Brian Wilson, the bearded, All-Star closer for the San Francisco Giants’ pitching prowess is to be admired. In 2010 (his last full season) he lead the league in saves, finished 7th in Cy Young Award voting, and 13th in the MVP race. He also lead his team to a World Series victory.
In 2011 his season was cut short due to an elbow injury. 2012 seemed promising as he participated in Spring Training, but after only two games he was forced to have Tommy John surgery.
While fans mourned the loss of Wilson, another bearded reliever took the lead- Sergio Romo. While the Giants maintained a quasi-closer by committee role at first, Romo eventually seemed to best Casilla and the other contenders for the position. Now, with Romo at the back of the bullpen, and Wilson arbitration eligible, the question becomes where will Wilson end up.
To my mind, the answer is simple. The Giants should keep Wilson, allow him to recover, and keep him in the bullpen. Wilson’s leadership qualities and quirkiness have helped define the 2010 and 2012 World Series Champions San Francisco Giants.
But, more important than his pitching statistics or his leadership ability, is Brian Wilson’s ability to market himself, and his franchise.
Wilson is outlandish, his off the field antics often overwhelm his on field performance, and yet it is somehow not distracting from the Giants’ organization. Over the past few years Wilson has pulled the following stunts- The Machine on Chris Rose’s The Cheap Seats, the speedo tuxedo at the 2011 ESPYs, the Sasquatch at the 2012 ESPYS, driving around San Francisco on a motorized scooter, Uncaged with Sasquatch, his Nike shoes, and countless others. Wilson has also stared in a number of commercials- Taco Bell, MLB2K11, NBA2K12, SportsCenter, and that isn’t all of them. Wilson also does advertising for Nike. In short, wherever Wilson is, San Francisco fans, and MLB fans alike are watching- he is a marketing machine.
Why, then, would you propose sending Wilson to the ONE PLACE in the league where these antics will be frowned upon and entirely shut down- the Yankees? Yes, the Yakees who made Johnny Damon shave his beard. The Yankees have a storied history of not allowing facial hair on the team. And their manager, Joe Girardi doesn’t like it either.
Can you really trade a player affectionately nicknamed, The Beard, to a team that doesn’t allow beards? Isn’t this the opposite of every basic marketing principle? Wilson, and his antics, are incongruent with the Yankees brand- so don’t try to mesh the two.
So Giants, if you do decide to trade Wilson, please do yourself a favor and market him for what he is, and excellent closer, coming back from Tommy John surgery who is a risk, but focus on the additional upside of his marketing value. Wilson will fill seats- if he is playing or not.
There are 28 clubs outside of the Giants and the Yankees. So send him somewhere we can keep the beard.
In the November 1977 issue of “Yale Alumni Magazine and Journal”, Bart Giamatti opined that baseball “is designed to break your heart” (Giamatti). It is. And it does.
Giamatti was speaking about the schedule of baseball as he continued “as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone” (Giamatti, 1977). A lot has changed since 1977, and the fall is now full with the Arizona Fall League and the Hot Stove Season. Yes, not watching the standings for you favorite team is difficult, and so is knowing that your team probably fell short of your spring training expectations. But, in 2012, baseball breaks your heart in a much different way than it did in 1977.
The majority of what has changed can likely be linked to Free Agency. In November 1977 the Yankees had just become the first team to truly benefit from Free Agency (and the excellent managerial skills of Billy Martin), and fans hadn’t truly seen how the market can change a team. In 2012, with a new collective bargaining agreement changing the rules of free agency and team options yet again, fans are acutely aware of how every idiosyncrasy can impact their team.
And, on November 2, 2012, Angels’ fans specifically are aware that the familiar face we’ve seen smiling in the outfield since 2008 is likely moving to a new city. To play for new fans. To found a new ToriiTown. Today, baseball is breaking the hearts of Angels’ fans.
This must be how Twins’ fans felt in 2007.
My Dad and I started watching baseball together religiously in the early 2000’s. On what feels like a nightly basis we would ask each other the following question: “If you could have anyone in the league on the Angels, who would it be?” Our answers never changed. This game never got old.
