Chris Perez and Brian Wilson are closers, so it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that they are both a little… different? Each is definitely unique, but given the proliferation of oddballs that have thrived in the role—from Al Hrabosky and Rod Beck to Mitch Williams and John Rocker—they somehow fit right in.
The shaggy-haired and outspoken Perez, who took over as Cleveland’s closer when Kerry Wood was traded earlier this season, currently sports a 2.06 ERA to go with 16 saves. The irreverent and Mohawk-coifed Wilson has 36 saves and 1.88 ERA for the Giants.
David Laurila: What is a relief pitcher supposed to look, and act, like?
Chris Perez: It really depends on your role. In the late innings, I think it’s good to have some kind of persona that portrays to the hitter that it’s not going to be an easy time. When I’m out on the mound I try to portray that.
I think you need to have a presence. If you look at most of the really good late relievers, they all have sort of an aura, or a presence. Papelbon has his stare. Rivera is just Rivera; he’s just as cool as a cucumber out there. Nothing gets to him. I mean, you can have the bases loaded against him and as a team we’re, “All right, we have him right where we want him,” and he’s almost taking a nap out there.
DL: What about Jose Valverde?
CP: I don’t know if that’s a persona, or just a show, but it works for him. It gets him locked in and he’s really fired up when he gets a strikeout, or even a ground ball or a pop up. I think that what he does goes a little far for my tastes, though. Of course, he is Latin, which might have something to do with it, because they have a little more flair and a little more emotion. But you can’t argue with his results. Maybe it makes the hitters mad and they want to beat him so badly that they can’t.
DL: What about appearance? Closers have been known to sport facial hair and/or longer, shaggier, hairstyles.
CP: I don’t know how that stereotype came about; I don’t know who started it. I know that Goose Gossage had the crazy mustache. Bruce Sutter had everything going. Rollie Fingers had the handlebars. I guess it just has something to do with the role. A lot of the guys who come into the game late are adrenaline junkies.
I’ve talked to guys that have started—I talked to Kerry Wood, who started for a long time in his career and then became a closer, and he said there is nothing like coming into a one-run game in a big situation. You open up those doors and it’s all on you. There is no other feeling like that in the game, for a pitcher. You kind of live on that edge and go through those ups and downs emotionally—the adrenaline is kicking—and maybe it goes with that kind of lifestyle. I’m sure that most closers like rock music and that sort of thing. It kind of goes hand in hand, so I guess we’re an alternative part of the population, the baseball population.
DL: Appearance-wise, do closers have more freedom to be themselves than shortstops?
CP: I think so, yeah. I really do. I don’t know why. If you’re a reliever going good, definitely, but it probably gets tiring if you’re blowing saves and costing your team wins. But yeah, shortstop is more of a smooth position. You’re clean-cut, smooth-looking. Look at Derek Jeter and Asdrubal Cabrera and Marco Scutaro—they’re all clean-cut. And I think that’s just how that spot should be. They’re flashy with the leather and make those great plays—they cover all that ground and are leaders in the infield—so it would be kind of weird for a shortstop to have a full beard and long hair.
DL: Baseball players are superstitious. If you’re on a hot streak, are you less likely to cut your hair or trim your beard?
CP: I’m not too superstitious about my appearance, so I get my hair trimmed on a regular basis, but my beard… yeah, if I’m going good, I keep my beard long. When I give up one, it’s part of the catharsis period for me. It’s, “All right, that streak is over. New beard.”
But some guys, definitely. When Johnny Damon had his long hair—when he was part of “The Idiots”— he kept it long the whole year. That might have had something to do with it.
DL: Would you go out to the mound looking like a member of ZZ Top, or is possible to have too long of a beard as a closer?
CP: I think that would be too much. We’re still professionals, so we still have to keep it fairly neat. ZZ Top… I mean, I don’t think I’d have the patience to grow that out. I’m kind of at my limit right now, because it kind of gets in the way sometimes. It’s hot, especially in the summer—it’s hot and itchy—and ZZ Top, that’s probably five or 10 years of continuous growth. I don’t know if I’d want to reach that level.
