Cliches exist because they’re true, so yes, familiarity does indeed breed contempt.
For instance, a couple of years ago, Kevin Hart was the hottest new comedian on the scene. Forty-eight movies, 64 TV shows, 317 commercials, 1,276 talk-show guest appearances and 119 red-carpet awards shows later, he’s no less hilarious when he was a rising star, but you seem so damn much of them that you just want him to go the hell away.
Familiarity also breeds comfort in some cases, however, and that brings us to one of the keys to the Giants’ 2015 season: Tim Lincecum.
Familiarity doesn’t generally breed much contempt in the world of sports. In fact, we pine for it. Fans of college basketball have long been longing for the days before “one-and-done” became part of the sport’s lexicon. Having a couple of tough, savvy senior guards and a core rotation that’s been playing together for years used to be paramount to reaching the Final Four, but the sad truth these days is that if you’re still playing college ball as a senior, you’re probably just not very good. And at schools such as Kentucky, fans consider themselves fortunate if any particular core is together for more than a season.
Familiarity is particularly big in baseball, which is as much about tradition and routine as anything. There’s a fair amount of contempt for the familiarity of Joe Buck calling playoff games, and a lot of people hated seeing the New York Yankees every October before the Curse That Is A-Rod changed all that, but for the most part we don’t like change when it comes to the so-called national pastime.
Free agency and proposed rule changes, no matter how sensible on a practical level, are viewed as evil. Lineup changes are met with skepticism and second-guessing. Lights going up at Wrigley Field prompted more freaking out than New Coke.
It’s not just the fans, either. Baseball players aren’t much for change. Sameness suits them. Hitters want to know that they are batting in the same spot every day, relief pitchers want to know their roles, and don’t you dare be on the exercise bike when today’s starting pitcher absolutely has to be on it.
We tend to call them superstitions, but that’s just a colorful word for routine, for familiarity.
And when Tim Lincecum finally grew up and decided to take a good hard look at what’s changed as he’s morphed from Kid Wonder to wondering what the hell’s gone wrong, he found the answer and familiarity.
More specifically, he found it in dear old dad. Chris Lincecum, a grizzled former semipro ballplayer who taught The Freak all those freaky things that made him such a star early in his career, has wisely been brought back into the fold.
Why did he ever leave? It’s a story is old as time, and one with the witch any parent of a grown-up child is familiar.
“Timmy,” as Chris calls him, was incredibly reliant on his father from the day he first picked up a baseball. Dad taught him everything about the game, including that complex windup that must be so meticulously maintained. The passed-on wisdom worked, too, with Timmy starring at the University of Washington before ripping through San Francisco’s minor-league system and arriving on the big-league stage ready for prime time.
Cy Young awards, World Series rings, video game covers, no-hitters … it all came so fast, and as it came, Chris bathed in the glory right along with his son. He became something of a local celebrity, known as the man behind The Man.
And not that Timmy necessarily chafed at the attention his dad was getting, but as boys and girls grow into men and women, there’s a natural need for some separation. Chris understood that, and backed off. He was more than happy to let Timmy go at it on his own.
That the timing of such separation coincided with Timmy’s baffling fall from grace, from world beater to postseason afterthought in the matter of a few ugly seasons, doesn’t seem like such a coincidence in hindsight.
“Go with what got you there.” “Dance with the girl you brung.” “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” All of them apply, and it seems as though Timmy, having seen what happened after easing his father out of the equation, is taking them to heart.
Father and son got back together this offseason, no hard feelings whatsoever. They simply got back to work, to what’s familiar to both, and the early returns suggest that it was a long time coming.
Lincecum looks comfortable again on the mound. The confidence and poise are back. The howling heater might not be, but the steady stream of outs is, and that’s all that really matters.
Lincecum looks good so far, and if you don’t think his dad has something to do with that, you’re not familiar with the story.
What the Giants hope you WILL be familiar with is the sight of Lincecum walking off the mound to thunderous applause on a regular basis, and somewhere out on the patio of Willie Mays Plaza, Chris Lincecum will be nursing a pop, dragging on a cigarette and sporting that knowing, familiar, satisfied smile.
Mychael Urban has been covering Bay Area sports for 25 years and has worked for MLB.com, Comcast SportsNet Bay Area and KNBR (680 AM).