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The Universal Notebook: Bad beards of baseball

Opinion

The Universal Notebook: Bad beards of baseball

As I write this, the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies are tied one game apiece in the 2009 World Series. Fewer folks on the West Coast probably care about the outcome (which we will know by the time this column is in print) than care about the outcome of Question 1 on the Nov. 3 ballot (ditto). My fervent hope is that the Phillies will have repeated as world champions not just because, as every fan north of the Nutmeg State knows, Yankees s**k, but because none of the New Yorkers have beards.

It would be a shame for the bald-faced, pinstriped metrosexuals of the Bronx to be the exemplars of the national game given the great number of bad beards in baseball today. The Steinbrenner family that owns the Yankees doesn't allow their players to sport facial hair. Johnny Damon, a shaggy Neanderthal when he was with the Red Sox, just hasn't been himself since he defected to the clean-shaven Yankees. I say, "May the hairiest team win."

Spaceman Bill Lee, one of my favorite Red Sox players of all times, had one of the worst beards in the history of baseball. He looked as though he should have been playing for the barnstorming House of David team of the 1920s.

Lee's unkempt whiskers are rivaled in sports history only by the scrofulous scrag worn by the NBA's Bill Walton when he played for the Portland Trailblazers. In hindsight, Walton has admitted, "I had the only beard in the Western Hemisphere that made Bob Dylan's look good." But, hey, everything was unsightly in the 1970s – the beards, the clothes, the cars, even the art.

The 2009 Red Sox should have been contenders, sporting as they did some of the worst baseball beards of the 21st century. There was diminutive second-baseman Dustin Pedroia trying to look more manly and only succeeding in looking like Pigpen from Peanuts. There was pitching ace Josh Beckett's unsightly chin patch, pinch-hitter David Ortiz's overly fussy razor cut, third-baseman Mike Lowell with that pencil thin ‘stache across his philtrum all out of balance with his goatee, and first-baseman Kevin Youkilis sweating like a pig through his Old World brush.

Of course, the Phillies are no slouches when it comes to facial hair. Pedro "A Legend in His Own Mind" Martinez seems to be trying to out-duel Beckett with the chin smudge of his immature goat. Right-fielder Jason Werth wears the rare chin strip, the lower half of a Van Dyke missing the mustache. And Phils' center-fielder Shane "The Flyin' Hawaiian" Victorino has one of those diabolical Hollywood mustache-goatee combos so popular among pro athletes and used car salesmen. Apparently men think that style makes them look macho, perhaps even menacing, when all it really does is make them look is untrustworthy.

Phillies' reliever Chan Ho Park has the right idea. If you're going to grow a beard, grow a full beard no matter how mangy it looks. If you start trimming it, you can end up looking like Angel's reliever Ervin Santana with a prissy little chinstrap. Any man looks ridiculous with a chinstrap unless he's Amish or Henry David Thoreau, and sometimes even then.

Rule of thumb: all beards need a mustache.

The best bad beard of baseball's postseason, however, surely belongs to Phillies' pinch-hitter Matt Stairs, a grizzled 41-year-old veteran who coaches high school hockey in Bangor in the off-season. Stairs isn't really bearded, he just hasn't shaved in a few days. And Matt Stairs is just the kind of regular guy every true Mainer wants to win the World Series.