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates at AT&T Park, Lincecum pitched a complete game and struck out a career-high fifteen batters (I was there, it was like watching a big kid play video games), the second most in San Francisco Giants franchise history.
  • On August 3, Lincecum was named National League Player of the Week.
  • On September 8, Lincecum missed his first start since coming up, making room for Madison Bumgarner who made his major league debut that day.
  • Lincecum finished the 2009 season with a 15–7 record, 2.48 ERA and 261 strikeouts.
  • Following the season, Lincecum was named Sporting News NL Pitcher of the Year for the second consecutive year and became the first pitcher in Major League Baseball history to be awarded the Cy Young in each of his first two full seasons.
  • On October 30 near Seattle, Lincecum was pulled over and cited for misdemeanor possession of marijuana, spawning the ‘Let Timmy Smoke’ movement and eventually paving the way for legalization in his home state of Washington.

2010:

  • On October 7, in his first postseason game, Lincecum pitched a complete game two-hit shutout, striking out a playoff career-high 14 batters, against the Atlanta Braves in game 1 of the NLDS. He broke the all-time record for strikeouts in Giants postseason history.
  • In his next postseason start, he pitched 7 innings and giving up 3 earned runs, while striking out 8 in the Giants’ 4–3 victory over the Phillies in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.
  • In Game 6 on October 23, Lincecum pitched from the bullpen on one day’s rest at the bottom of the 8th. The Giants won the game 3–2, advancing to the 2010 World Series.
  • Lincecum pitched games 1 and 5 of the World Series, earning wins in both. Game 1 of the 2010 World Series was an 11–7 win over the Texas Rangers. On November 1, 2010, Lincecum started Game 5 of the World Series and pitched 8 innings, with 10 strikeouts while giving up only three hits en route to a 3–1 victory. The win ended the Giants’ 56-year championship drought and also gave San Francisco its first World Series title. Lincecum also set franchise single postseason records with four wins and 43 strikeouts by a right-handed pitcher.

2011:

  • In spite of the worst run support in all of baseball, Lincecum became the Giants’ franchise record holder for the number of games pitched with 10 or more strikeouts with 29, surpassing Hall of Fame “first five” inaugural member Christy Mathewson.
  • On May 21, Lincecum threw his 8th career complete game and his 5th career shutout against the Oakland Athletics.
  • On June 6, Lincecum recorded his 1,000th career strikeout against the Washington Nationals. He accomplished this during his fifth year as a pro. He was only 29 strikeouts short of passing Tom Seaver for having the most strikeouts in the first five seasons all-time.

2012:

  • Lincecum was converted to a relief pitcher in the 2012 MLB playoffs. And on October 7, Lincecum made a relief appearance during Game 2 of the 2012 National League Division Series (NLDS) against the Cincinnati Reds and threw two shutout innings.
  • On October 10, in Game 4 of the NLDS, Lincecum made a long relief appearance when his 4 1/3 innings helped the Giants beat the Cincinnati Reds to force a decisive Game 5. Lincecum was the winning pitcher.
  • Counting his start against Atlanta in the 2010 playoffs and his two relief appearances in 2012, Lincecum is 2–0 with an 0.59 ERA in the NL Division Series.
  • Lincecum helped the Giants win their second World Series in three years. In the series against Detroit, he struck out eight of the 16 batters he faced in relief.

2013-2015:

  • On July 13, 2013, Lincecum no-hit the San Diego Padres 9–0 at Petco Park. He struck out 13 batters, walked 4, and hit 1 while throwing a career-high 148 pitches. A little less than a year later, on June 25, 2014 he no-hit the Padres again.
  • On September 20, 2013 at Yankee Stadium, Lincecum K’d the New York Yankees’ Curtis Granderson for his 1,500th career strikeout.
  • In 32 starts in 2013, Lincecum went 10–14 with 15 quality starts and a 4.37 ERA, striking out 193 in 197.2 innings.
  • Lincecum was left off the playoff roster for the Giants’ third World Series title run in 2014 and was injured much of 2015, ending the season before his free agency with hip surgery.
  • The Giants bid farewell to Lincecum knowing for a half decade, between 2008 and 2011, he compiled 881 1/3 innings of 2.81 ERA pitching with 10.0 K/9 against 3.2 BB/9, he was not only the franchise’s, but the game’s GOAT.

Tim Lincecum’s model plane rubberband delivery and his one giant step for mankind lunge toward home was ultimately cut loose by time. This offseason, the Giants organization responded in kind and did what professional sports organizations do. They said goodbye without saying goodbye. As the team’s pilot fish, Lincecum furnished the Giants with the greatest quintet of pitching seasons in live ball history, if not ever. For that, he doesn’t get a parade or even a press conference. The 31-year-old gets to throw for scouts in January. It’s baseball’s cruel equivalent of asking Pacino to audition, forcing Garland to deliver a singing telegram or making Picasso paint a fence.

To paraphrase Hemingway, the Giants moved one dollar’s width to profitable with every dollar that they made off him. Even if everything to this point was marketed as emotional, Lincecum’s soon-to-be-former employers view the relationship with their ace emeritus as wholly transactional.

But that’s OK. People come and go. Diners come and go too. For every Tim Lincecum and Lucky Penny there was a Don Robinson and a Zim’s and a Lefty O’Doul and a Delmonico’s. Day by day we get older and we focus on how much better everything was yesterday, or at least how good the memory makes us feel. But when we stop living for the days to come, that’s when the bad stuff starts to happen. That’s when the physical you starts to abandon this endeavor and ease to dust like the memories and the monuments we hold so dear.

 

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