A Q&A with Giants closer Brian Wilson, baseball's most honest man
Brian Wilson closed out San Francisco's first-ever World Series title last fall
His long black beard and unique personality gained him lots of attention
Wilson says he wants to work hard and be known most of all as a good teammate
For all we know, San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson takes it one day at a time, gives 110 percent and tries to overcome obstacles. But you wouldn't know it talking to the guy. If Willie Mays' glove was where triples went to die, Wilson's mouth is where sports clichés go to expire.
A few days before Christmas, I had the good fortune of spending an afternoon with Wilson in Los Angeles and, well, after about 10 minutes in, the great irony became apparent. Forget "The Machine," the day-glo orange cleats and the robust beard. The pitcher announcers enthusiastically proclaim the "craziest man in baseball" is the complete opposite. This is the most rational, self-possessed, honest professional you'll ever meet. Even if a man clad in leather makes occasional cameos in his interviews.
SI.com: To what extent are you still riding a World Series high?
Brian Wilson: I want to tell you this: Not that I'm an oracle, but before the season I told a couple of guys I had a dream that we were in the World Series playing the Yankees. And we beat the Yankees in five games. Why the Yankees? I was kid growing up in [New England] and we don't like the Yankees.... This is Feb. 18, 2010, pitchers and catchers report, and I say, "We have it covered we'll win in five games." Throughout the season, I'm like, "Don't worry, it's five games, guys. Just remember." We get to the postseason: "Whoever wants to jump on the bandwagon. you're welcome. The more the merrier." ....We get to Game 5 of the World Series, Tim's starting. I say: "You know what it is? It's Game 5 and I'm pretty sure we win this." Very fitting it came to me. I'm thinking, "I cannot let them down" I told that to [first baseman Aubrey] Huff. I told it to [outfielder Pat Burrell]. I think I told that to [catcher] Bengie [Molina, whom the Giants traded to the Rangers at midseason]. I wonder if he was thinking about it on the other side.
SI: As fun as it looks?
BW: This is the best I can describe it: you're 12 years old. Everything is great. Everything is happy. It's Friday the school bell just rang, you have no responsibilities. You get to have a sleepover. And you don't have to do yardwork Saturday because yardwork is Sunday. It's that feeling. Times a billion. All you want to do is jump and down and scream.... If there was a fun meter, our fans broke it compared to other teams. If it's fun for the fans, it's fun for us.
SI: How do you assess your talent level?
BW: I don't think that talent-wise I'm better than anyone else playing this game. But if I have equal talent and I outwork someone else, maybe I have the edge. My dad was military, uncles, grandfather and brother -- I was the only one that got to play sports -- they instilled in me: hard works pays off. So I have an addiction to working out 100 percent or I don't feel like I've accomplished anything. When I step on the mound I don't want to feel like I've outworked the guy against me or the other team but I've outworked an entire city that day. Arrogant as that sounds -- of course it's impossible to outwork an entire city -- you'd be surprised what you can do. I'm draining myself mentally and physically and so when I step on the mound I know I've done everything I possible to be better that day.
SI: What's your perception of yourself?
BW: I like to say whatever I want to say, do what I want to do, have a good time, but in the guidelines. If I want to wear sweatpants with Spongebob socks, I wear sweatpants and Spongebob socks. Maybe I guess I don't care what people think. I'm not following a guideline to try and keep it in the norm, but nor am I trying to be different. If I like it, I like it. If I don't like it, you're going to know about it.....Normal doesn't sell. If you have anything out of the norm, it gets amplified. If I'm a professional surfer, no one gives a crap about my personality and my looks. "Oh my gosh, whoa, you have a beard. Never seen that before! Cool." Um, there are a ton of guys rocking a beard surfing in Sydney right now. In baseball, it's different. There are certain sports where you can have more of a personality than others.
SI: What do you hear when you pitch?
BW: I don't hear a thing. I don't hear anything until the inning is over. The only thing I'm aware of is my third baseman because I see him out of the corner of my eye. I'm looking off, down to the ground. I don't even know what I'm looking at; I'm just focused. I see the catcher, the hitter. And half the time if there's a guy on first, the team has to scream at me to get the bag. I don't care. I'm not worried about what's going on over there. Then I step off the mound. "OK, you're not holding the bag. That's great. Fine. Stop ruining my moment."