My hair, maybe. I love growing my hair, but you get to the point where you need to get it trimmed, because it’s too much and you have to be professional. It is different for a closer than it is for a shortstop, though. We can be a little different and a lot of us are.
David Laurila: Outside of being a closer, how would you describe yourself?
Brian Wilson: I don’t know. I am… I am a man. I am an athlete. I am a scholar.
DL: Are pitchers a unique type of athlete?
BW: Pitchers are different athletes, because they can do anything. We can golf. We most likely played multiple sports in high school. We raked—we are good hitters. Fact. We can bunt, but who cares about bunting?
DL: Do pitchers prepare much differently than position players?
BW: Well, I don’t know what a position guy does mentally, but if you want to get into that aspect, I’d say that a pitcher’s life has got to be… a little more preparation goes into a game. If you’re a starter, the whole entire afternoon, or night, revolves around you. If you’re a reliever, the entire game leads up to your specific moment. As a hitter, you can go 0-for-4 and not be blamed for anything. As a pitcher, if you have one bad inning, the entire game was just lost because of you, so you have to prepare for those bad times.
DL: Are there different types of closers, mentally?
BW: Yeah, you have to… you have to have different types of closers, because not everyone has the same arsenal; not everyone has the same mental makeup; not everyone is as angry as the other person. Everyone pitches off some sort of emotion, so for you to compare this guy to the other guy, you can’t really do that. Every single closer is different.
DL: Are you an angry closer?
BW: Yes. I want to murder you when I’m out there. I don’t care what your approach is. I don’t care what your stats are. I’m coming at you with what I feel is necessary for that at-bat, and anything goes at that moment.
DL: You said that you’re a scholar. How do you define the term?
BW: However you’d like.
DL: Is it simply one of the ways that you identify yourself?
BW: No. I don’t identify myself that way. I just couldn’t think of anything else at that particular moment, so I chose that, which is fitting.
DL: Is that indicative of your personality, to say whatever comes to mind even it isn‘t real, per se?
BW: No, it’s real. It’s all real.
DL: You have a Mohawk and tattoos. Would you look like that if you were a middle infielder rather than a closer?
BW: I wouldn’t play middle infield, but I had the same hair when I was an outfielder.
DL: That wasn’t in pro ball, though. I’m referring to the expectations of what a big-league player is supposed to look like.
BW: Well, you’re playing the what-if factor. Would I be an outfielder, a pro baseball outfielder? Probably not. Would I be a professional infielder? No, because my skills lay on the mound. So I couldn’t say if I’d have a Mohawk if I was an outfielder, but my life probably would have been different had I been a left fielder. But as far as having the Mohawk, that’s just something I’ve had since I was 7, so I don’t think it really matters.
DL: You’ve had it since you were 7 years old?
BW: Yes. Off and on since I was 7.
DL: What does the Mohawk say about your identity?
BW: It has nothing to do with my identity. It’s just the way that I wear my hair. Everyone looks almost the same with a ball cap on, unless you have really long, pronounced, shaggy, hair.
DL: How would you describe the 2010 San Francisco Giants?
BW: Tenacious. We’re going to win it all.
DL: How does the team differ from last year?
BW: There are a couple more clubhouse personalities that meld everything together. If you have a window to play baseball, and you have the choice to be on an amazing baseball team, but there is just zero fun, or you have the choice to be in a clubhouse like ours, which has the potential to be amazing and you’re having a good time, I’d choose this team. Always.
DL: How cerebral are you a pitcher?
BW: I don’t really put much thought into actual preparation, but there is sort of a program when you are out there attacking people. But when the game is on the line, here it comes. I’m going throw everything I have at you, as hard as I possibly can.
DL: How important is velocity to your game?
BW: Velocity is extremely important. You can’t get away with 92 across the middle if you’re not feeling accurate that day, but you can get away with 97-98 if you happen to miss your spot. Unfortunately, the ball travels a little farther when you throw that hard, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.
DL: What do you want people to know about you?
BW: I want them to know that I’m a competitor. I want them to read that this guy competes 100 percent of the time, whether it is on or off the field. I’m a closer, so I do whatever is necessary. That’s how I‘d identify myself.