Few people are known for one, and only one, defining characteristic. But former San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson is one of those people. Let’s face it, you don’t remember how hard Wilson threw or if he had a particularly good breaking pitch. You remember Wilson because he was briefly one of the most dominant closers in baseball and because he had one impressive beard.
For the record, Wilson only threw his fastball about 92-95, which doesn’t really stand out compared to some of the other closers in the game today. He also threw a number of different off-speed pitches, even experimenting with knuckleballs and screwballs at times. But none of them were elite pitches compared to his colleagues. Nevertheless, there was a period from 2008 to 2011 when he was one of the best closers in the game.
“This is a man’s sport. You can’t go in there with doubts. You can’t accept failure, and you certainly can’t go into a situation thinking, ‘Oh, gosh, what’s going to happen?’ You make what’s going to happen. … This game isn’t for negative emotions, or being scared.”
You could say that the key to Wilson’s success was his beard. The beard was thick, full, and dark after years of growth. At 6’1”, Wilson was not an intimidating figure on the found on his own, but he was with his beard. The beard gave him the confidence he needed to attack big league hitters with reckless abandon and become an elite closer, even recording the final out of the 2010 World Series.
In fact, it was during San Francisco’s World Series run in 2010 that the myth and lore of Wilson’s beard began to grow. He vowed not to shave until the season was over, but only if the Giants came up short. Many fans started to grow beards of their own during the team’s postseason run to replicate Wilson. They also adopted the mantra, “Fear the Beard.”
“Let’s be honest here it’s just doing what it wants and it…it just does what it wants.
Brian Wilson, describing his beard
The beard was something Wilson also took seriously, as he should have. He once refused to shave even after being offered $1 million to do so. When he was a free agent in 2013, he eliminated the Yankees as a possibility because he was unwilling to comply with the team’s no facial hair policy. Wilson also denied any and all allegations that he dyed his beard in order to keep it so dark and intimidating. All of this shows that he understood how important his beard was to his success.
In many ways, Wilson was the perfect player to have such a distinct feature. His unique beard matched his rather eccentric personality. In addition to his extravagant beard, Wilson frequently sported a mohawk and had a memorable self-congratulatory routine every time he recorded the final out of a game. The three-time all-star was also not shy when it came to being candid or goofy with the media.
Alas, all good things must come to an end. When Wilson attempted a comeback as a knuckleballer in 2017, he did it sans beard. His comeback has not gone well, and it’s obviously not a coincidence that he’s attempted it without the beard. Sadly, it’s likely that we’ve seen the last of Wilson and his amazing beard. But at least we have the memories of what was the greatest beard in baseball history.