How Tiny Tim Became a Pitching Giant
The mechanics of diminutive Tim Lincecum -- looks 18, throws 98 -- are more than an act of violence, they're a marvel of modern science. Unconventionally honed by his father, that delivery has produced the most fascinating ace of his generation
As if peering around a corner, the Freak tilts his head slightly to the left as he begins his explosive, homemade pitching delivery. What lurks around that corner is either greatness or danger, which makes tiny Tim Lincecum, all 172 pounds of him, the most fascinating pitcher in baseball. Not since Mark (the Bird) Fidrych spoke to baseballs, manicured mounds and baffled hitters more than 30 years ago has a pitcher been this consistent and this captivating from the start of his career. Lincecum does not throw a baseball as much as he launches it, 98-mph rockets somehow expelled, with finely tuned kinetic energy, from a batboy's body. He scares hitters and scouts alike.
"There aren't too many comparables at his size, especially as starting pitchers," says Cleveland Indians general manager Mark Shapiro, whose team in 2005 drafted but did not sign Lincecum, still available at pick No. 1,261. A stumped Indians scouting department could not agree whether the undersized righthander was an ace, a closer, a setup man or a horrific medical disaster waiting to happen. "It looks like his head is going to snap off and his arm is going to fly off," Shapiro continues. "Body type has something to do with it, but the way he throws too."
"Timmy?" Giants manager Bruce Bochy says when approached by a reporter about Lincecum. "You mean the Freak?"
Lincecum, 24, his boyish face framed by an ink-black curtain of shaggy hair, has little use for comb or razor. The San Francisco Giants' ace has been stopped for trespassing by clubhouse security attendants who don't believe he is a ballplayer. In early June he showed up for work in Washington, D.C., wearing jeans, a T-shirt and a black wool hat pulled low in the 90° heat. He is 5' 10" -- maybe. He is 172 sinewy pounds of skin, bones, fast-twitch muscles and, in the heat of battle, intracooled circulatory and nervous systems.
It frightens the chaw out of the cheeks of traditional baseball people that someone so lithe can throw 98 mph. The skittish Baltimore Orioles, picking ninth in the '06 draft, basically took him off their board -- though by then Lincecum, a junior at Washington, was a two-time Pac-10 pitcher of the year who had struck out more batters than any other pitcher in conference history, including Tom Seaver, Randy Johnson and Mark Prior. "We took a high school hitter," recalls then-Baltimore general manager Jim Duquette, referring to Bill Rowell, a third baseman who is hitting .225 in high A ball. "There was a feeling that [Lincecum] was short, not a real physical kid, and mechanically he was going to break down, that there was enough stress on his arm, elbow and shoulder. Our scouting department kind of pushed him down because of the medical aspect."
Six of the first seven teams to pick in that draft selected pitchers. All of them passed on Lincecum, even the Seattle Mariners, who played it safe in choosing the strapping 6' 3" righthander Brandon Morrow -- a guy they use in relief at that -- rather than the Freak in their own backyard. The Giants took Lincecum at No. 10. He pitched only 13 times in the minors, allowing seven earned runs and whiffing 104 batters in 62 2/3 innings, before it became obvious to San Francisco that it had a prodigy who was wasting his time down there.
Since his May 2007 call-up Lincecum has been only slightly more challenged by major league hitters. In 40 starts through Sunday, he was 16-6 with a 3.30 ERA and 264 strikeouts in 256 innings. Only one starting pitcher in baseball history, Dwight Gooden of the New York Mets in the mid-'80s, has won 70% of his decisions over his first two seasons while logging more strikeouts than innings.
Lincecum's reliability at the start of his career is historically remarkable. He is one of only seven pitchers since 1956 to throw 30 quality starts in his first 40 games. If there is any justice in baseball, or the least bit of awareness of plot, Lincecum will take the ball as the starter at Yankee Stadium in this month's All-Star Game just as Fidrych did in Philadelphia in 1976.
