This is the last you’ll hear from me about beards. Actually, I’ve been fantasizing how the revolting facial hair of the Red Sox might somehow sabotage their cause in the World Series — Jonny Gomes tugs too hard on Mike Napoli’s beard and yanks out a clump, putting him on the disabled list (torn face); or, a dead animal falls from the beard of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, prompting a PETA protest.
But I also understand that Fox has a variety of demographics to target. And while I’m betting more women will be disgusted by the Boston whiskers than intrigued, I gave the network one night to get the story out of its system. Thank goodness the outgoing analyst, Tim McCarver, didn’t show up for Game 1 with fake stuff, though we still have several more opportunities — and a possible Game 7 on Halloween night — from the network that brought us two circus clowns as anchors on a new channel that no one watches.
Unfortunately, the fuzz buzz is growing from all angles. Now we have ZZ Top, last seen in the ’80s with beards down to their belly buttons in the “Legs” video, trying to wrangle some 21st-century attention by declaring themselves Red Sox fans. “Beards, balls and bats have long been a presence on the diamond, going back to the very beginnings of baseball,” vocalist/guitarist Billy Gibbons told the Associated Press. “We’re right in step with the phenomenon of the cultivation of chin whiskers which has boosted our Boston buddies to do as well as they have. It’s really no surprise as we’ve long been within the curve as far as our RBI (Rock Beard Index) goes.”
Ugh. Blame Gomes for the whisker wackiness. Sensing some fun was necessary after a dysfunction-filled, last-place season in 2012, the veteran showed up in his new clubhouse and issued a challenge. “Me, Johnny and (Dustin) Pedroia were just messing around, saying we were going to grow it out all year,” said Napoli, per USA Today. “And it just seemed like everyone jumped on.”
Cultivating their jungle bush since March, Napoli and Gomes have the most hideous visuals, with outgrowth so disproportionate to their faces that both could stand in as the Geico caveman. What kills me is, the Red Sox have nicknames for their beards. Napoli’s is “The Siesta,” with teammate Mike Carp telling the AP, “There’s probably stuff hidden in there. He’s probably got money and all kinds of stuff in there.” Carp’s is called “The Freshwater” and, unlike Napoli and Gomes, he balks when someone pulls on his chin fur.
“It hurts a lot,” he said. “But usually if you’re yanked on, your adrenaline is so full you don’t care.”
Saltalamacchia’s beard is called “The Saltine.” Ryan Dempster’s is called “The Canuck” because he’s Canadian. David Ross, who has a touch of gray in his beard, goes by “The Wolf.”
At one point, Pedroia tried to end the mulch madness and asked Ross to join him in a shaving ritual. Napoli would have none of it. This male bonding experiment was working quite well, not only in the standings but off the field, where the Red Sox dined and hung out together in the total antithesis of the previous season’s misery. “We all buy into what each other’s doing,” said Ross, per the AP. “It says a lot about our team.”
The one teammate who gets a pass is the remarkable closer, Koji Uehara. In his previous stops in Baltimore and Texas, he wore a sort of Fu Manchu with a wraparound look. But because the look wasn’t received favorably in his native Japan, Uehara went on a TV show last offseason in his homeland and ceremonially shaved it off. Was he tempted to regrow it when the clubhouse garden was sprouting? Not at all. “I just didn’t know where I was going with that beard,” Uehara said through an interpreter, per the New York Times. “So I thought it was best to shave it off. It was a good time to do it, and I think many people were happy. They said I looked younger.”
His teammates assumed he wasn’t able to grow one. And when he took over the closer role in midseason and became a lockdown, Mariano Rivera-like performer, no one felt like messing with karma. With the beard, Uehara was awful in previous postseasons, including a 2011 nightmare when he had a 33.75 ERA with the Rangers. No one dares to demand that he join the scruff set.
The Cardinals have a few beards of their own, but they know they’re outmatched. Not that they care. “If we’re intimidated by the beards, we’re in trouble,” manager Mike Matheny said.
We’re still waiting to hear from Zach Galifianakis, Chewbacca, the milk-scene Ron Burgundy and descendants of Zeus, Confucius and Jerry Garcia. Like ZZ Top, they surely must be Red Sox fans.
Mountain goats, too.