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L. Jon Wertheim
February 07, 2011
Brian Wilson knows he might seem a little out there. But behind his frighteningly black beard, the Giants' postseason hero is a deep thinker—and one of the game's best closers
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February 07, 2011

Three Quarters Nuts

Brian Wilson knows he might seem a little out there. But behind his frighteningly black beard, the Giants' postseason hero is a deep thinker—and one of the game's best closers

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And so it goes. When the player some think of as the craziest man in baseball speaks, you don't shake your head in bewilderment; you nod in agreement. Wilson is the anti-Spaceman. If he weren't wearing a Mohawk cap and a black nest on his face, he could be giving these disquisitions for a corporate audience.

The most convincing proof that Wilson is less of a nutbag than he seems is his relationships with his teammates. Consider the sports eccentrics in recent years—Artest, T.O., Gilbert Arenas. While they've been colorful, they've also been disruptive. Yet go stall to stall in the Giants' clubhouse, and you'll hear teammates call Wilson "a good guy" or "a great dude" or "a leader." "What you see is what you get with that guy," says reliever Javier Lopez. "He's 100 percent genuine."

"If you're around him and see how he interacts, how engaged he is with everyone, you don't think of him as so off-the-wall," says general manager Brian Sabean. "He's eccentric but a good guy at the same time."

The son of a military man appreciates the sanctity of the unit, a group working for a common goal. But there's also an element of pragmatism. "Of course I want to say hello to you," Wilson says. "You're my leftfielder. If we're on bad terms, you're not going to dive into the fence for me. But if you're like, That guy has my back, says hello, plays cards with me, you say to yourself, I'm going to see what this wall feels like."

So why exactly is Wilson cited for having "a peculiar personality" on his Wikipedia page? Well, appearances obviously matter. There's also, Wilson reckons, the sports culture in which different automatically equals odd. "Anything a tiny bit quirky and next thing you know [here he switches to newscaster voice], He was born to cavemen and descended from Zeus." Wilson also notes that the Bay Area "must be the social media capital of the world" and thus every stunt or appearance—say, his off-the-wall Jim Rome interview last September—inevitably goes viral.

Then he settles on this: "Maybe I don't care what people think. I'm not following the norm, nor am I trying to be different. You can't be completely nuts. You can only be, like, three quarters nuts."

The drawback to Wilson's persona: It has obscured his achievements on the mound. For all the fans who know him for his beard and his footwear, how many also realize that over the last three seasons no pitcher has saved more games? Or that he's pitched in two All-Star Games? Or that he tied the Giants' single-season record for saves last year, mowing down batters with a fastball in the mid-to-high 90s and a sharp slider?

Maybe most impressive, last October, when Wilsonmania was reaching its apex, he went about his business with a ruthless efficiency. During the postseason he did a convincing Mariano Rivera impersonation, allowing no earned runs and just five hits in 112/3 innings. "It's pretty simple," he says. "I can't afford to mess it up. If we're winning a game in the ninth inning of the playoffs, we'd better win. I'm not going to be able to look at my teammates and say, 'Sorry, guys.'"

It was no coincidence that Wilson was still going strong late into autumn. He is a fitness freak whose workouts combine discipline with a personal touch. At the Equinox gym down Sunset from the Soho House, Wilson spent a Friday night in December going through a brutal regimen of lifting, stretching, sit-ups and running. His goal is to build core strength while getting his heart rate to 140, same as when he pitches. Other gym-goers snicker as the bearded man in Oakley music glasses contorts his body and sweats spectacularly. Wilson doesn't care.

Has he considered a trainer? "I respect trainers, but they're not me. They're not in my body."

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