How can it be that a runt like Lincecum, who learned virtually everything he knows about pitching from a parts inventory employee for Boeing, is this good, this reliable while a 6' 5", 225-pound, broad-backed pitcher template such as Prior, the epitome of modern training and coaching, routinely breaks down?
The Boeing employee who taught Lincecum how to pitch is his dad, Chris, a vibrant, fast-talking 60-year-old whom you don't dare disappoint with the wrong answer when he asks, "You want the long version or the short version?" One day last month Chris telephoned his son with a concern.
"Tim, everybody is calling you a freak."
"Well, Dad, I am. Why?"
"How can you say you're a freak? You're just a good athlete."
"O.K., is Michael Jordan a freak? Tiger Woods? Jack Nicklaus?"
"Yeah, I'd consider them freaks," Chris said. "Then, O.K., you're a freak."
Chris, only 5' 11", 175 himself, pitched as a youth and claims to have thrown 88 mph at age 52. He was teaching son Sean, four years older than Tim, on a backyard mound in Bellevue, Wash., when Tim, at five, began piggybacking on those lessons. The mechanics Tim employs now are the same he used then, the same as Chris used as a boy himself. "My dad and I aren't very large guys, so it's about efficiency and getting the most out of my body that I can," Tim says. "He learned that, and I'm a modified version of that. He was the prototype, and I'm version 2.0." Before Tim accepted a full ride at Washington, Chris made the Huskies' coaches promise they wouldn't change his mechanics.
Chris designed a weight-training program for Tim and videotaped all his amateur games -- the two of them would critically review them the next day -- except for road games when Tim was in college. By then Chris knew his younger son's mechanics so well that even while listening to those games on the radio, he could "see" what Tim was doing wrong. "Watch the angle of your shoulders!" he might yell, for example, at the radio when his son's location was particularly off.
In the stands Chris would sit behind home plate and flash signals to Tim, who knew exactly what to correct. If, for instance, Chris slapped his thighs, Tim knew to "sit down on my legs" through his delivery, to use the lower half of his body more. "His dad obviously did a very good job with Timmy," says Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti. "I treat Timmy differently from most pitchers: I leave him alone."The last part of turning Tim into a major league pitcher was the hardest part for Chris: He had to let go. Lincecum 2.0 belongs to the world now, to the big cities and the fancy hotels and the media and everything else that comes with the spectacle of big league life. In Bellevue, where Chris still gets up each day for work at 5:30 a.m., the phone doesn't ring quite as often with the happy promise of his son's voice. "I used to hear from him every night, even when he played in the Cape Cod League," Chris says. "As soon as he got to the majors, I hear from him about once a week. But I understand. It's his life. I'm here for him.
"You know, I'm built almost identical to Timmy. He's kind of like my soul mate. I pray for only one thing, and it's for my sons, and it's not about the most wins or getting rich. It's one little prayer. I pray my kids are safe and healthy."
And suddenly Chris, who is to elocution what Tim is to velocity, actually pauses. There is silence for one beat. When he resumes talking, his voice is much softer, as if now he were speaking only to himself.
"I miss the hell out of him."
At liberty high, Tim pitched as a freshman at 4' 11" and 85 pounds. As a sophomore he was 5' 2", 100 pounds. He hit a growth spurt in his junior year, all the way to 5' 8", 125. By the time he entered college, fresh off a senior season in which he was named Washington's 2003 Gatorade High School Player of the Year and drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 48th round (he turned down their offer), Lincecum stood all of 5' 9", 135 pounds.
And he threw a baseball 94 mph.
Such velocity was possible only because Lincecum's delivery is an engineering marvel, and he has the athleticism and fine-gauge musculature to pull it off time after time after time. Most pitchers are taught a delivery in segments, such as a step back, a gathering of the limbs while balanced over the rubber, the loading of the ball in a cocked position behind the head and then a fast uncoiling of the body as the arm comes forward. Hall of Fame righthander Robin Roberts used to say, "If you're going to hurry, hurry late," a reference to accelerated arm speed at the end of the more measured movements to keep the body balanced.
