The last time anyone had seen Brian Wilson was on the back of a milk carton. But that didn't stop Giants fans from believing that they could see their eccentric, lumberjack closer on the mound before the season's end. With the way things have been going this year, the sight of Wilson crossing his arms after a save or beating around a Gatorade jug in the dugout would have been a welcome sight.
No one (myself included) had ever stopped thinking of Wilson as a Giant. He hadn't pitched for a year-and-a-half and there was never any serious talk about a possible return coming out of the front office. But there's an old adage here in San Francisco. "Once a Giant always a Giant." Except if you're AJ Pierzynski. And maybe Greg Papa.
Wilson, or "B-Weezy" as fans had come to label him, was the best closer who ever put on a San Francisco Giants uniform. That doesn't say much when you consider the names out there—Steve Bedrosian, Rob Nenn, Rod Beck and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named-but I'm going to do it anyway to make this useless point, Armando Benitez—but he did what no other pitcher could do in the prior 52-year history of the franchise: get the final out in the World Series. Now he joins Jeff Kent, Juan Uribe, Jason Schmidt and several other former Giants who left the organization to play for the detestable Dodgers.
Things were never dull with Wilson.
While his numbers with the Giants were great—171 saves and a 3.21 ERA—it was his off-field role as the team's cutup that made him a star. Some of it was funny, some of it was dumb. The beard. The Spandex suit. The inappropriate comments that made interviewers uncomfortable. All good entertainment, but the important thing was that it appeared to elevate his game.
Though he struggled through some inconsistencies as the full-time closer in 2009 (which likely cost his team a playoff spot), Wilson shined in the role the next season, saving 48 games as the Giants made their first trip to the postseason in seven years.
After blowing his first save opportunity in the playoffs, he went a perfect six-for-six the rest of the way and didn't allow a single earned run. During the World Series, Wilson converted a pair of perfect three-out finishes and threw the most memorable pitch in Giants history, a 3-2 fastball that missed the bat of Nelson Cruz to give San Francisco its first ever World Series title.
Giants fans had grown used to hyperventilating whenever Wilson was working a late-inning save during the regular season. That he was able to win the World Series without any drama was the ganache and powdered sugar atop a chocolate souffle.
A year later, Wilson was at it again, saving 36 games and becoming the first Giant to record a save in an All-Star Game. Unfortunately, his arm blew out and he joined about 375 other Giants who were already on the disabled list. The next season he pitched in two games before the fishing wire holding his arm together broke, causing him to miss the rest of the year.
This may be painful for a lot of Giants fans to hear, but the Dodgers are in a terrific situation. Wilson is only 31, and barring Tommy John surgeries and late night bar altercations, there's still a lot of mileage left in that arm. This isn't Pedro Martinez or Stephen Strasburg returning to the top of the rotation. Wilson isn't even aiming to throw 50 pitches in a single game. He's simply trying to get back into the groove of pitching one inning every other day.
Very few were better at doing that than him.
For a team whose payroll is approaching the gross national product, it's shocking that the best the Dodgers could do at closer is Kenley Jansen. But then again, they've been pining for a consistent ninth-inning specialist ever since Jonathan Broxton left for Kansas City two years ago. They also miss the jumbo box of Krispy Kremes Broxton brought with him to every pregame practice.
I can realistically picture Wilson saving games for L.A. before the end of the season. Even if things don't pan out, the Dodgers are only paying him $1 million to finish out the year. To put that in better perspective, Jeremy Affeldt and Santiago Casilla are both getting paid $5 million this season.
He may have two World Series rings, but Brian Sabean still does a lot of things wrong.
Refusing to give Brian Wilson a long-term deal isn't one of them.
Wilson wanted to be paid like a premiere closer following a season in which he barely played. He didn't believe in signing for anything significantly less than what he was getting because of his performance during the 2010 World Series run and everything he had put in with the Giants organization.
Sadly, baseball salaries are not based on your best season. You pay a player for how good you think he will be, and that speculation usually comes from the most recent sampling.
Last season, Wilson made $8.5 million watching games from his couch. I don't believe the Giants should ask for any of that money or make the assertion that he's obligated to take any deal they offer him.
But no relief pitcher is worth $8 million.
There isn't any position in sports more overrated than closer, and the success of Sergio Romo this season and during last year's championship run has made it easier for the Giants and their fans to move on.
Still, I'm going to miss the guy. I won't miss the sardonic barbs and the beard you could hide a gopher in, but I will miss the effort he gave every time he was standing on the mound late in a game, concentrating on nothing but getting those last outs.
This is a dream scenario for Wilson, playing for a city he lives in and a team that values his unique brand of panache. If he were playing for anyone else besides the Dodgers, I would be happy for him.
So instead of saying good luck, I'll conclude with "see you later Brian."
It's been fun.
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