Giants Fans Cause Run on Fake Beards in Support of Hairy Hurler

San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Brian Wilson
Wilson’s 48 saves during the regular season tied the Giants’ single-season record. Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

As the San Francisco Giants battled their way to the National League Championship and a place in baseball’s World Series, fans have devoured merchandise including caps, T-shirts, bumper stickers and -- fake beards.

The hirsute trend is inspired by All-Star relief pitcher Brian Wilson, whose whiskers and legend have been growing since late summer, inspiring a “Fear the Beard” mantra. Wilson, 28, saved the game that propelled the Giants to the championship series against the Texas Rangers, and his 48 saves during the regular season tied the Giants’ single-season record held by Rod Beck since 1993.

“The beard is our big thing,” said Dave Martinez, director of retail operations for the Giants.

Martinez filled the team-owned Giants Dugout Store with fake beards and beard masks in September and they immediately sold out. He then collaborated with Nike Inc., which designed a silhouette of Wilson’s cap and beard and put them on orange T-shirts with the slogan, “Fear the Beard.” Just in time for Game 1 this week, the Giants opened a seventh Dugout Store across the street from their stadium, AT&T Park, to accommodate the growing demand.

“We’re doing 26 times the business we did last October,” said Martinez, without providing specific figures.

Fans purchased $2.82 billion of official baseball merchandise last year, according to the Licensing Letter, an industry newsletter.

“That’s a lot of tchotchke,” said Publisher Ira Mayer. “Major League Baseball has gotten really good at this kind of event-based merchandizing. When a no-hitter is brewing, they’ve got T-shirts ready to be silkscreened by the seventh inning.”

Rubber Chickens

While the follicular focus may be new, exploiting the oddities of the team isn’t. Such merchandise sales have helped make the Giants the ninth most valuable baseball franchise, worth $483 million, according to Forbes magazine.

In 2002, Martinez noticed a fan waving a rubber chicken each time an opposing pitcher would refuse to pitch to slugger Barry Bonds. Martinez added rubber chickens to the Dugout Store and sold more than 5,000. In 2007, with strikeout artists Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum on the team, the store sold 3,000 giant foam Ks, the scorecard symbol for strikeouts. The popularity of third baseman Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval triggered sales of 15,000 panda hats over the last year.

“Facial hair is facial hair,” Wilson said in a televised interview ahead of the first World Series game Oct. 27. San Francisco won, 11-7, with Wilson finishing the game. He didn’t appear in Game 2 last night, which the Giants also won, 9-0. The team hasn’t won a World Series since moving to San Francisco from New York in 1958.

Key Chains, Neckties

“The growth in searches for ‘Fear The Beard’ has been astronomical,” said Jim Prosser, a spokesman for Mountain View, California-based Google Inc. “It’s certainly the breakout search term of the month.”

Zazzle Inc., the product-maker backed by venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, has bought ads tied to Google searches for the phrase. The Redwood City, California-based company, which lets users design their own key chains, neckties and coffee mugs, said the slogan has inspired 2,201 items.

Zazzle’s staff is working overtime to meet demand, said Mike Karns, Zazzle’s director of marketing.

“We’re big Giants fans here,” he said. Even so, “We’re not rooting for a Giants sweep. With all these orders, we’d love it to go to a Game 7.”

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