Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

Beck, Nen or Wilson? You make the call

With three outs to go and the game on the line, which ex-Giants closer gets the nod?

SAN FRANCISCO -- You're managing the all-time San Francisco Giants roster, and your bullpen is loaded. But your options are limited.

You can select only one of the franchise's premier closers to preserve a ninth-inning lead. Which stopper do you summon: Rod Beck, Robb Nen or Brian Wilson?

It's a harmless yet intriguing question you can ponder while talking ball with friends, enduring a traffic jam or awaiting Opening Day. The beauty is that since this is a purely hypothetical issue involving a trio of All-Stars, a case can be built for any of them.

"All of those guys are thoroughbreds," Giants broadcaster Duane Kuiper said.

"You can't go wrong with any of the three," said Brian Johnson, who caught Beck and Nen and now serves as a Giants scout.

Each performed with flair, self-generated or otherwise.

Beck, nicknamed "Shooter," sported long hair, wore a distinctive mustache and let his right arm dangle at his side as he stared at the catcher's sign -- a whip briefly at rest.

Nen's appearances at home games were heralded by Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" on the public address system. His odd toe-tap that interrupted the stride in his delivery prompted wonder, along with the steady stream of strikes he threw.

Wilson's ever-growing, mysteriously dark beard virtually acquired a life of its own. His crossed-arms gesture following each save provided a theatrical coda for Giants victories.

They all threw right-handed, and did so with excellence.

Beck converted 41 consecutive save opportunities (then believed to be a Major League record) spanning 1993-95. He received votes in Most Valuable Player award balloting three times (including once with the Cubs in 1998) -- more than Nen and Wilson combined.

"He had a huge heart, and he got the most out of his stuff," said Peter Magowan, the Giants' former president and managing general partner.

Beck, who died in 2007 at age 38, held the club record of 199 saves until Nen accumulated 206 from 1998-2002. Among the three, Nen had the highest strikeout ratio as a Giant, averaging 10.8 per nine innings to 9.6 for Wilson and 7.6 for Beck.

"[Nen] had the most swing-and-miss stuff out of those three guys," said former shortstop Rich Aurilia, who played behind all of them.

"Nen's ball moved so much," Johnson said. "Even if you knew what was coming, he was really hard to hit."

Until an elbow injury derailed Wilson, he appeared destined to eclipse Nen's franchise-high saves total, amassing a Major League-high 163 from 2008-11.

Asked during Spring Training of 2010 whether he considered himself an "elite" closer, Wilson proved prophetic.

"An elite closer is a closer who's part of a World Series win," Wilson said. "If you get that final out in the final win of the season, then you can consider yourself elite."

Not only did Wilson proceed to tie Beck's 1993 single-season franchise mark of 48 saves in 2010, but he also recorded six more saves in the postseason, including a three-up, three-down effort in the Game 5 World Series clincher.

Wilson's ability to seize upon such moments prompted Kuiper to select him as the ultimate Giants closer.

"I don't even hesitate in answering that," Kuiper said. "As far as grit, guts, determination -- all those guys had it. Wilson just happened to be the guy who got to stand on the mound to clinch [the World Series championship]. He had the opportunity that some of those other guys didn't have."

Magowan gave the nod to Nen for sheer dominance.

"I think Nen had the best combination of two pitches," Magowan said. "His slider was probably as good as anybody's in the game, and his fastball was just about as good as anybody's in the game."

Nen also remains revered by fans, ex-teammates and front-office employees alike for continuing to pitch in the 2002 postseason despite knowing that he had a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder. Nen underwent three surgeries but never pitched again after the '02 World Series.

"The guy basically gave up his career for our team," Aurilia said.

Wilson performed under similar conditions in 2011 with his ailing elbow that required Tommy John surgery last April. He's recovering from his injury and is currently a free agent.

All three relievers are winners to Phillies infielder Kevin Frandsen, who has a unique perspective. He grew up rooting for the Giants while Beck and Nen played, began his professional career with the organization in 2004 and roomed with Wilson during part of their tenure as San Francisco teammates.

"I'm very partial to Brian," Frandsen said.

Referring to Nen, Frandsen added, "But I'm also very partial to a lot of sacrifice."

To whom are you partial? Cast your vote for the Giants reliever you'd most like to see in a save situation.

Chris Haft is a reporter for
Read More: San Francisco Giants, Rod Beck, Robb Nen, Brian Wilson