Lincecum, by contrast, pitches with the intentions of a drag racer: It's go time from the start. His delivery gives the illusion of being one movement rather than the cobbling of several separate ones. Righetti calls this apparent seamlessness "flow."
"The hardest thing to do is slow down, gather yourself, then throw a ball," says the pitching coach. "Greg Maddux, Bob Gibson, Rich Gossage -- they all flowed through their delivery. They keep their momentum going. Those flow guys are the ones who can sustain the grind of pitching. I think [Tim's] a longevity guy, I really do."
The quickness of Lincecum's small body is what scared off most scouts -- that and what has become something of a trademark, a tilting of his head toward first base in the early phase of his delivery. The scouts equated his body speed with violence. That assessment, however, is akin to watching the Blue Angels air-show team and not seeing the precision because of a fixation with the implicit danger. Lincecum generates outrageous rotational power -- the key element to velocity -- only because his legs, hips and torso work in such harmony.
"When the scouts started looking at him," says Chris, "size was 80 percent of their problem [with Tim] and style about 20 percent. I think one guy said his mechanics were unorthodox, and people ran with it. His mechanics are very efficient. Extremely efficient. You don't see wasted energy. When he's done, he's not exhausted."
One key to Lincecum's delivery is to keep his left side, especially his left shoulder, aimed toward his target for as long as possible. "Don't open up too soon because then you lose leverage," Tim says. "If you twist a rubber band against itself, the recoil is bigger. The more torque I can come up with, the better."
Where Lincecum truly separates himself from most pitchers is the length of his stride. It is ridiculously long as it relates to his height. And just as his left foot, the landing foot, appears to be nearing the ground at the end of his stride, he lifts it as if stepping over a banana peel -- extending his stride even more. The normal stride length for a pitcher is 77% to 87% of his height. Lincecum's stride is 129%, or roughly 7 1/2 feet.
"That just came naturally," Tim says. "My dad always told me to sit down on my back leg as long as I could and push off as much as I could. I'm trying to get as much out of my body as possible. I've got to use my ankles, my legs, my hips, my back. . . . That's why I'm so contorted and it looks like I'm giving it full effort when it's not exactly full effort."
As for the "step-over" move near the end of his stride, Lincecum explains, "That's from my hips. I'm getting everything toward the target, and my hips want to go. My hips can't just go and open up. I'm trying to create torque. That's when everything kind of explodes. My body comes, and [my arm] is just kind of along for the ride."A long stride, however, carries two severe risks for pitchers: 1) It can compromise the ability to rotate the hips; and 2) it can cause a pitcher to land on his heel with a stiff front leg, the equivalent of slamming on the brakes in a car. Jump and then land on your heels. The shock of the impact travels up your legs to your hips. It hurts. Imagine doing it 100 times a game over many games over many years. It's no wonder that long-stride pitchers such as Britt Burns, who needed a hip replacement, and Jason Schmidt, who can't stay off the disabled list, break down.
Now jump and land on the balls of your feet and your toes. The shock is absorbed with the help of the toes, feet, ankles, legs and bent knees. How can Lincecum take such a long stride and still land on the ball of his left foot with a bent front knee? One secret, he explains, is what he calls his "ankle kick," a snapping of his right ankle as his right foot, the back foot, leaves the rubber. Lincecum comes off the rubber with such snap that, upon the ball's release, his right foot is more than a foot in front of the rubber, shrinking the distance -- and thus stealing precious time -- between him and the batter.
"My dad never taught me to lunge at the plate," Tim says. "It kind of came naturally. That ankle kick that I get and the drive that I get from my back leg will make a big difference in how I get to the plate and how I pitch that day."
There is another secret to Lincecum's ability to land so softly with such a long stride: his extreme athleticism. It takes tremendous balance and coordination to pull it off. Many pitchers are poor athletes who happen to be blessed with one very specific skill. Lincecum has the body of a gymnast and can rip off a backflip or walk on his hands to prove it. Chris likes to tell the story of how Tim came home one day during his junior year of high school and said, "Dad, I want to try out for the golf team." Chris pointed out that Tim had played 27 holes in his life and didn't even own golf clubs. No matter. Playing with a borrowed set, Tim needed to shoot 40 on the last of three nine-hole rounds to make the team. He shot a 39.
