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Pavlovic: Why Bonds, Lincecum made my Hall of Fame ballot

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My first Hall of Fame ballot arrived in the mail in late November and was sent back out right after Christmas, and it was right in the middle of that period -- while standing in a bar in North Beach and staring up at a TV -- that I decided I would vote for Tim Lincecum.

The TV behind the bar was tuned to MLB Network, which was showing the final outs of Lincecum's second no-hitter. It was a cool moment -- helped along by his decision to stubbornly stick to a wispy mustache -- but what stood out as I watched it again seven years later was the fact that a game that would be the highlight of so many careers was far down the list for Lincecum. 

That 2014 no-hitter wasn't even Lincecum's most interesting or dramatic one against the Padres. It gave him two of them late in his career to go along with two Cy Young Awards, four All-Star appearances and three World Series rings. The no-hitters don't even represent the best Lincecum ever was for nine innings; that honor goes to Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS.

It is a resume that could put a player in the Hall of Fame, but it won't for Lincecum, in large part because of who he was when he threw that second surprising no-no. 

Lincecum came into that June 25 game with a 4.90 ERA, and he wouldn't finish the year much better. He won just 15 more games in the big leagues, finishing with 110 in 10 seasons, nine of which came in San Francisco. He had a 3.74 ERA overall and retired well short of most traditional benchmarks for enshrinement into Cooperstown. 


He did enough, though, to be listed on the Hall of Fame ballot five years after he threw his final pitch, and the hope here is that he's listed at least a second time. That was a driving force behind my vote, although there are certainly plenty of other reasons to fill out the box next to Lincecum's name. Two stood out as I filled out the ballot. 

I long ago committed to ignoring the PED connections that are attached to so many of the greats on this ballot. It just doesn't seem rational for writers to try and pick and choose when it's pretty clear that an entire era of the game included superstars who got caught and many others who were lucky enough to get away with it. It also seems unfair to punish the players when Bud Selig, the commissioner during that time, has already gotten in. 

So, Barry Bonds was an easy yes, along with Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Sammy Sosa. But a funny thing happens when you put a check next to all those names. The ballot gets sort of bleak, and that's before you even get to all of the players who come with off-field baggage, some of it pretty horrific.

Lincecum was the opposite, unless you're particularly offended by the "Let Timmy Smoke" movement or a penchant for swearing in front of a live mic. You'll find few players in the history of the game who brought more unadulterated joy to a fan base than Lincecum, as shown most recently by the fact that he stole the show at Bruce Bochy's retirement simply by walking back into the ballpark. 

The connection with San Francisco was immediate and enduring, and even when he struggled, there were few detractors. "Happy Lincecum Day" eventually transformed into the hopeful "Is Timmy back?" every time he turned back the clock for seven innings. 

Early on, Lincecum was the star of stars as the Giants built a dynasty, and they don't win those first two titles without him. He was the ace of the 2010 staff and pivoted to being a multi-inning relief weapon for Bochy two years later, a run that was his final one in the spotlight other than 18 magical innings against the Padres. 

By the time he was put in the bullpen for the 2012 postseason, Lincecum was already on the downslope of his career, his velocity rapidly diminishing and his body breaking down. But the four previous seasons were some of the best the game has seen in recent years, which brings me to the other theme that stood out as I studied the ballot.


The list includes a lot of players who rely on longevity, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's incredibly hard to reach the big leagues and even harder to stay for any significant length of time, and if you keep churning out solid seasons for 15 years, you're certainly worthy of consideration. Lincecum's case is much different. 

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He won a Cy Young in his first full season and another one the next year. He was an All-Star in his first four full seasons and then never again. From 2008-11, he led the NL in innings and wins, and the majors in strikeouts. For three straight seasons, he led MLB in strikeouts per nine innings, and in two of those seasons he had the lowest FIP in the league. Lincecum posted a 2.81 ERA over those four seasons, was worth 22.5 fWAR, and put a cherry on top of that run by going 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA as the Giants finally brought a title to San Francisco in 2010. 

It is a peak that's worthy of Hall of Fame consideration, but it was followed by a steep decline that will ultimately keep him out. Lincecum will have a hard time even making it to a second ballot, but if you're telling the story of Major League Baseball over the last 20 years, he has his own chapter. It doesn't feel right for a career that interesting and special to be pushed off the ballot after just one year, and ultimately that made it a pretty easy call to fill the box next to his name.

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