My Dad, without fail, would say Torii Hunter. He loved his defense prowess. In 2008, when Hunter came to the Angels I couldn’t have been happier for him. And, I too learned to look forward o Torii’s presence on the field, and his always smiling face during interviews.
I would always say Mark Teixeira. I loved the idea of getting a switch hitter in the lineup. Halfway through the 2008 season the Angels traded away Casey Kotchman and got Mark Teixeira from the Braves in return.
For half of 2008 my Dad and I couldn’t have been happier, seeing the two players we wanted most in the league on our team. Our dreams, despite a first round playoff loss, had come true.
Teixeira left after 2008, but Torii stayed and became a favorite of mine as well. Torii’s play and leadership has given my Dad and I countless memories to share forever. In 2010 I had the opportunity to interview Torii for Angelswin.com. Torii Hunter has played a large role in my development as a baseball fan, and researcher (as well as my fantasy team).
So finding out today that the Angels had not made Hunter an offer by the deadline broke my heart. Yes, I know these things are to be expected, after all in 2012 this is how the game “is designed to break your heart” (Giamatti, 1977).
But even when you know something is coming, it often doesn’t make it any easier.
Thank you Torii, for all the memories. Know, wherever you go, my Dad and I will still be watching!
Giamatti, A.B. (1977). The green fields of the mind. Yale Alumni Magazine and Yearbook.
The World Series wrapped up last night, which leaves baseball fans with one thing to look forward to in November- awards. The National League MVP Award has all but been handed over to Giants’ catcher Buster Posey, but there is still much debate around who deserves to win in the American League: Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout.
There are cases to be made for both Cabrera and Trout. The most glaringly obvious case for Cabrera is his Triple Crown (the first since 1967). For Trout, it is his WAR (Wins Above Replacement). As evidenced by Felix Hernandez’ 2010 Cy Young Award (a season in which he “only” won 13 games), the voters are making a decided move away from counting stats (such as wins) and towards more advanced metrics.
Over the past month, talking heads and fans alike have seemingly submitted to the “Cabrera won the triple crown, therefore he will win the MVP” argument. This argument, however, is historically inaccurate.
The Batting Triple Crown has been won 17 times in Major League Baseball history. Since 1931, the year the MVP award as it is known today (ie voted on by the Writer’s Association) came about, the Triple Crown has been won ten times.
Jimmie Foxx and Chuck Klein both brought home Triple Crowns in their respective leagues in 1933. While both men were MVPs in 1932, only Foxx repeated in 1933. Klein lost the award to Carl Hubbell who posted an impressive 23 wins. While WAR as we know it wasn’t a calculated statistic in 1933, it is interesting to note that Hubbell did have a higher WAR than Klein, and in fact, had the highest WAR of any of the 1933 National League MVP vote getters. While Foxx won the MVP award, he also had an impressive WAR of 9 that season.
Lou Gehrig earned the Triple Crown in 1934. Despite this, and an impressive WAR of 10.1 (the highest of any vote getters), he did not go on to win the MVP. In fact, he only came in fifth place in voting that season. The Triple Crown was won again shortly thereafter, by Joe Medwick in 1937. Medwick also boasted a vote receiver’s best 8.1 WAR, and went on to win the MVP Award.
The next two Triple Crowns were won by Ted Williams in 1942 and 1947. Ted Williams was a two time MVP. However, neither of Williams’ MVP seasons were in years he won the Triple Crown. Instead, in ’42 and ’47 Williams finished second in MVP voting. The 1942 award went to Joe Gordon, and the 1947 award went to DiMaggio, despite Williams besting them both in WAR.
In 1956 switch hitter Mickey Mantle won the Triple Crown, posted an impressive 11 WAR, and was voted MVP of the American League. Similarly, in 1966 Frank Robinson won the Triple Crown, had a 7.3 WAR (the best of all NL vote recipients that year), and won the National League MVP award.
Prior to this season, Carl Yastrzemski’s 1967 performance was the most recent. And Yastrzemski did go on to win the MVP award that year (along with a Gold Glove). Yastrzemski,much like Mantle and Robinson before him boasted a 12 WAR that season, 5.6 games higher than any other American League vote recipient that year.