Once the landing foot hits the ground, every pitcher must have the ball in the loaded position; that is, the ball is raised behind him, ready to come forward and be delivered. Think of the cocking of a gun before it fires. Here Lincecum again separates himself from most pitchers with his athleticism and timing. As he reaches the loaded position, Lincecum's hips have just opened so that his belt buckle is facing the batter. His torso, however, has not yet begun to rotate toward the plate. The GIANTS on his home jersey is facing third base and his left shoulder remains pointed directly at the target. Only then, with his body essentially twisted against itself, does the torso fire, creating more rotational power as, at last, after this symphonic whipsaw action of his body, his arm simply "comes along for the ride."
Once the baseball leaves his hand, Lincecum isn't done. An abrupt stop of the shoulder will lead to back and shoulder injuries, so to keep his right shoulder moving after the ball is gone Lincecum must keep his torso moving over his front leg. To create this sustained momentum, Chris invented a drill in which he placed a dollar bill on the ground to the left and in front of the landing spot of Tim's left foot. Tim would have to pick up the dollar in the same motion after releasing the ball.
"My dad's always stressing, 'Pick up the frickin' dollar! If I put down a hundred-dollar bill, you'd pick it up every time!' " Tim says. "If I get out there and get myself over [the front leg], my follow-through should be the tail end of when you whiplash a whip. That's what it is for me. Like Tiger Woods finishing his swing."
Says Chris, "When he finishes his follow-through, his back leg, knee to hip, is parallel to the ground, on the same plane as his back. His back foot is above his head. Like a ballerina's."
Throwing a baseball is an act of violence that has been graphically defined by Dr. James Andrews, Dr. Glenn Fleisig and the other doctors and clinicians at the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) in Birmingham. From the loaded position, the shoulder, at its peak speed, rotates forward at 7,000 degrees per second. "That," Fleisig says, "is the fastest measured human motion of any human activity."
While in the loaded position, the shoulder and elbow bear the equivalent of about 40 pounds of force pushing down. When the ASMI biomechanists wanted to know how much more force an arm could take, they brought cadavers into the lab and pulled and pushed upon the elbow joint to find the breaking point. The cadavers's ligaments blew apart just after 40 pounds of force. "So a pitcher is just about at the maximum," Fleisig says.
From the loaded position, when the ball has come to a stop, it is accelerated from zero mph to 90 mph in 3/10 of a second. Rick Peterson, the former New York Mets pitching coach who has worked with ASMI since 1993 and is the acknowledged expert on pitching biomechanics among his peers, once referred to that measurement in a speech he gave to college coaches. A doctor of physics who was in the audience approached him after the talk.
"Rick, do you know what that means in g-forces?" the doctor asked.
"I have no idea."
"If your entire body was accelerated at that rate of speed for over 60 seconds you would die."
No wonder pitchers break down. Pitching, unlike most athletic activities, has reached the limit of what is humanly possible. So while we are accustomed to increasingly swifter sprinters, faster swimmers, longer drivers of the golf ball and bigger football players, you will not see a pitcher throwing 110 mph. The arm and shoulder are maxed out. Pushed any further, the shoulder would blow, like an engine in a race car.
