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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Brian Wilson and Perception vs. Reality

“There is no truth. There is only perception.” – Flaubert

How does Brian Wilson want to be perceived?

Considering recent events, that’s a fair question to ask. Word came yesterday that Wilson spent the weekend with Charlie Sheen- drug-abusing, woman-beating, 9/11-truthing Charlie Sheen- to serve as a consultant for a possible new Major League movie. This follows an off season that saw Wilson showing up almost everywhere: The Tonight Show, that horrible show on TBS with George Lopez, video game commercials. He was virtually unavoidable.

With good reason: Wilson had just completed a dominant postseason run and helped the Giants to their first West Coast championship. He showed himself to be an engaging, intelligent guy who could say more than the same-old tired baseball clichés. He was funny and entertaining, the kind of player with crossover appeal that baseball hadn’t produced in a long time.

For a while, it was great. It felt good to have a Giant in the national spotlight, finally getting some recognition for a fan base that constantly feels ignored and disrespected by the east coast media. Wilson delivered, too: the stuff with The Machine was hilarious, and his appearances with Chris Rose and Jim Rome were classic. Things started to turn after the season ended, though. It started to go downhill a bit with Jay Leno, where it seemed like Wilson was doing shtick instead of being himself. His Lopez show performance took that shtick to another level (a sea captain? Tired Chuck Norris jokes?) and he came off like a guy trying way too hard. It was already enough to make a casual observer wonder what Wilson was really all about, and now comes word that he’s hanging with a notorious drug abuser?  What is Wilson thinking?

It’s a little troublesome to me that Wilson would choose to spend his time with someone as toxic as Charlie Sheen. I believe Wilson when he says that nothing happened besides people picking his brain for a new baseball movie; however, the perception that hanging out with someone like Sheen creates doesn’t seem to be worth the trouble.  It can only lead to more questions, like why is Brian Wilson flying to Los Angeles when he’s been hampered by a back injury this spring? Why is he freely associating himself with a guy who has obvious, ever-continuing drug problems? Why isn’t he concentrating more on getting healthy and ready for 2011? And if Wilson struggles early on in ’11, watch out: the questions about his work ethic and commitment will come fast and furious. He’s already dealt with an injured back this spring, and back injuries have a habit of lingering. If it flares up again during the season, how easy will it be for people to point to Wilson’s extracurricular activities as a sign he doesn’t care enough about keeping in shape? If he blows a few saves in April, how long before it’s said that he spent too much time promoting himself instead of staying on top of his game?

And if that does happen, it will be unwarranted: Wilson is one of the most committed ballplayers in the game today, with an unparalleled work ethic. His workout routine borders on insanity. He’s a nutrition nut. He’s as focused as they come when he enters a game. He’s turned himself from a guy with a live arm and questionable control into one of (if not the) best closers in the game.

Facts like that don’t matter as much, though, when someone’s perception turns into their reality. Right now, Wilson is coming dangerously close to being known more for his antics off the field than his pitching ability. Instead of talking about his pitching, people talk about his beard, or his sea captain costumes, or his visits with Charlie Sheen. To someone who doesn’t follow the Giants that closely, it might appear that Wilson is more concerned with promoting himself than defending the World Series championship. Is that a fair portrayal? No. But is it fair for someone to assume those things, given the perception Wilson is creating? Absolutely.

Wilson can avoid all that, however. He can stop dressing up in ridiculous costumes, stop hanging out with drug abusers, and shave the beard.  He doesn’t have to be that wacky, crazy character all the time. It’s perfectly okay to just be a dominant closer (hey, it worked for Robb Nen). The more time Wilson spends on non-baseball stuff, the more likely he is to leave himself open to questions about his commitment if he struggles at all in 2011. It has the potential to be a distraction to a team that’s already dealing with the pressure of being the defending world champs. They don’t need any outside distractions, and Wilson is leaving himself open to becoming one with his activities off the field.

Of course, he’s just as likely to post another year of 40+ saves and a sub-2.00 ERA. If he does that, he can run to the mound dressed as the Gorton’s fisherman for all I care.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Remembering Gino Cimoli

Gino Cimoli was much more than the answer to a trivia question.

He was the first batter of Major League Baseball’s west coast history. He scored the final run at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field. He won a ring with the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates. He was such an impressive basketball player that the Boston Celtics offered him a contract. He was a legend in North Beach.

More than all that, though: Gino Cimoli was a nice guy. And he was my friend.

I only knew him later in life, after his playing days had long since ended and he’d enjoyed a long career working for UPS. He belonged to a number of local baseball groups my Dad helps organize, including the Friends of Marino Pieretti, and was the regular emcee of the Dante Benedetti Annual Awards Dinner. He always could work the room, and had an undeniable charisma that came through whenever he spoke.

I called Gino my friend, but in reality I only knew him through my Dad. I’d see him at dinners and always say hello and talk for a bit, but that was the extent of our interactions. Still, Gino had the ability to make you feel like you’d been his friend for years. He’d greet you with a smile and a handshake, his ubiquitous unlit cigar hanging from his mouth, and always came across as one of the friendliest, funniest guys you’d ever met. He may not have remembered meeting you, but you never forgot meeting Gino.

My favorite memory of Gino has to be during the 2008 season, when the Giants and Dodgers were celebrating 50 years of west coast baseball. He threw out the first pitch at a Giants game with Orlando Cepeda, then came up into the stands to sit and talk with my Dad and me. People recognized him, but seemed apprehensive to talk to him or ask for an autograph…until Gino noticed. What followed was quite a sight: Gino Cimoli, in the bright blue satin Dodgers jacket he’d worn as a player, sitting in the middle of the Giants’ ballpark, signing autographs and laughing with Giants fans. He was completely in his element, and it was fun to watch.

He may have played for the Dodgers, but he’ll always be a San Francisco legend. They don’t make guys like Gino Cimoli anymore. He will be missed.