In the nine times prior to 2012 that the Triple Crown was won since 1931, only five players have gone on to win the MVP award. Perhaps more importantly for this argument, all five of those players also posted the highest WAR of the vote getters in their league. Although winning the Triple Crown and besting your competition in WAR does not guarantee one an MVP award as evidenced by Williams’ campaigns. As mentioned previously, WAR is a new stat, however, there may be more to winning the MVP in a Triple Crown year than meets the eye- especially in an era where the voters are acutely aware of this statistic.
While Cabrera’s season was impressive, it does not make him a sure fire MVP. Especially because his 6.9 WAR is pale in comparison to Trout’s 10.7.
Of the 9 previous Triple Crown winners being examined, only Mantle and Yaz’ teams went on to the postseason (although, it must be noted that Cabrera is the first Triple Crown winner since the introduction of the Championship Series, Division Series, or Wild Card). While Cabrera’s team did go to the playoffs, and made it to the World Series, his story is not analogous to Mantle’s or Yaz’ as he didn’t beat his competition’s WAR.
Cabrera is a fine MVP candidate, however is significantly lower WAR will likely hurt him when it comes to the Writers’ votes. At the end of the day, winning the Triple Crown, however novel an accomplishment it may be, does not guarantee an MVP award. And there is historical precedent to prove it.
All statistics can be found at baseball-reference, as of October 29, 2012.
I have long opined that 1961 was a fantastic year, my Dad was born, Mantle and Maris had their infamous home run race, and Major League Baseball expanded. The 1961 expansion added two ML clubs, the Angels and the Twins.
Angels’ history, from their time in the Pacific Coast League forward, has long been a passion of mine. I have spent countless hours at Angels’ Stadium absorbing everything the quintessentially suburban stadium has to offer. Angels’ stadium has been, for some time now, my home away from home.
Until this past month, however, I had never had the opportunity to explore the home of the Angels’ expansion counterpart, the Minnesota Twins. While the Twins’ have changed playing fields three times since their Major League debut I can honestly say that they have done an unparalleled job of embracing this history in their new home, Target Field.
Yes, the Yankees have Monument Park. Yes, the Red Sox have Fenway and the Cubs have Wrigley. But it seems that no team has dedicated as much time and effort to embracing the new urban feel of baseball in the 2000’s while simultaneously chronicling the history of the team, its minor league predecessors, and former homes as the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.
While in Minneapolis for the Society for American Baseball Research’s (SABR) forty-second annual convention I had the opportunity to take two tours of Target Field and attend two ballgames. The first tour was with a professor named Kristen, the second with Twins’ team curator Clyde Doepner. Clyde’s mere presence at the field is a testament to the team’s dedication to preserving their history as he is the only full time curator employed by any of the MLB teams. Both games were against the Royals during a four game, three-day series.
During my time at Target Field I was given the pleasure of seeing a number of different seating locations, and it does not seem that there is a bad line of sight in the house (although the Budweiser Patio doesn’t provide a full view of left field). Particularly impressive was the insight to allow for standing room only tickets- and provide a comfortable place for individuals with such tickets to stand. Behind the last row of seats in the second deck is a waist high bar area for those who choose to stand to place drinks and food while they absorb the beauty of the ballpark and take in the game.
The Twins have installed multiple LED boards, and their communications and social media teams use them extremely effectively. In addition to the scoreboard, which provides access to the line-up throughout the game (instead of in between batters like most parks), the Twins have a board above the bullpen for fans to keep track of pitching statistics. The Twins encourage fan engagement throughout the game with a Tweet Board as well, displaying fan Tweets directed to @Twins. Of all the boards at Target Field, the one that best promotes fan bonding with the team is a tall, thin board in right field. The board first flashes a photo of the Twin coming up to bat, and then displays the Twin with his first name. In using the first name of the player, as opposed to his last, the Twins market their players as people fans can relate to.
The Twins have found many unique ways to honor the history of their team (I think I may now know more about the Twins’ franchise than any other).
Statues of Twins’ heroes, or more accurately, baseball heroes, surround the exterior of the ballpark. Fans have the opportunity to pose with Rod Carew, Kirby Puckett, and, of course, Harmon Killebrew. A larger than life baseball glove sits in the spacious courtyard marking the distance of Harmon Killebrew’s longest home run (akin to the Red Chair at Fenway).
