Ann Killion
Tuesday July 19th, 2011

When the word came that the San Francisco Giants will visit President Obama at the White House next week, the first thought was almost universal.

What will closer Brian Wilson wear?

The spandex tux that he broke out on the red carpet at last week's ESPY awards?

"I don't think they'd let him in wearing that," manager Bruce Bochy said.

The knit Rastafarian cap and sunglasses he wore during All-Star interviews? The orange and black cleats embellished with his own face that he rocked on the mound at the All-Star game? The sea captain outfit he debuted on late night television in the offseason? A Lincoln-era throwback stovepipe hat? A Union general's uniform to match his theatrical beard?

Yes, the thought of Wilson at the White House has people talking. Letting their imaginations run wild. And this development doesn't bother Wilson at all.

In case you hadn't noticed, Wilson likes the spotlight. Likes being the center of attention. That's a good trait for a closer, who has to stand in the glare every time he takes the mound.

But it's an unusual trait for a baseball player. Most like to fade into the background, be one of the guys, not stand out as an individual or an oddity.

That's not Wilson. He's broken the boring mold, which is fabulous from an entertainment perspective and for the media. And it doesn't seem to bother his teammates, who long ago accepted Wilson's eccentricities as both authentic and a necessary part of the team culture.

But even in San Francisco, where pretty much anything goes, people are starting to wonder if Wilson has gone too far.

Has Wilson become this era's Dennis Rodman? Is he too obsessed with cultivating his own odd image and not obsessed enough with baseball? After the spandex "onesie" appearance last week, Wilson was the topic of tweets and blogs and not all of it was flattering.

Wilson's numbers refute the concern. Arguably the most valuable player during the Giants' World Series run, with six postseason saves, Wilson has been excellent again this year, ranking second in the majors with 28 saves.

But the weirder Wilson's appearance gets, the more scrutiny he finds. And in the five-game run-up to the All-Star game Wilson had a blown save against the Cubs, a blown win against the Mets -- when he took a bat to a cooler in the dugout for a SportsCenter highlight -- and a loss against the Padres. Even his forgiving legions of Giants fans were getting worried.

You've got to wonder why Wilson chooses to put any more pressure on himself when he already has one of the most pressure-filled jobs in sports. But that's what he's doing.

The beard and the outfits and the odd sound bites only work if he's saving games and shutting down his opponent. If he doesn't do that, he's just a clown.

Wilson knows that. And he clearly doesn't mind the extra pressure. Earlier this year, he spoke about his background as a military kid, having to move around when he was young. He thinks it shaped part of his personality.

"I'm more comfortable on the move, because it's nothing new," he said. "New situations scare people. Change puts people out of their comfort zone.

"But when the comfort zone is change, it's normalcy that's scary," he added.

Wilson doesn't do normalcy. He never has, even when he was a relatively clean-cut young closer.

It was just about a year ago Wilson started to grow his famous beard. It may have been in reaction to being told his bright orange cleats that he had used in the 2010 All-Star game were against uniform code. He found something that could be -- in his words -- "too much awesome" but not against code. The beard grew and grew and got darker and darker and Wilson's celebrity kept pace with his facial hair.

When producers pitched the new Showtime series The Franchise -- a behind-the-scenes look at the 2011 Giants -- you knew Wilson would be front and center.

In last week's debut episode, Wilson took a stab at directing his own scenes -- asking for sepia-toned film, violin music and fireworks. And that's pretty much what he's doing every day -- directing his own indie film: Brian Wilson, A Different Kind of Baseball Player.

In this week's episode of The Franchise he says something he's expressed several times in the past: "I'm a pro baseball player in my 20s. I'm not going to walk around like a robot and have zero fun."

He's having fun. He has everyone talking. He looks crazy.

And he keeps saving games. That's the part that matters.

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