Now that Brian Wilson’s officially out for the rest of the year — and probably longer — after his elbow gave way to the point that it’ll require Tommy John surgery, we have plenty of time to look back on the career thus far of one of the San Francisco Giants’ most eccentric players. He has also been an elite player, a guy who’s pitched in All-Star Games and clinched playoff series and a championship.
Wilson became a celebrity (forget the “cult” designation, even) because he threw extremely hard. Otherwise, he’d just be some weirdo with a puffy black bath mat on his face. Pitchers can’t throw 97+ mph for an extended period of time without suffering some form of pain, and Wilson’s mind disallowed him from admitting such.
Brian Wilson said he was pitching on “borrowed time” since the 2010 postseason, when he put 100% of his energy into his violent delivery for weeks on end. It’s a similar story to Robb Nen’s except Nen wasn’t able to clinch his second World Title and the Giants’ first since moving to San Francisco, and Nen’s arm was completely destroyed after the 2002 postseason.
According to Wilson, we’re left to assume he pitched in pain during the entirety of 2011, until the Giants finally put him on forced arm-rest during most of the last six weeks of the season. Wilson rested for weeks after the season ended, and finally started throwing at the start of 2012. Through several rehab appearances in Spring Training and at the Giants’ minor league camp, Wilson never showed the velocity we were used to seeing in 2010 and before — but he never complained of any soreness, either. Then he felt a pop in his elbow midway through his taxing save in Colorado, and he knew it was surgery time.
All a manager and pitching coach can do is listen to what a player says and look at his performance, really. Since Wilson’s performances were the opposite of consistent, it’s hard to blame the Giants for hoping Wilson’s low-90s velocity was temporary, that through force of will and workouts he’d be back to the same bullpen anchor he’d been for three-plus years. In this case, pain tolerance, silence and toughness can make a manager’s job that much tougher.
“I know he’s a strong guy and he wants to be out there every day. He’s a warrior. He’s not always truthful or forthcoming with you, and that’s the problem with Brian Wilson and why he’s probably a little more difficult to manage,” Bruce Bochy said during his pregame interview.
I asked Bochy if he’s ever managed anyone else with Wilson’s tendency to downplay or hide pain. Bochy said he’s dealt with quite a few guys like that, and expanded on one in particular.
“(Ken) Caminiti, sometimes I would second-guess myself whether if I should play him or not,” Bochy said player who was voted the NL MVP in 1996, a season where he battled a left shoulder injury that wouldn’t allow him to extend his arm or move his glove hand above his head. Bochy spoke of one specific instance that garnered laughter from the assembled media.
“I said ‘That’s it, Cammy, you’re not truthful with me,’ and he says, ‘How about this, I promise I won’t lie so much.’ I said ‘Well, that’s good, Cammy. We’re making progress here.’”
Kind of strange that a story about a player who died extremely young could lead to a dugout full of people laughing, but Bochy wasn’t upset. And as much as he probably wished Wilson would’ve been more forthright with him over the years, that alone wouldn’t guarantee Wilson would stay healthy. You get the feeling Bochy wouldn’t mind having a team full of players like Wilson or Caminiti. Their careers might not be as long as some, but what you get while they’re out there can lead to some fantastic, winning seasons.