Fences surrounding Target Field are lined with pennants commemorating every team, starting with 1961 (you can, of course, find pennants’ with Billy Martin’s name on them). Members of the Twins’ Hall of Fame are commemorated as well.
Inside the gates fans have the opportunity to see the architect’s mock-up of Target Field, a beautiful display of “firsts” at Target Field (including the first home run hit at Target Field and a collection of items from the first game). There is a restaurant dedicated to the history of the Twins’ old Metropolitan Stadium, and atriums dedicated to Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett. There are display cases commemorating the history of Harmon Killebrew’s life and career, and quotes attributed to him adorn pillars throughout the exclusive second level club. Every display case is pristinely maintained to tell the story of the Twins.
There is a very interesting display of rookie cards on the suite level. The Twins have blow-up reproductions of Topps’ rookie cards of prominent players lining the left hand wall. The Twins have found an innovative way to showcase baseball, and baseball card history.
The second game I attended was the evening game of a double header at Target Field, and a roll back the clock night against the Royals. The Twins used this opportunity to educate their fans about their Minnesota Minor League predecessor, the Minneapolis Millers, who played at Nicollet Park (Ted Williams and Willie Mays both made stops here). Fun facts about the Millers were shown on the screen, giving the fans an opportunity to learn about the players who used to dawn the uniforms they were seeing on the field.
At Target Field, the history of the game, the city, the players, the team, the fans, and the ballparks are all revered- as they should be. The Twins have over fifty years of history, and they show this off in an aesthetically pleasing, educational, and fun way.
It is, in my opinion, impossible not to be thoroughly impressed with what the Twins have done at Target Field. From their use of scoreboards and space (Target Field is a twelve acre space built on an eight acre plot), to their environmentally friendly initiatives, to the beautiful display of history, to the warm and friendly family oriented approach of every member of the organization, the Twins have exceeded the expectation set throughout the league, and throughout the sports industry.
As an aside, if you have the opportunity to take a tour of Target Field (even if you have been there for a game) I highly recommend it. The tours are unparalleled in their depth- I took two and would love to take another.
My junior year English teacher, Mr. Gordon, had one strict policy- whenever a paper was returned we were required to have a “cooling off” period before we approached him about it. Regardless of whether our feedback was positive or negative he wanted us to think about what he had written, the work we had put into the original paper, and try to understand the grade we had received before we discussed it with him.
As the Angels introduce CJ Wilson and Albert Pujols, and I am two days removed from the Hot Stove that is the Winter Meetings, I think my cooling off period is over.
Firstly, the real deficits that the Angels faced entering the offseason were at third, catcher, and in the bullpen.
Dipoto’s first move- to rid the team of starting catcher Jeff Mathis- said less about the organization’s thoughts on Mathis and new catcher Chris Iannetta, and more about the transition throughout the club. It seems that Moreno, in firing Reagins and promoting Dipoto to General Manager, moved the baseball operations decisions from on the field to in the front office. To expand, Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia no longer holds the reigns on player decisions. For some reason or another, in the 2010 offseason the Angels thought it was a good idea to trade arguably the most productive offensive player on the team, Mike Napoli, for Vernon Wells. Needless to say this deal ended up working out great for Napoli’s ultimate suitors- the Texas Rangers, as they made their second World Series- and not so well for the Angels as Wells continually struggled at the plate.
The Napoli-Wells deal was questioned by a number of sources- how could someone so productive be traded for someone so… past their prime. The answer is likely because Scioscia wanted to play Mathis at catcher instead of Napoli. Others could argue it was because the team had hoped that brining up 2006 first-round draft pick Hank Conger would be fruitful and carrying three catchers (with Bobby Wilson also in the wings) would have been obnoxious. But, as a former catcher, Scioscia has been known to carry three catchers at a time. While Napoli was clearly better offensively, Mathis worked well with Weaver. And, to be fair, the Angels’ starting pitching in 2010, primarily in Haren and Weaver was effective. Mathis was not the right choice, and with Scioscia in the middle of a long contract, it may have been the end of Reagins.
Righting the Mathis wrong was the first step Dipoto took in winning over Halo fans this off-season. Ianetta will undoubtedly improve the team’s OBP, and will hopefully help bring a cluster of near 20 game winners into their prime.
