When Jayson Werth showed up for work at the beginning of the 2010 season, he sported a full, unkempt beard that meshed raggedly with his shoulder length hair.
The Philadelphia Phillies outfielder looked as if had spent the entire off-season lost in the wilderness. Or doing Civil War re-enactments.
Baseball had not seen anything like it since the 1800s.
By the end of the season, however, the person who came to be known as “The Beard” was Brian Wilson. The San Francisco Giants closer had an equally long, but better manicured rug coming off his neck, so ridiculously black that the operative suspicion was … shoe polish?
Wilson was on the mound for the final out of the 2010 World Series, which made him a centrepiece of the celebration.
Visually, baseball has not been the same since. In the five years since Werth’s and Wilson’s weirdness demanded you look at them – perhaps you were repulsed, perhaps impressed – the majority of players have followed suit.
Beards went from an amusing novelty to the norm. An examination this spring by USA Today found that players with facial hair (mostly beards) outnumbered clean-shaven players by two-to-one.
The tsunami of facial hair was already starting to crest when the Boston Red Sox won the 2013 World Series. Early in the year, Jonny Gomes had challenged the team to a “grow-off”.
If Mike Napoli and his exploding raccoon became the “face” of the franchise, even guys who could not tried anyway.
All the way to the end, they entertained a nation that may not have realised how prevalent beards had become.
Joe Kelly, who pitched for the St Louis Cardinals in that series against Boston, lamented recently, “People asked us if we were copying the Red Sox.”
Now, the “looks” are more varied than the way players angle their caps, or style their socks.
Werth, now a Washington National, still looks like he is peeking out from behind an eagles’ nest. Among the more prominent in the “full beard” category are Chicago Cubs pitcher Brian Schlitter, with his majestic wave; Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies with his unruly broom; and Dallas Keuchel of the Houston Astros, with his long, pointed shrub.
“I shampoo and condition it every day,” Keuchel told CBS Radio. “I use a lot of products. It’s healthier than the average beard.”
Josh Reddick, once Werth-like, now trims his. But not as ornately as David Ortiz, Jason Heyward and Pedro Alvarez, all of who meticulously style their hair tightly around the jawline.
Then there is Danny Espinosa’s singular circle of fur around his mouth.
Facial hair is not totally new in baseball. In the 1970s, Oakland Athletics owner Charlie Finley paid players to grow moustaches, leading to Rollie Fingers’s legendary curls.
Relievers Richard “Goose” Gossage and Al Hrabosky had massive Fu Manchus. Hall of Fame pitcher Bruce Sutter had a neatly trimmed beard in the 1980s. Jeff Bagwell boasted a scraggly goatee as his career ended in the 2000s.
But now it is hair everywhere – except for one place. The New York Yankees’ senescent grooming policy still bans the beard.
So when everyone starts to shave again, the Yanks will be ready. And trendy.
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