"People run faster and jump farther because we have figured out ways to make your muscles bigger and stronger," Fleisig says. "The baseball pitcher, every time he pitches, his muscles are pushing his ligaments and tendons to the limit. In the future, I can't anticipate making the muscles bigger and stronger because you can't strengthen the ligaments and tendons that much. That's why the role of research in baseball is not to get the pitcher to throw faster but to lower the risk of injury."For some 20 years ASMI has studied pitchers in the lab by pasting reflective sensors on their bodies, capturing their pitching motion with eight high-speed cameras and running the information through its proprietary computer code. ASMI generates a report with 42 precise measurements, such as elbow, hip and torso rotational speeds, shoulder abduction (how many degrees the shoulder pulls away from its axis) and stride length. ASMI can find possible injury risks by comparing those numbers with the normative range for pitchers. (The best pitchers typically don't show abnormally high measurements in any one area; what makes them special is that they fall in the normative range across the board.) About eight to 10 major league teams, including the Red Sox, Indians and A's, send a total of about 50 pitchers to the ASMI lab each year. At a time when keeping pitchers healthy may be the single most important element in building a successful team, ASMI's work is more essential than ever.
"We've learned about what the red flags are and how to train movements that will be green flags," Peterson says, who was fired by the Mets on June 17 as part of a purge that included manager Willie Randolph. "And most of the people who cannot perform the movement patterns have some genetic disposition -- either their hips are locked or they don't have the flexibility -- so that the major red flags in deliveries you get from the lab are not fundamental-skill issues. They're physical and conditioning issues."
Most front offices, coaches and pitchers, however, rely on the same observational approach to pitching mechanics that has been in place for more than 100 years. Such analysis by "eyeballing" is combined with a preference to leave a pitcher alone, no matter how poor his mechanics may be, if he is getting good results. "That philosophy," Peterson says, "would lend itself to people who buy expensive cars and stop changing the oil and rotating the tires. 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' People don't take care of ? their home that way; they don't take care of their car that way; they don't take care of ? their bodies that way."
Mark Prior is a classic example of a high-performing pitcher who was permitted to break down because of poor mechanics. Ironically, Prior was often hailed for his "flawless" mechanics when the Cubs drafted the righthander out of USC with the No. 2 pick in 2001, though that assessment seems to have been influenced by scouts' preference for his 6' 5", 225-pound body type. Studied closely, his mechanics included two severe red flags: 1) Prior lifted his throwing elbow higher than his shoulder before reaching the loaded position, increasing the stress on his elbow and shoulder; and 2) unlike Lincecum's dynamic late torso rotation, Prior rotated his hips and torso before getting to the loaded position. With the letters of Prior's jersey already facing the target, his arm could not simply "go along for the ride" -- the ride was over, so his arm had to generate all of its own power.
Prior went 41-23 over his first four seasons in the big leagues. During that time, in 2003, when Prior was on his way to a career-high 18 wins, Peterson gave a presentation to the Oakland scouting department about "certain red flags in a delivery that we can't do much about" as the A's prepared for the draft. The idea was to avoid sinking large signing bonuses into players with a high potential to break down. (Late picks, because of their lower cost, don't carry the same concern.)
One of Oakland's scouts, responding to Peterson's red-flag warnings, said, "Hey, that's what Prior does. Are you saying that we shouldn't draft a player like that?"
Replied Peterson, "No, not exactly. He's one of the best pitchers in the league right now, but what I am saying is, If he doesn't have maximum [shoulder] rotation, it will lead to injury. It's like slamming the brakes over and over. The brake pads are going to wear out until it's metal on metal."
Prior has suffered a series of shoulder injuries that have limited him to one win and nine starts in the three seasons since. Still only 27, he is out for the season -- again -- after surgery to repair a tear in his right shoulder. "Prior is almost all upper body," Chris Lincecum says. "You could cut his legs off and he would throw just as hard. I don't like to put my finger on players, but I've been doing this a long time. I've said, 'He's going to blow his elbow out' or 'His back will go out.' Sure enough, it happens, including Dice-K [Daisuke Matsuzaka], Jake Peavy, Prior. . . . I have a hard time enjoying the game. I'm sitting there criticizing the pitcher. It hurts to watch pitchers. Seventy percent of the pros have poor mechanics."
