Thursday, June 27, 2013

Beards of Baseball

Throughout most of human history, nothing on the male body has better ascribed various attributes such as wisdom, sexual virility, masculinity, or a higher status like the beard.  From kings in the hanging gardens of Babylon, to nobles in the courts of medieval Europe to the fearless warriors in conflicts from Sparta to Gettysburg, the beard has traditionally symbolized one thing: I. Am. A. Badass.
But in a culture that offers us the option of crushed or cubed ice and an era where kids would rather munch on Cheetos while playing World of Warcraft than have a catch with their old man, the beard has lost it's social significance in an alarming rate.  Now, what was a symbol of masculine dominance is more associated with eighteen month wilderness excursions, the Stanley Cup playoffs, Dos Equis commercials or homelessness.  

Beards have also recently come under threat through the wearer, having been taken over by people like the Wicker Park hipster -- the guy who constantly reminds you that he listened to the Black Keys "before they were cool," wears jeans tighter than your girlfriend's and likes soccer.  

The beard will also appear on the cocky 23-year-old executive who just got hired at your company straight out of Cal-Berkeley and is currently your boss, needing to prove that he's a bad-ass, a good boss, and hip.  You've seen his LinkedIn photo, pre-beard and know that he's none of those things and will probably be the guy that stops checking his Fantasy Baseball lineup in your work league, citing "I'm concentrating on work," and will try to steal your girlfriend at the company picnic.  

Men.  It's time that we reclaim beards as our own and it starts with baseball.  So don't be afraid to put away the razor for a few weeks and take back what's rightfully ours.  It's time to brazenly stand out in the office or at the summer softball league.  But as with other "man-tivities" such as tailgating, using power tools, or changing your car's oil, there's both a right and wrong way of doing it.  Beards are no exception and we've drawn up a handy guide straight from our favorite MLB examples

Take note: 


Full Count Rating: 
Our empirical, methodical and exact grading scale of each type of beard from 10 to 1. 

10 is "awesome" on the level of bacon-wrapped donuts, Scarlett Johansson, Christmas, winning the lottery, Justin Verlander's fastball, etc. )

 1 is "lame" like income taxes, Rob Schneider movies, Twilight, Kim Kardashian's existence )

You may remember from players like... )


Full Count Rating: 10
You are a juggernaut. Whether erratic or dependable, manic or mute, a player with a full beard is a force to be reckoned with.  Or plays for the Giants.  You are a character in the clubhouse and need teammates, fans, and the media to know how fun and easy the game of baseball is to you.  What better way than a Hagrid-esque beard when you do a cartwheel out of the bullpen or photo-bomb the shit out of Erin Andrews.

BONUS: There can be snow in your beard, indicating that you have just returned from a four game road trip in April against the Minnesota Twins -- the only environment befitting of your loss.

Full and Kempt
Rating: 7

You are meticulous and neat.  You play solid defense and stress contact not power.  You're disciplined and take care of your body.  You're work ethic and preparation make up for your lack of elite athleticism.  

When you're not watching film, you're trimming your bristles to the proper length every morning.  You will never go past the 1 1/4" setting on your Philips Norelco Trimmer Pro.  And everyone will know just by looking at your face that you won't settle for a scraggly, unkempt appearance.  

It will never help you win a batting title or a Gold Glove, but a full and kempt beard makes people remember who you are and that's damned disciplined.  

Neatly Manicured
Rating: 9

This trim and sharp look will leave people guessing exactly which Latin American country you're from.  Other benefits? Can pose as a billionaire Italian playboy when baseball uniform is replaced by silk suit after a night game and the bouncer won't let you in because he doesn't watch baseball.  

Ambiguous style also can allow you to be cast as an extra Saudi prince when the prequel to Zero Dark Thirty is inevitably made.  It's the ultimate, "what the hell is your ethnicity again?" look.  

Neatly manicured, Tony Stark 

Rating: 6
Wild and wacky trimmed, yet sharp as a miracle blade, you aren't afraid to take a gigantic hack at a 3-0 fastball, pitch high and tight or spend three and a half hours trimming outlines of flames on your cheek.  Nothing is off limits.  Your beard symbolizes your aggressive approach at the plate and all-out approach in the field.  You are disciplined enough to keep it at a short length, but don't let that stop you from carving flaming outlines that stop at an exact 77 degree angle from your jawline. 


Full Count Rating: 7.5
YMRFPL: Bruce Sutter, Chris Perez, Tampa Bay bench coach Dave Martinez, Lance Berkman

Too much man for any Gillette razor to defeat alone, this disheveled look at any length simultaneously reveals your ability to grow a thick bushy face and a complete indifference to keep it under control -- an attitude which probably translates onto the field too.  

Whether on your neck or cheek (most likely both), this hobo-esque style can be paired with shaggy hair that sticks out of your hat to provide the ultimate "I don't give a s***" look.  

