Best Beards in the MLB Playoffs
Beards can convey numerous messages to the world: part mountain separatist living off jerky, part virile manly man who chops down trees and part intimidating biker gang member. On the baseball diamond, another message gets conveyed: We made the playoffs!
Playoff beards are a familiar hockey tradition, but having a big bushy beard in baseball can really help raise a player's profile, particularly if the facial hair gets featured on national TV during postseason games. Plus, October is a time for beards, not Arizona in August.
With the 2014 playoff entrants determined, some beards have headed home for the offseason. Fans will not see Dustin Ackley's furry chin. Likewise, there will be no Adam Lind, Joe Beimel or Elvis Andrus. Apologies to Mike Napoli and Chris Perez—this was not their year.
The Boston Red Sox finished in last place in the AL East after winning the World Series a season ago, meaning an entire roster of prodigious and disgusting beards—they used to feign rubbing some sort of magical pixie dust from the bottom of another player's chin hair—will not be seen in October.
Moreover, not every 2014 playoff team embraces facial hairiness. The Baltimore Orioles had a chance when they acquired the once-wild-bearded Andrew Miller, formerly of the Boston Red Sox, but Miller busted out the trimmers to join his new team. Nelson Cruz's barely existent facial hair might be the most significant on the roster. After all, manager Buck Showalter does not tolerate slovenly appearances!
Other teams sport beards, but in an understated fashion. The Kansas City Royals have many bearded players—Eric Hosmer, Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, Greg Holland—but those beards should all be bigger based on the team's play. For their understated and truly stylish use of facial hair, the Royals have been banned from this list, as have the clean-cut O's, leaving only eight bearded playoff teams worthy of being the best.
When assessing beards for their relative merit, many criteria come into play: scraggliness, volume, resemblance to famous beards from history, intimidation factor, annoyance to wife due to itchiness or tickliness and entertainment provided to fans. However, this list uses one single ranking criteria: Bushiness.
Sergio Romo, RP, San Francisco Giants
Kudos to Sergio Romo for proving that not all closers' beards have to be completely ridiculous and bushy to the point of having birds nesting below the chin. Romo had front-row seats for the birth and burgeoning career of former San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson's beard.
Since Wilson departed, Romo has traded the closer job back and forth with Santiago Casilla. This season, Romo again ceded the job to Casilla midseason. Romo led the team in saves with 23 while Casilla totaled 19.
Unlike football, where having two quarterbacks means you have none, having two closers in baseball just means that your teams has an amazing bullpen. This becomes of particular importance during the postseason in high-leverage, late-game situations, and San Fran has experience on its side in addition to this very tastefully groomed beard.
Russell Martin, C, Pittsburgh Pirates
Russell Martin grew up in Quebec and spent time living in Paris, and while French philosophers typically eschewed bushy beards, leaving those to their German counterparts, the French Canadians are a different breed.
In Quebec, children practically come out of the womb with a beard and a flannel shirt on, even the girls. Stick a bowl of poutine in front of them, and they're as good as grown up at that point.
In two seasons with the New York Yankees, a ball club with a policy that prohibits beards, Martin posted successive career lows in batting average (.237 and .211), prompting the team to jettison the former All-Star catcher.
Then Martin played so well for the Pittsburgh Pirates the next season, he finished 24th in the 2013 MVP voting. In 2014, he batted .290 and posted a career-best on-base percentage of .402. It's no coincidence, it's the beard.
Brian Wilson, RP, Los Angeles Dodgers
I remember fond childhood days spent playing with a toy called "Wooly Willy," which, before you let your mind wander into the gutter, was an art activity with metal filings dragged onto the head and face of a bald man to make hair and a beard.
As it turns out, Wooly Willy pitches for the Los Angeles Dodgers and his name is Brian Wilson. Yes, that's the same Brian Wilson who used to pitch Taco Bell as a marquee member of the San Francisco Giants bullpen. Now he pitches middle relief in L.A., and while his skills have declined, his beard has not.
To be clear, this list is not the most skilled players in the MLB playoffs who have beards—it's simply about the best beards. The criteria for judgment boils down simply to beard qua beard, so Wilson's 4.66 ERA and 5.4 walks per nine in 61 appearances won't impact his assessment here.
