No closer shave for Giants' Brian Wilson
SAN FRANCISCO - Baseball's stats pages show that the San Francisco Giants led all of major league baseball in team ERA (3.36) strikeouts (1,331) and saves (57) and gave up the fewest hits (1,279).
And although no stats are kept for theatrical props, the Giants are unofficially baseball's leaders in that category, too.
"You've got the Timmy [Lincecum] wigs, the Pablo Sandoval ["Kung Fu Panda"] hats, and now the new beards," Giants closer Brian Wilson said. "Everybody's got their own identity out there, and it's close to Halloween, so it's perfect."
Inspired by Wilson's black-dyed lumberjack-style beard, those "new beards" are a product of the Giants "Fear the Beard" rallying cry. Some Giants fans are growing out their facial hair Wilson-style, while others are wearing fake ones. "Fear the Beard" T-shirts are selling briskly and lighting up online auctions (an eBay search produced 69 items).
The catchphrase has caught on the Giants clubhouse, too, with several teammates hanging "Fear the Beard" T-shirts in their lockers. Setup man Sergio Romo has grown a full beard, too.
Whether "Fear the Beard" has actually induced a fear factor in opposing hitters is open to debate. But coincidence or not, "Fear the Beard" popped up sometime in the late summer, when a surge took the Giants from the fringes of the wild-card race to the National League West title. The Giants trailed the San Diego Padres by 6 1/2 games on Aug. 25.
Wilson said he grew a beard when he was with the Giants in 2007, but had to shave it off when he shipped back to the minors. He figured it was bad luck, so he never tried to regrow it when he returned to San Francisco the next year.
But when he forgot to bring a razor with him on a road trip, "Fear the Beard" was born. And this time, it isn't going away anytime soon.
"I kind of said 'I won't shave it until we win a World Series,' and then I still won't want to shave it, because we'll have a chance next year," Wilson said.
Even before the beard, Wilson appeared to be someone whose life ambition was to fit in.
He's had a mohawk that snakes down the back of his cap for years. And in this year's All-Star Game, he made a splash wearing bright, orange cleats he eventually had to partially color with a black marker after baseball complained they didn't fit the Giants color pattern.
"You can't really describe this guy," Romo told reporters last week. "Unique is the only way I can think of it. I've never met anybody like him. There are so many things that make him so distinct and all right. 'He's over here, this is Brian's world.' It's easy to say he's in his own world all the time. You've got to love him, though."
Persona aside, "Brian's world" is a place major league hitters really don't want to go these days.
Wilson, 28, led the majors in saves, converting 48 of 53 chances. The LSU product went 3-3 with a career-best 1.81 ERA. In 74 2/3 innings, Wilson struck out 93 batters and allowed 26 walks.
His numbers are the product of explosive stuff – a high-90s fastball to go along with a high-80s slider and a cutter.
He established himself among baseball's most durable closers, leading the majors with 10 saves of four or more outs.
Wilson's ability to command his pitches caught the attention of Giants scouts relatively early in his professional development, Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti said, noting that coaches took note of his ability to spot pitches on both sides of the plate.
"For a guy who threw that hard and generated that much power, a lot of guys that really get into it like that have trouble locating [pitches] close to the hitter," Righetti said.
"To throw strikes in on people, too, is kind of an art, and for a young kid, he had it."
Wilson's flamboyant personality follows a long tradition of closers who've brought theater to the art of getting the final out. Sparky Lyle (whom the Yankees eventually traded for Righetti) and Rollie Fingers wore mustaches and menacing scowls in the early 1970s. Al Hrabosky took it to another level when he became the "Mad Hungarian" later that decade, and Trevor Hoffman's ninth-inning work in the 1990s practically became an AC/DC video.
"They all think they have to have some kind of presence in that inning because of the way [the closer's job] has evolved," said Righetti, himself a former closer.
And although Righetti is more comfortable talking mechanics than shtick, he acknowledged there is a theatrical component to ninth-inning baseball.
"The ninth inning is not easy," he said. "The hitters are up there with a totally different mindset.
"It's a tough thing, and whether they ask you to or not, it's all on you, so you carry that burden. There's no hiding it. So you carry that burden, and you're the one that wants to be out there even when bad things happen because you feel that you can handle that kind of pressure."
Wilson said he has little interest in the theatrical aspect of closing baseball. All he cares about are the results.
"What matters is getting the last out and it doesn't matter how you do it," he said.
But he offers no apologies for "Fear the Beard," which he said has inspired people throughout the city, with some who don't even know much about the game walking up to him in his Marina District neighborhood telling him, "I'm sorry, I don't know baseball, but good luck, man. This is awesome!"
"I like it," Wilson said. "I think it's fun, and it's good for baseball.
"Fans want to wear [the beards] and that's great. That means they're cheering even louder wearing the orange and black." *