Bobby Brownlie was supposed to be Tim Lincecum. A 6-foot righthander from Rutgers who hit 97 mph on the gun, Brownlie was regarded as one of the top pitchers in the 2002 draft. Peterson was working as the A's pitching coach at the time. Just before the draft, Oakland G.M. Billy Beane gave Peterson videotapes of some 20 pitchers the A's were considering as draft picks and told him to break down each pitcher not by stuff and performance but by the biomechanics of their deliveries.
The previous winter Peterson had met Brownlie at a banquet and told him, "Hey, I hear you're great. Congratulations, I hear you're going to be a [first round] pick." But when he watched Brownlie on the tape Beane had given him, Peterson says, "I'm literally sick to my stomach. I'm going, 'This is so sad.' "
A few days later, when Beane asked Peterson what he thought of Brownlie, the pitching coach replied, "He has certain characteristics in his delivery that will lead to shoulder problems."
The Cubs took Brownlie with the 21st pick -- bypassing future big leaguers Matt Cain, Joe Blanton, Jon Lester and Jonathon Broxton -- and lavished him with a $2.5 million signing bonus. Within three years Brownlie could not throw any harder than the mid-80s, and minor league hitters were crushing his pitches. Chicago released him in March 2007. Brownlie spent much of last year playing independent league baseball and is now pitching for the Washington Nationals' Double A Harrisburg affiliate. In May '07 Brownlie told SNY.tv, "The major question about me is why my velocity has dipped in the past couple of years. . . . There's really no answer to it; we don't know what's going on."
Says Peterson, "How many Robert Brownlies are out there every year, and how many of them can be saved? That's what drives me into the amateur market. Because he could be saved. No question in my mind."Peterson and Duquette (the former Orioles G.M.), in conjunction with ASMI, have formed a private start-up to bring pitching biomechanics mainstream. Their fundamental challenge is to make the hardware and expertise of the ASMI lab portable with sensorless technology. On a major league level, for instance, that would mean giving pitchers biomechanical feedback in real time during the game on a clubhouse monitor. On the amateur market, it would mean testing top pitchers at so-called showcase events such as the Area Code Games and Perfect Game and sending them home with a diagnosis and prescription, including drills and a conditioning program to turn red flags into green ones.
"It's very close to coming out, and it's going to turn into a competitive field pretty quickly," Duquette says. "The last time I looked there were hundreds of millions of dollars [worth of pitchers] on the disabled list. Why wouldn't you want to find an answer in that regard? The number of [elbow] and shoulder surgeries is at an alltime high. To have an analysis done and have a program to reduce the [number] of injuries and surgeries is long overdue."
According to Fleisig, the No. 1 injury risk for pitchers is overuse. Young pitchers who continued to pitch with arm fatigue are 36 times more likely to be seriously injured. The risk is exacerbated by poor mechanics. "After someone has pitched for so many years, there are so many weak links in the chain already," Peterson says. "The dynamic power [of the start-up] is at the amateur level. Most people are of the belief that when you talk about fundamental skills of sport, the younger you begin, the better off you are. But the longer you wait to pitch, the better you are. Because understanding the rotational forces is so great, if you're out of synch, you're damaging your arm with every pitch. You can hit for a long time and be a bad batter, and you're not going to injure yourself. Not true with pitching. You will get hurt.
"And those kids, they can and will be saved."
Brad Lincoln, whom the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted six spots ahead of Lincecum, missed all of last season with a blown elbow and has not made it past Class A ball. The other five pitchers selected before Lincecum in 2006 -- the Mariners' Morrow, the Kansas City Royals' Luke Hochevar, the Los Angeles Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw, the Florida Marlins' Andrew Miller (a Detroit Tigers draftee) and the Colorado Rockies' Greg Reynolds -- are a combined 20-31 in the majors, or four more wins (and 25 more losses) than Lincecum has. Lincecum has a .727 winning percentage for a team that has played .394 baseball (69-106) in the games that he hasn't started.
"In my 13 years in the big leagues," San Francisco infielder Rich Aurilia says, "this is the only guy I've seen who really is worth the hype. The first one. The real deal. And the reason I say that is not just the stuff. That's obvious to everybody. But it's the fact that he's a great kid who is smart, who is willing to learn and who respects the game. I really mean that. He's an easy kid to root for, and I don't say that just because he's my teammate. He's going to be great for this game.''