Dipoto did, to some extent, address the bullpen issues the Angels faced last season as he signed LaTroy Hawkins. Hawkins has been with more than a handful of clubs since his 1995 Major League debut. His WHIP and ERA are not particularly impressive, but a veteran pitcher in the bullpen is something the Angels needed to acquire this off-season as All Star closer Jordan Walden enters his second full year in the Majors.
While Angel fans were already happy with Dipoto’s decision to get rid of Mathis, I doubt any of them could have anticipated what was next. As the Winter Meetings approached the eleventh hour, Dipoto managed to sign the two biggest free agents on the market.
The Albert Pujols deal, while impressive, unfortunately does not address the larger infield needs the Angels have. The Angels were in need, desperate need, to get a third baseman. The quasi-platoon situation at third through which Macier Izturis emerged as the team’s starter simply won’t cut it in the ultra competitive American League (which is not to imply that the American League West is highly competitive, because it isn’t). With Mark Trumbo, who finished second in Rookie of the Year voting, the Angels didn’t really need a second player to man first. They certainly did not need a 31 year old first basemen (albeit one of the most naturally gifted batters of all time) to sign a 10 year deal with them.
While Pujols will undoubtedly bring in fans (though the Angels have consistently met the three million mark over the past several seasons) over the course of the next five years, that still leaves five years on his contract. Five years during which fickle and fair-weather Southern California fans will likely forget their brief excitement on December 8, 2011, or Opening Day 2012. Even if Pujols brings the team a championship in 2012, many fans will forget this like they have forgotten Glaus, Spiezio, Kennedy, Eckstein and the like, by 2022 when Pujols will undoubtedly be relegated to a DH position, and will no longer hold the same allure over them. Yet, the teams’ payroll will still be wrapped up in someone who was great 10 years ago.
What Pujols doesn’t realize is that the great reception he received in Anaheim at his press conference today is not typical of Angels’ fans. Pujols has left one of the most storied franchises in baseball history, and come to a 1961 expansion team who has won half the total rings Pujols has in its entire existence. Hopefully the buzz around Pujols will encourage fans to pay more attention at games, to engage in statistical research, to care about the past, present, and future of the team, but it seems that in their excitement they have shown how present minded they are.
Dipoto’s final trick at the end of the Meetings was to sign CJ Wilson. The Angels got Wilson at a hometown discount rate (or perhaps a Pujols discount rate). The Wilson signing is the best of all the work done by the Angels at this year’s meetings for a number of reasons. Firstly, in signing Wilson, the Angels guaranteed that their division rival Rangers lost a 16 game winner. The Rangers will now be forced to find another ace to keep their games close. Additionally, in creating a rotation with a strong front three in Weaver, Haren and Wilson the Angels have become one of the most dominate pitching staffs in the Majors (along with the Phillies and Giants). Moreover, they have ensured that the bullpen will have additional rest as these starters tend to go deep in games (Haren himself was forced to pitch in relief last season in an early April game against the Blue Jays).
While the Angels’ new TV deal is rumored to be worth approximately three billion dollars, the question still must be asked: How will these deals impact the Fan Cost Index (FCI)?
The Angels in recent years have taken to bringing up players through their farm system, not to signing Free Agents. The payroll the Angels have added will probably move the team out of the cellar in FCI rankings. And no, the Pujols jerseys will not help cover the difference as MLB’s revenue sharing procedures manipulate how much teams profit from merchandise expenditures.
If nothing else, Dipoto has shown that the Angels are transitioning into a role of movers and shakers. That they will no longer sit on the sidelines and allow top notch free agents to go elsewhere. Hopefully, fans recognize this sharp juxtaposition and appreciate the managements apparent commitment to winning, as well as Pujols in his prime.
Everyone is abuzz about last night’s crazy ending, and with good reason as the Braves and Red Sox showcased the two worst collapses in the history of the game, IN ONE NIGHT.
As I sat and watched Papelbon take his time getting the first two outs I could tell something wasn’t right. As he handed the winning run, the cherry on the monumental collapse that was the 2011 Red Sox season, I couldn’t help but let my jaw drop.