This thing on his face has become more of a marketing ploy than an actual beard, which is why Wilson's bushy chin adornment only beats out the tasteful facial hair choices made by Sergio Romo and Russell Martin.
Derek Norris, C, Oakland A's
Not only does Derek Norris have an intimidating big, black beard, and not only did Norris earn a surprise All-Star appearance this season, but he's even joined forces with his battery mates to come up with some truly excellent team beards.
Norris got to congratulate Sean Doolittle after each of the 22 saves made by the occasional closer this season, and one can only assume that blowing a save requires Doolittle to buy the next round of beard oil for the battery.
Doolittle is certainly an offbeat character (his Twitter handle is "whatwouldDOOdo"), but Norris is the one handling the entire pitching staff. The hirsute handsomeness has even trickled down to setup man Luke Gregerson, who looks a little bit like common depictions of Satan.
Matt Shoemaker, SP, Los Angeles Angels
Los Angeles Angels starter Matt Shoemaker also comes to us from the Wooly Willy collection of beards. The 28-year-old rookie compiled a stunning season, going 16-4 with a 3.04 ERA in 20 starts.
The upstart pitcher from Michigan is aptly named, as his beard evokes a bygone era when gigantic, ridiculous beards were common and shoemakers actually made shoes with their hands and a set of tools before companies figured out how to mass produce sneakers on the cheap and sell them for triple-digit prices.
Shoemaker should press his teammates to prize accuracy, however. These fake beards they sport in the photo clearly look like surplus from a nearby store selling fake Brian Wilson beards.
Jayson Werth, RF, Washington Nationals
Before the 2011 campaign, the Washington Nationals inked Jayson Werth to a seven-year contract worth a whopping $126 million. This seemed like a horrible idea to many around baseball, seeing as Werth had never hit .300 or driven in 100 runs. Also, he turned 32 in 2011.
Four seasons later, the contract is still a rotting, stinking albatross, a yolk around the neck of the front office, but at least it's paying some dividends. Following a brutal 2011 (.232, 58 RBI in 150 games), followed by an injury-shortened 2012, Werth has bounced back to hit around .300 and now has 82 RBI in consecutive seasons.
With his on-field skills blooming lustrously like his chin hair, Werth's popularity in D.C. has exploded. Fans lined up five hours early to procure a free bobblehead depicting Werth as a garden gnome.
While he still has not provided $126 million worth of hitting, Werth has buoyed a young team and provided a veteran presence on a promising postseason squad. Werth's play has been so solid, Adam LaRoche decided he simply had to grow a beard as well, though his is so red that when the sun catches it at the right angle it looks like his chin is on fire.
Jason Motte, RP, St. Louis Cardinals
Jason Motte looks either like an enormous garden gnome (though that job has been filled by Jayson Werth already) or the guy selling two tickets outside a Phish show—"Hey man, you check out the shakedown yet?"
However, there is something about Motte's face that seems soft, kindly, grandfatherly even. Perhaps it's the brown color of the beard hair, as black looks intimidating and stark, while red beards are the color of Irish bare-knuckle boxers and pirates.
Motte piled up 42 saves for the St. Louis Cardinals during the 2012 season, sporting a minuscule 0.917 WHIP, but he missed all of 2013 due to Tommy John surgery. While convalescing, apparently the nurse forgot to help him shave. Though Motte lost the closer's gig and saw his ERA balloon to 4.68 in 25 innings of the 2014 season, at least his beard is very bushy.
Joba Chamberlain, RP, Detroit Tigers
This right here is precisely the reason the New York Yankees do not permit their players to have beards. Without rules, society and chins can descend into anarchy. As Chamberlain told reporters before the season, via beat reporter Jason Beck:
Perhaps Joba got a little too excited about the beard. Pictured here auditioning for Duck Dynasty—OK, not really—Joba Chamberlain has really let his face go wild since joining the Detroit Tigers. For all we know, this thing could in fact be a swarm of Lake Erie midges left over from Game 2 of the 2007 ALDS.
The results cannot be denied. After posting ERAs of 4.35 and 4.93 in his final two season for the Yankees, Chamberlain has whittled his ERA down to 3.57 since joining the Detroit Tigers while lowering his walk rate and yielding a career low in home runs.
Chamberlain's beard makes him looks so scary, he can actually walk around downtown Detroit. At night. Alone.