OK, what is going on here my dude. Photo by Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
You are, of course, free to feel however you want to feel about Tim Tebow, and to feel those chosen feelings as intensely as you wish. This is the only culture on earth that could produce a Tim Tebow, and surely the only one that could devise so many ways to care about him for the better part of a decade; it is your right, if you so choose, to help yourself to as much of all this as you want. I believe that the ongoing Tim Tebow Baseball Experiment is both inescapably ridiculous and completely fine.
But I also think that, before any of this goes any further, we should talk about what's going on with Tim Tebow's throwing mechanics. I am aware that we are talking about someone who was just assigned to the Mets' low-A minor league affiliate; I am aware that Tim Tebow's frankly unsettling throwing mechanics have been discussed in the past. But also please look at the image above and the image below. Please do that and you will understand that we must, all of us, talk about what's happening here.
Hmm also bad and strange actually. Photo by Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports
The first thing you notice is that there are entirely too many things to notice. Because Our National Tim Tebow Conversation is so irony-poisoned and proxy-fied, it is easy to forget that the guy really is a very talented athlete. Not quite in the ways that might have made him a successful NFL quarterback, and almost certainly not in ways that are likely to make him a Major League Baseball player, period, but in ways good enough to do things with his body that the mass of humanity would never be able to do. Ask the average person to contort his or her upper and lower bodies into the shapes described by Tebow above and there is about a one-in-three chance that the effort results in some sort of extravagant double oblique strain or other grievous torso injury.
The shapes into which Tim Tebow contorts himself during even routine throws—the top image is just him warming up in the outfield—are implausibly avant-garde in every respect. For reference and comparison, here is a normal throwing motion:
We all float down here. At spring training, I mean. Ha ha! Photo by Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
This is not completely fair, because this is not a throw from the outfield, but you will notice how the upper and lower halves of our model's body are not violently attempting to detach themselves from each other. The body is comparatively quiet and steady; nowhere in the thrower's body language is there the sense, as there is in Tebow's, that he has just been shoved by a powerful ghost.
Or check out Josh Reddick, one of the best outfield arms in baseball, letting one fly in a game for the Oakland Athletics last year. This is a bit more similar, situationally speaking, although you will notice that it is also not remotely similar to whatever Tim Tebow is doing.
There it is. Photo by Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
It's not just that this looks different. It's how different it looks. These people just appear to be doing different things. Reddick appears to be trying to throw a baseball a long distance as fast as he can; Tim Tebow looks like he is trying to escape from wasps.
The fact that Tebow's mechanics are by this point the result of decades of high-intensity coaching and earnest work makes their weirdness all the more remarkable, but it also explains them, in a way. Tebow is gifted enough and earnest enough as an athlete to assimilate all that instruction and accurately replicate it. His great misfortune, it seems to me, is that he has somehow retained every bit of it—every attempt to work around some previous bad habit or tendency or bit of overcorrection is still right there alongside the original problem, with the tension between the problems and the fixes written both on and with his body. You can see, in Tebow's wincing and mincing, his piledriving lower body and recoiling upper body and flailing drowning man's jazz hand, all the coaching that he has duly taken to heart over his long career of people trying to fix every odd thing about him. You can see how taking all of it to heart has only made him weirder.
Everything about Tim Tebow's tragicomic and inexcusably protracted career as a public figure has been about asking people to see attributes in him that are not immediately apparent in his actual play. He's a martyr or a fraud, a hero or a joke, or anyway he's something other than what he so clearly is. That is because what he so clearly is can so clearly not support the weight of the manic shouting match that's been leveraged upon him.
To look at Tim Tebow as he actually exists is to see not just one of the most splendidly weird athletes in recent memory but something more interesting and even sadder than that. He is the sum of every bit of instruction and coaching he has ever received; he is the man who listened to everyone; he is a lifetime of coaching earnestly and graciously received. He is completely incomprehensible once he gets moving, a total physical cacophony. All the answers he embodies have made of him a question that no one is ever going to answer. He's not a martyr, really, or a hero. Simply in the strangeness he brings even to the simplest things, Tim Tebow the baseball player may well contain more sports than any other athlete ever has.