Papelbon, who had already expressed a strong desire to gauge his worth on the open market, to drive the price of the closer up, to leave Boston, had outstayed his welcome by one game. But the Red Sox still had hope.
Even with their nine game fall, the widest margin ever in September, a brand new record replacing the short-standing 8.5 games previously held by the… 2011 Braves… the Red Sox faithful and the team with the second highest payroll in all of Major League Baseball still had hope.
Theo Epstein and the rest of the Red Sox front office had spent John Henry’s money on a team with one purpose. Not to rebuild. Not to win the division. Not to win the league championship. To win the World Series.
Epstein managed to lure Carl Crawford and Adrain Gonzalez, the two biggest names in the 2011 free agent class to the Red Sox. Fans were all but guaranteed their third championship since 2004.
As I realized I couldn’t view the Yankees-Rays’ game on television I rushed to the nearest radio, which happened to be in my car. I frantically searched for a frequency with sports talk that wasn’t about the Red Sox, but instead about the Rays. After going through every sports station imaginable I finally heard “Evan Longoria hit a home run to tie the game.” Not since 2004, when the Red Sox came back from a three game deficit, had I been so shocked.
The Rays. The Rays with the second worst attendance in Major League Baseball. The Rays with the third smallest payroll in the league. The Rays would play spoiler to the Red Sox. The Rays would claim the American League Wild Card.
The Rays have proved just what Jonah Keri preached in “The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Team from Worst to First“, that working 2% harder than everyone else will ultimately get you where you want to be. That and working with what is possibly the most underrated front office in all of Major League Baseball, along with a manger who truly understands the inner workings of his young team.
This will be the third time in four years the Rays have made it to the playoffs. Each time with a payroll significantly less than that of the Red Sox or Yankees.
The question that begs to be asked: How does a team with such a small payroll, a lack of team history, and such low attendance numbers manage to stay in the hunt?
The answer was alluded to above, the brain trust that is Andrew Friedman, Stu Sternberg, and Matthew Silverman (ie the Rays’ front office). In the time since Sternberg purchased the team from his predecessor Vince Naimoli the Rays have done a complete 180-degree turn and made themselves into a truly competitive team.
The Rays have taken to drafting well. With a commitment to cutting payroll, the best way for the Rays to ensure a positive future is through what Keri defines as “baseball arbitrage”, or trading something for a positive value. Trades for future value ensure that the Rays have just that, a future. Instead of relying on veteran presences, the Rays have come to rely on guys like Evan Longoria who has, according to Fangraphs.com, the most team friendly contract in all of Major League Baseball. And when Longoria was hurt Matt Joyce and others learned to step-up. With the most picks in the first round of the draft ever, the Rays set themselves up for years to come in 2011.
Yes 2011 Red Sox, injuries are a reason good teams don’t make the playoffs, but they are not the only reason. A Team with seemingly less talent (though this may only be because their talent is not showcased in the media in the same way as larger markets), whose star player was injured for 29 games this season, managed to beat the Red Sox to the Wild Card. Longoria still boasted a 6.3 WAR (Wins Above Replacement Player) despite his injury (for quick reference, anything above a 5 WAR is considered a All-Star caliber). Adrian Gonzalez, (who allegedly stated in an interview that “any team that doesn’t make the playoffs and is supposed to, it’s because of injuries” ) perhaps you should take a look at your new rivals down south and take note. Injuries are not the only reason good teams miss the playoffs. Good teams miss the playoffs because even good teams can play terribly in September.
And that is the beauty, and heartbreak, of Major League Baseball.
This year’s American League Wild Card race does present interesting questions, however. Namely about the restructuring of the leagues to create more equal divisions. The Red Sox or Rays (injuries or not) would have likely won either of the other divisions, instead of being forced to compete on the last day of the season. No amount of revenue sharing can ever equal out the competitive imbalance in payrolls.
And potentially punishing a team like the Rays, who can compete against teams like the Yankees and Red Sox with a fraction of the payroll simply for geographic reasons is uncalled for. Geographic rivalries can be fun, but in all honesty it is 2011 and virtual tourism (see watching a game on TV or on MLB.tv) is almost as popular as visiting a stadium itself. There is not need for long bus trips from city to city (unless you are the Durham Bulls), teams have charter jets.