SI: One-run game. Lead-off man hits a double. What's your mentality?
BW: Who cares? You know what [I] do? Look back at the guy. "You're not going anywhere. If you take a lead, I'll pick you off. Now, I'm about to get nasty. You're not scoring. You know why? Because the starter worked too damn hard to give us this lead. Because the third baseman hit that home run in the sixth. The city's going nuts right now. Now settle down and get this over with. Just do your job, Brian. You're getting paid a ton of money. Just do your job and don't mess up. It's that simple."
SI: That's what you say to motivate yourself?
BW: That and a billion other people want my job. Everyone wants to be a big league baseball player. Maybe not specifically a closer, but I don't want them to taste any bit of what I do. I don't want you knowing it's like.
SI: So that lead-off-runner on second. What's your mentality when he does score?
BW: Am I pissed? Yes. Do I legitimately want to damage something? I do. I get real angry. But then I realize there's nothing I can do about it. You can't change the past and even if I could, I wouldn't, because you don't learn anything from that. Every game I've blown, I've learned something about myself, about the situation about negative thoughts. More often than not, the guy scored because I was worried about him scoring. When a guy hits a home run what happens? You're thinking, "I'm gonna throw it right past the guy on the outside half." Until the last possible second when you say to yourself, "Unless I leave it in the middle of the plate because he's been known to -- CRAAAAAPPPPP!" And he jacks it of the park. Of course, he did. Because I was thinking about it!
SI: So don't think?
BW: Worry about yourself. It's like gambling. I don't like gambling. In blackjack, if you're rooting against the dealer, you're gonna lose. You can hope they bust or you can try and get 21. I don't like rooting against someone to fail. I'd rather defeat you myself.... I'm not worried about what you can do. I'm worried about what I can do.
SI: What role does money play?
BW: I know it's not about money. But you devote your life to something and never get paid until you become a professional; why not be a hundred million dollar guy? There are a lot guys with a boatload of talent. They can go one of two ways. They can work their ass off, be a $100 million guy and not worry about a thing. Or they can be okay and still make a decent amount of money But why not work your ass off and convince yourself you're the best. Even if you're not, tell yourself you are!
SI: The obligatory Machine question. When are we gonna see ...
BW: Let's get something straight: The Machine doesn't have friends. I'm not friends with the guy. He lives by his own rules. He travels by night. I'm not his boss. He popped in one day during a Chris Rose interview and everyone seems to think we're friends, like we run together. It's a figment of your imagination. But he's very real.
SI: Who's your best friend on the team?
BW: As far as a team goes, I feel like it's impossible to walk into a clubhouse and not have some interaction with everyone -- including the clubbies, the coaches. How do you walk by a guy without saying hello? It happens. A lot of guys -- they're focused on their own thing. Honestly on our team, everyone is friends with each other.
SI: You have any enemies?
BW: I have no reason to dislike anyone unless they disrespect my country, my family, or my maker. Otherwise make fun of me all you want.
SI: You feel like with all this attention you're a marked man?
BW: You might think that with this personality, I'm some bum starving for attention. But I'm actually really good at baseball. Regardless of antics there's a serious skill that I possess. I happen to be really good, near the top in a lot of categories. But I get it. Because of the personality, that gets thrown out the window and the focus is on the other stuff. I was always told: Act how you want, but you better back it up. If you go to the basketball courts and talk to your friends about how you're ridiculous beyond the arc and can drain threes, well, show me. Or else you're going to get made fun of and no one's gonna pick you to be on their team. And if you're not draining threes that day, your rebounds better be sick! You better be doing something sweet. Back it up.
SI: So what do you want out of this?
BW: It's gonna sound simplistic.
SI: You earned one cliché. Go nuts.
BW: All I want is to be a good teammate and be known as a hard worker and that's it. "Oh, he could a throw a mean fastball." Guess what? A lot of guys can throw a mean fastball -- strikeouts have been done before. Winning the World Series? Great, but there's one every year, nothing new. But how was he as a guy in the clubhouse? Did he prepare himself? Work out well? At the end of my career, if that can be said, I've done my job.