On that hot, early-June night in Washington, Lincecum carved up the Nationals with such ease that he missed the strike zone only 28 times to 25 batters. He bore 94-mph two-seamers into the knuckles of righthanded hitters, blew 97-mph four-seamers to every edge of the strike zone, snapped off wicked 80-mph curveballs and fiendishly disguised downward-breaking 84-mph split changeups with the same ferocious arm speed as his fastball. Lincecum allowed one run in seven innings; he threw 83 pitches. Afterward, as always, he showered and jumped back into his skateboarder attire without bothering to ice his arm. "Never," Tim says. "Like my dad says, 'Ice is made for two things: injuries and my drinks.' "
"I thought I'd have more problems with his delivery," Nationals first baseman Aaron Boone says, "but it wasn't as deceptive as I thought. The fastball, though, is big-time. And that hammer [the curveball] is really good. That was impressive."
Shapiro, the Indians' G.M., recently pulled up the original notes from when Cleveland scouts and executives were trying to decide what to make of Lincecum before the 2005 draft. "No. 2 starter.... Wonder if he's going to hold up as a starter.... Freaky..... Maybe a Frankie Rodriguez[-type] bullpen guy.... Potential closer/setup man.... Potential front of the rotation....." Shapiro said, "We're split. Probably more reliever than starter. There was some concern that he would have to get to the big leagues quickly because you weren't sure he could make it through the usual four hundred to five hundred innings as a starter in the minors. His arm speed is ridiculous -- like it's going to fly off one day."
Chris Lincecum never needed a primer on biomechanics to know that the scouts who doubted his son were wrong. As ASMI -- with its proprietary measurements and motion-capture technology -- pushes pitching further toward quantitative analysis, an aviation parts worker with a backyard mound, a camcorder and an intuitive understanding of how his son's body moves through space traffics in simpler explanations. "I believe," Chris says, "in something called dangle."
Dangle is a term you surely will not find among ASMI's 42 measurements. Dangle refers to the looseness of a pitcher's arm action, the well-lubricated unhinging of the limbs and body, which helps explain why Chris regards Satchel Paige and Sandy Koufax, two hallowed flow pitchers, as the spiritual forefathers to Tim's mechanics. "He'll throw forever," Chris once posted on a blog, referring to his son, "and maintain his velocities and the best breaking ball since Sandy Koufax and the best fastball since Gibson and Feller."
Says Chris now, "A friend told me someday everybody will be throwing like Tim. I hope they do."
"Can't happen," Righetti says, "because few pitchers are as athletic as Tim."
The father's job is done. Version 2.0 is a finished product. Tim is a treasure, a reliable, workhorse major league starter, but also a testament to that unmeasurable art and mystery that always remain within the discipline of pitching. "My dad would notice itty-bitty things with my mechanics and make it second nature for me," Tim says. "Now I'm making adjustments quicker. It's nice to have him there, but I don't need him there to tell me what's going on. I can make those adjustments pitch to pitch now as opposed to game to game."
Maybe the phone doesn't ring as often, and maybe Chris no longer is there behind the backstop with his camcorder and his hand signals. But whenever Tim stands on a big league mound with a baseball in his hand, a 172-pound confounder of hitters and convention, the father is there.
"In my head I can hear his voice," Tim says. "Sometimes I'll be thinking, What would he be saying right now? What am I doing? Because we've been doing it for so long. I'm still young, but I've been doing my mechanics for over three quarters of my life. It should be coming easier to me on the mound. In the back of my mind I'm hearing things that he would say."
Sit down on your legs.... Relax your shoulders.... Left side on target.... Pick up the frickin' dollar....
And then he is ready. The Freak begins to coil and release again. And when the motion is just about perfect, when it approaches that unquantifiable state of dangle, it is not just his right arm that comes along for the ride. The rest of us come too, filled with wonder and awe.