Perhaps it is time to restructure the leagues. To create a competitive balance.
But, then again, if that were the case we wouldn’t have had the most memorable day 162 any of us will ever see.
Dear Brian Wilson,
On the eve of one of the saddest days of the year, the last day of the Major League Baseball Season, I wanted to take the time to thank you.
As a twenty-three year old baseball fan I spent the majority of my formative baseball years adoring players who, during the majority of my (albeit few) adult years were not inducted into the Hall of Fame, but rather spent their time sitting in front of congress and being persecuted in the court of public opinion. Yes, as a twenty-three year old baseball fan the majority of my baseball years have been marred with asterisks and fallen heroes.
There were guys who were all but certainly using steroids, there were guys who were never suspected, and there were guys who I just couldn’t bring myself to believe could have tarnished the game (perhaps more appropriately, tarnished my pure image of the game). Those in the last category fell the hardest. Those in the last category broke my heart.
As a fan of pitchers, pitching duels, pitching idiosyncrasies, pitching records, I couldn’t bring myself to believe that Roger Clemens had used steroids. These accusations, the idea that everything I had cherished for years might somehow be false, or tainted caused me to question the validity of the only thing I had ever truly loved; the game of baseball. When it was revealed that A-Rod, a player I had never suspected, and always defended, had used steroids my heart could no longer take it. When I realized that the perfect embodiment of the so-called “American Dream,” the idea of a level playing field, of hard work, and pulling oneself up by the bootstraps had failed, I became disenchanted with game.
More importantly, when I turned on a game and was bombarded with news of who was found to be in this report. Who was now being deposed. Who may or may not have taken steroids. When I could no longer listen to a game or news broadcast to learn the updated stats of my favorite players, I became disenchanted.
This isn’t to say I didn’t love baseball, but rather that baseball had broken my heart in a way no boy ever could. But still, as someone still so in love (an unrequited love) I remained friends with baseball. Always there to support it, but hurting inside knowing that everything I had ever thought to be true was false. Realizing that the numbers and statistics I had adoringly memorized as fact were somehow fiction.
Last season as you, Brian, decided to grow out your beard, as your Giants made an improbable run to the World Series championed by Weez and your fastball, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the game again. The 2010 Giants embodied baseball, 25 guys working together on a level playing field to accomplish a goal, and not letting anything in the way of that goal.
But, perhaps more than the team, more than the championship, more than anything, it is your carefree, passionate, and often hilarious persona that has reconnected myself (and many others) with the game I grew up loving. Despite a few stints on the disabled list, through a series of interviews, commercials, outstanding pitching performances, and the maintenance of Weez, you have refocused baseball on baseball and fun (and away from steroids and negativity).
The Sports Pickle ran an article earlier this year entitled “Brian Wilson’s Beard Apparently MLB’s Entire 2011 Marketing Campaign”, and with good reason- The Beard was in a plethora of commercials. The Beard, The Machine, whatever else you want to throw at us remind us that baseball is a game to be enjoyed on and off the field.
This season I went to 17 regular season games and 3 spring training games. I saw you in your spring training debut, and on Brian Wilson Jersey day against the Phillies in August as you closed out a game for Lincecum. As you warmed up in the Giants’ bullpen, your face, beard and pitching highlights were displayed on the big screen while the crowd went wild. An otherwise stressful outing with playoff implications was turned into a joyous event as the AT&T faithful were assured you would bring home the win.
A Giants’ fan or not, it is impossible not to love what you have done for the game of baseball over the past year. Fans of every team must agree that the positive exposure you have given the game in a post steroid era (especially after the year of the pitcher) is incredible for the game as a whole. You have earned yourself a rare place in the baseball history books, one based not only on stats or rings, but overall impact on baseball.
Thank you, Brian Wilson, for The Machine, The Beard, The Speedo Tuxedo, the impressive pitching, the commercials, the flair, and the passionate, positive attitude. Thank you for reminding me what baseball is about.
I’m already counting down the days to next season, I’ll be wearing my “Fear the Beard” shirt, as long as you continue to inspire.
P.S. I would love to see Weez break another bat in the dugout while you wear your Marty McFly Nikes.