The Dodgers were packing for St. Louis and what would be, as it turned out, their final baseball game of 2013. Brian Wilson had thrown a scoreless inning that afternoon, in Game 5 of the NLCS, his sixth scoreless inning of the postseason. He was filling a duffel bag with items from his locker. He paused and held up an 8-by-11 photo. Its colors had softened. Traces of Scotch tape remains crisscrossed at the corners.
"This," he said, "is definitely going."
He laid it atop his road grays. The photo showed a young boy, maybe 5 years old, maybe older. The room behind him appeared decorated for Christmas. His clothes looked festive like that, too. His hair was cut short and parted neatly. He smiled, as if gifts were coming or had come already. Either way, this was a very happy little boy.
"That you?" he was asked.
"Your living room in Londonderry [N.H.]?"
"Nope," he said. "This was in Massachusetts. Lived there for a while."
Those who saw the photo of a young, tidy, unpainted Brian Wilson were required to spend the following hours reconciling that kid with, well, this Brian Wilson. Which maybe was why Wilson carried it around, to remind folks that all this – the beard, the hair, the tattoos, the stuff – is just a beard and hair and tattoos and stuff. It's not who he is, necessarily, but how he chooses to appear. The photo, and the way he felt about the photo, were charming. It made him smile. Who knows what it had been taped to? A refrigerator? A frame? A page in a photo album?
Now it rides with Brian Wilson.
And now we reconcile this Brian Wilson – career-long San Francisco Giant until he was for three months a Los Angeles Dodger – with free agency, and seven (possibly eight) suitors, and a seemingly seamless return from his second elbow reconstruction surgery, and a chance to perhaps return to San Francisco, and how the baseball world views him today. In a market thick with closers or pitchers who have closed – Joe Nathan, Grant Balfour, Fernando Rodney, Joaquin Benoit, Chris Perez – could it be that Wilson is again the best bet among them?
Younger than Nathan, less combustible than Balfour, more reliable than Rodney, more experienced than Benoit, more everything than Perez, Wilson has generated interest from the Giants, Dodgers, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Colorado Rockies, Seattle Mariners and Boston Red Sox. The Cincinnati Reds might be in, depending on the role they envision for Aroldis Chapman. Wilson would prefer to close, but will take each situation as it comes, so setting up for, say, Kenley Jansen in Los Angeles or Koji Uehara in Boston is a possibility. Also, the Giants would have Wilson back, even after the late-season dust-up between Wilson and team president Larry Baer, as neither seem compelled to carry a grudge.
The market would seem to bear for closers a two- or three-year contract for $10 million or more per season. As it relates to Wilson, who did not pitch for more than a year after Tommy John II, it appears many teams were satisfied his late-season work with the Dodgers accurately reflected his health. First, his velocity picked up – into the mid-90s – as September and October progressed. Then, in his 19 2/3 innings – regular and postseason – Wilson allowed 12 hits, one run and six walks while striking out 21. His stuff was mostly back, as was the movement/bite on his cutter and slider, as were a lot of weak swings.
The New York Yankees thought so, too, and considered Wilson as a possible replacement for Mariano Rivera. They were told Wilson would not shave his beard, however, and the Yankees, of course, have a policy against such wayward and unbecoming facial hair. Before you ask if Wilson was not being too stubborn about his signature growth, consider that every man must stand for something. In this case, he stands in order to keep his beard from sweeping on the floor.
The Yankees will go elsewhere, or have David Robertson close their games, but not Wilson, and not because he's a risk on the mound, but because he will not clip his beard. Maybe Wilson should have just showed them the old picture. He's still that guy, in there somewhere.