Unkempt and uneven 

Rating: 5
Either indicating that you're somehow too hipster for the Bay Area or you just got back from an audition to be in the GEICO Caveman commercial, it's probably just that you're too indie for hormones. Or could it be to avoid the dreaded postgame interview to sneak out of the stadium in street clothes to look like the panhandler I just gave a quarter to after I parked?  You may just be on to something but there are other, more hygienic ways to avoid the media.

Of course, just because you are too lazy to trim up your face hair doesn't mean you're not on to something.  It could be a good look...if you were trying out as Cro-Magnon man at the Museum of Science.  Or if you were a CIA agent going undercover in a Taliban training camp.  

But baseball?  Not so much.  There may very well be a day when scraggly, unkempt beards are in style but that day will not be in this century.  I hope the GM includes scissors in your next contract.  And a bath.  

Someone lecture Keith Hernandez
on how cool he looks
Caucasian Full Mustache

Full Count Rating: 9 in the 1970s and 1980s, 2 in 2013
YMRFPL: Collin Baelster, Carl Pavano, Randy Johnson, Jeff Kent, Mike Schimdt, Bill Buckner, Don Mattingly, Mike Piazza, practically every single player in the 1970s and 80s. 

All you need to do is pull out your dad's wedding photos to see that in the not-so-distant past, white guys were actually able to pull off a thick batch of hair on their upper lip...and nothing else.  And it actually looked decent.  And everyone had it.  As evidenced by every single damn player in the pile of 1980s Topps baseball cards in my attic.  

Take a guy like Wade Boggs (who's basically a trim and super-athletic Louis C.K.) and try to picture him without an epic Caucasian stache.  That's why this look gets a solid 9 if you were a player in the Tom Selleck Steve Prefontaine, Mark Spitz and Ron Burgundy generation.  To have a mustache was bad-ass.

But today is different.  If you don't want to look like someone who has to register with the websites people check before they buy houses, that means you either have rocked a stache since having a stache was legit (e.g. Burt Reynolds), or...well, that's it.  Otherwise you'll end up looking like Jason Giambi or Carl Pavano when they tried to bring the Caucasian Full-Mustache look back.   

Or like poor Greg Maddox below: 

Yeah, don't do that.  

African-American Full Mustache

Full Count Rating:
YMRFPL: Andre Dawson, Dave Winfield, Reggie Jackson, Willie Stargell 

Mustaches don't make you cool.  It makes cool people even cooler.  And just like dancing, high fashion and Michael Jackson, white people steal what other cultures make cool and turn it into something embarrassingly ridiculous.  There's no better example than the mustache.  And with three million too many Caucasian staches, what once was "hip" and "suave" instantly became "awkward" and "child-molester-ey" 

And if you want to pull a sweet stache off today, it still goes back to "having a mustache, before having a mustache was weird."  It's the reverse hipster-psychology.  If you need proof, quick and try and imagine Eddie Murray or Fred McGriff without a soup strainer.  You can't and that's why this style is awesome.  

Cultivated 19th century mustache: 

Full Count Rating: 10  
YMRFPL: Rollie Fingers, Mr. Redlegs (Cincinnati Reds mascot)

There can only be one person and one person exactly that can pull this off and his name is Rollie Fingers.  I could go ahead and show you a picture of Fingers when his handlebar colluded perfectly with those ugly-ass yellow-green uniforms of the 1970s Oakland Athletics, or I could just show you this picture of Rollie Fingers' Hall of Fame plaque to show that no matter how wacky your facial hair may look, if you own it and own it for an entire Hall of Fame career, you're gonna be a boss.

Mustache/Flavor Savor on Lip

Full Count Rating: 3
YMRFPL: John Axford, Clay Zavada, player on black and white baseball cards that you found in your great-grandpa's attic from a cigarette pack.

In the days of Abner Doubleday, it was the norm but today the style probably means that you are a mediocre, middle reliever looking for attention.  Normally a style only reserved for Civil War reenacting, this throw-back style brings us back to simpler times when gloves were for wussies, fielders went barefoot and the game was pure, unadulterated and accompanied with gambling, tobacco and apparently this type of face piece.  

Goatee, Full/Trimmed

Full Count Rating: 8
YMRFPL: Kevin Youkilis, Pedro Cerrano, Mark McGwire 

There's a reason Walter White's character in Breaking Bad became a badass when he traded in his teacher's mustache for a full, trimmed, "I'm fuckin' Heisenberg" goatee.  You don't get a much more badass look with a properly full and trimmed goatee.  The goatee look in the 1990s provided a smooth transition from the Mustache Era right about when mustaches were beginning to evolve from "normally cool" to "uncomfortably creepy."  

