Wilson's performance—in the most theatrical sense of the word—on and off the field throughout the 2010 season helped rebuild a collective identity for Giants fans. This campaign was successful because his pitching and his persona were separate and equal: His skill, which would have been noticed regardless, justified the coverage of his antics, which were merely an amusing bonus. "Fear the beard" would not have worked if Brian Wilson had not been a pitcher to fear.
But by the beginning of the 2011 season, Wilson had reached a plateau. Fans continued to talk about his beard, accepted "got heem," (his new trash-talking catchphrase) into common parlance, and found his appearance on Lopez Tonight dressed as a sea captain hilarious. But by midseason there was a palpable sense that the Wilson meme was for the most part played out.
Wilson has now not pitched since mid-April of this year when he was placed on the disabled list after injuring his elbow and undergoing Tommy John surgery. His reliable end-of-game pitching and colorful style have been missed, but now that he isn't playing there isn't any good reason to keep talking about him. In the Bay Area, Wilson coverage has been relegated to the arena of giggling local news anchors. And rightly so—what sports broadcaster would give airtime during a game to a person who is not playing?
Fast-forward to October 15, 2012. The Giants are playing the Cardinals in game two of the National League Championship Series, which is being broadcast on Fox. Gregor Blanco is at bat in the bottom of the eighth inning, and the camera suddenly, inexplicably, pans to the dugout. "There it is," Tim McCarver says as Brian Wilson's signature facial hair comes into the frame. For the next minute and a half, as the count goes from 2-2 to 3-2 and several balls are fouled off, the game itself seems a mere distraction from the real topic at hand. Joe Buck chimes in, "If Brian Wilson was pitching, a ball in his beard would be a ground rule double. They'd never find it!" "He's got his fingernails painted—painted red! Talk about a character." "You might find Andre Dawson in that beard, like in that commercial. He is just a walking reality show." And the camera stays trained on him, as if it is, in fact, The Brian Wilson Show, as he keys along to the stadium organ on a teammate's head.
This dialogue is solely concerned with Brian Wilson the flamboyant caricature rather than Brian Wilson the baseball player. Nowhere in this exchange is there even a veiled reference to Wilson's actual skill. This type of fixation on Wilson belies a crucial misunderstanding of Giants brand baseball and Wilson himself. While it'd be foolish to assume that gaining a spot on the national stage would permit any club to export its own cozy self-image, the problem in this case is that national sportscasters' misled buy-in to the cult of personality that Brian Wilson has become is demeaning to active Giants players and their competitors whose skills and back stories merit attention. On a larger scale, it cheapens baseball by affirming the cultural notion that fame in and of itself is a quality to be discussed and emulated.