While the goatee may have become slightly banal and overused (remember Roger Clemens sporting one?) and it is beginning to be replaced by the beard in terms of coolness, the goatee is always a safe bet if you're a 19-year-old, peach-fuzzed rookie in A-Ball looking to stand out.

It's the one thing from the steroid era that ended up being positive for the game.  We give it an eight.   

Goatee, Metallica

Full Count Rating: 5
Looking more like a cast member of "Sons of Anarchy" rather than a major league baseball player, the wearer of this hair chin is often a late-inning reliever.  The goal is to scare the piss out of opposing batters, and apparently small children too, while busting down the bullpen door with 'Hells Bells' blaring in the stadium PA.  The longer and scarier the better.  Tattoos are encouraged.  For this trashy trend, we all thank you Jeff Bagwell.  

Why?  Because the truth is without a half-foot chin goatee with braids, you look more like a tax accountant than a dominating closer.  And truthfully, you only have two sub-par pitches in your repertoire.  Mental domination is everything and ain't nobody intimidated by a baby-face.  Now smack that rosin bag like a spoiled child and get to work getting three outs.  Even Jason Isringhausen did that 300 times.    

Goatee, Spiezio
Full Count Rating: -759,294,103
YMRFPL: Scott Spiezio





Let's move on.  

Fu Manchu

Full Count Rating: 8.5 or 2.5
YMRFPL: Rod Beck, Goose Gossage, Sal Fasano/Corky Miller/(any old backup catcher who's name you somehow still know from facial hair alone), Eric Wedge, Jim Joyce.  

The last of a dying breed, the Fu Manchu was traditionally sported by either a late-inning reliever or a catcher.  It was also basically a requirement to have a potbellied gut.  As the preferred training regimen of the typical ballplayer transitioned from beer and hot dogs to testosterone and HGH, the fu manchu gradually faded from the diamond and can now be seen blowing calls at first base during the last out of a perfect game or managing terrible baseball teams.  Heath Bell, please bring it back!    


Full Count Rating: 7
YMRFPL: Nick Swisher, Alex Avila, Roy Halladay, Ichiro, Dustin Pedroia, Jeremy Giambi

It's either the ultimate brash/swagger/rebel/ look in the cases of bad boys like the Giambi brothers or current MLB bad boy douchebag, Nick Swisher or it's a sign that your facial hair grows so fast your razor literally can't catch up.  It's probably not fun shaving at five in the morning and have a half-beard by batting practice or changing out razors every three days so we can't fault the Pedroia's and Halladays of the world for that perpetual 5 o'clock shadow.   

Stubbly, accenting your jaw: 

Full Count Rating: 8.5

Tough guy.  What better way to emphasize your glorious jaw/overbite than make it hairy too.  You mash balls, throw hard, and don't mind your below-replacement level OBP or WHIP as long as you are winning home run derbys and striking out batters.  It's an all or nothing approach.  Careful though, you are a quarter inch length away from being a Casey Blake.

Stubbly, emphasizing your neck:
Full Count Rating: 1
YMRFPL: Gerald Laird, Vinny Chulk, Tommy Meyers

A. You have given up on life.
B. You are destined as a career backup
C. You are more likely to make an appearance on Cops than an MLB All-Star team

Clean shaven: 

Full Count Rating: 1

There are lots of "clean shaven" MLB players (beards aren't for everybody), but if you have to call yourself "clean shaven" then that implies that you didn't used to be that way.  And you probably play for the Yankees. So everyone has to think you're a straight shooter so you shaved.  

And damn right you're a straight shooter.  Or it's just because the Steinbrenner family told you to shave for a few million dollars your previous team couldn't afford.  So you're not only a greedy sell-out but you're also a poseur.  What a bunch of jerks.

Too cleanly shaven/Hairless:

Full Count Rating: 2
YMRFPL: Tim Lincecum, if Patrick Kane played baseball.   

It's not that you don't want to grow a beard.  It's just that you can't grow a beard.  So don't mope over the fact that you'll never be a Josh Reddick, there's still plenty of hippies in the Bay Area that will hang out and smoke weed with you.  And it's not a requirement to have a hipster beard even in SF so you've got that going for you too.  In fact, everything that you do is so unorthodox from your throwing motion, to your postgame interviews to your hair, you don't really need a beard to stand just need to stop walking guys, get your ERA under five and quit killing my fantasy team.  Worry about the beard later.

Beards in baseball:  Yes or no?  

While not all of us can pull off the Boston Johnny Damon look, just remember what the beard has meant for most of humanity.  The rule should be simple: if you can grow a beard, you should grow a beard.  

So just keep this handy guide in mind next time you want to put on a baseball cap and throw one with your kid someday and remember that beards in baseball also have a rich history.  I'd much rather look like Brian Wilson than A-Rod any day. 

A wise ballplayer once said:  "A baseball player with a beard, never takes an at-bat alone." 

And keep in mind without a beard, you're just like every woman and child.