The Screwball: The face of championship baseball

Now that the Red Sox have proved that it’s facial hair, not talent or timely hitting, that wins championships, teams throughout the league will emulate the Bearded Brethren by entering the 2014 season with group-identity whiskers—or, in one instance, a total lack thereof. Herewith are the bold predictions.

Oy vey, Rays

With designs on conjuring the spirit of Charlie Chaplin, the fun-loving Rays begin the season with so-called toothbrush mustaches, each man growing a Chaplinesque ’stache that extends only the width of the nose. As expected, the effort produces some positive results—Evan Longoria eating his own bat will surely become a classic—until the team’s annual Jewish Heritage Day.

Texas flag

Hoping to tap the football juju of their host state, the Rangers start the 2014 season with chinstrap beards, each man cultivating a strip of whiskers along the jawline, from one hairline to the other, while doing away with the mustache. The problem comes in the first inning of game one, when, while creeping in for a possible bunt, Adrian Beltre gets flagged for encroachment.

Soul, yes; humor, no

In hopes of generating just a bit more soul, the remarkably white-bread Orioles (the team had just one dark-skinned player at the end of the 2013 season) decide to grow soul patches, each man sprouting a small growth of hair just below the bottom lip and just above the chin. The consequences arrive when several players, reminiscent of the jazzmen of the 1950s and 1960s, develop debilitating heroin addictions while the others, in the manner of alleged funnyman Howie Mandel, begin blowing up balloons with their nostrils.

Bad look, bad luck

Craving the strength of fellow Floridian Hulk Hogan—hey, it’s hard to homer at Marlins Park—each Marlin arrives at Spring Training with a horseshoe mustache, a facial-hair configuration that begins as an old-fashioned ’stache before taking abrupt downward turns on both sides of the mouth and extending in parallel straight lines down the jawline. The problems begin immediately. First, Logan Morrison is mistaken for that guy in the Village People, and, as he quickly discovers, a man can sing YMCA only so many times at the Jupiter IHOP before he and his arms get tired of it.

Second, despite the absence of a deep growl and a sideward glance, Justin Ruggiano keeps getting mistaken for Sam Elliot. This compels people to inquire as to why he is driving a Ford Focus and drinking a Miller Light.

Of course, the worst part comes during the season’s seventh week, when, after merging their study of superstition with their study of sabermetrics, the Marlins finally figure out that their opponents’.685 BABIP is directly attributable to the upside-down horseshoes on the Miami players’ faces.

Five o’clock shadow, six o’clock snack

Desperate to win the World Series after losing it once and falling just short twice in a three-year span, the Tigers tap their ’84 Series-winning mojo by sporting designer stubble a la Sonny Crockett of Miami Vice. Stopping shy of pastel jerseys and sockless spikes, the team plays well, reaching first place for several weeks before falling prey to fast cars, faster women and lines of white powder. What we mean is that a Jason Kipnis blooper lands directly on the left-field foul line for a division-clinching double, and that Prince Fielder develops an addiction to powdered sugar.

He’s got wheels, all right

After deciding to build their identity around Billy Hamilton and his astonishing speed, the Reds begin the season with handlebar mustaches. It isn’t long before the decision proves a poor one. First, Joey Votto gets in a vicious bar fight with members of the Mongols Motorcycle Club. Next, after Hamilton swipes second, third and home, the International Cycling Federation tests him for didehydroepiandrosterone, cortisol and heptaminol.

Hair today, gone tomorrow, still terrible next year

In hopes of emulating the New York Yankees and earning precisely 1/27 of the Bronx Bombers’ titles, the Astros arrive at Spring Training with clean-shaven faces, each man bereft, in the manner of his Gotham idols, of facial hair. The problem arises when the Astros are mistaken for a team of 12-year-olds and subsequently lose, 6-3, when Josh Zeid gives up a walk-off three-run dinger to 7th grader Jimmy Dugan of the third-place Kissimmee Kubs.

Ultimately, the pencil idea is No. 2

As representatives of Tinseltown, the Dodgers decide to embrace the Hollywood spirit by growing pencil mustaches a la director John Waters. Things are going swimmingly until the April trip to San Francisco, where, after mistaking the mustache for an earthworm, a local scientist disrupts the action by performing vermiculture experiments on Adrian Gonzalez’s face.

Conger’s last homestand

Not to be outdone, the Angels also emulate a Hollywood icon by growing Van Dykes a la Johnny Depp. At first they perform quite well, finding the neverland of Josh Hamilton’s strike zone and, when playing the crosstown Dodgers, creating fear and loathing in Los Angeles. High on hubris, they soon grow their Van Dykes a little longer, in the more traditional frontier style, until they each begin to resemble General George Armstrong Custer.

After a four-game sweep at the hands of the Indians, they shave.

“Celebrate, not celibate!”

Intent on bonding as teammates, and, secondly, staying warm during a brutally cold April in Colorado, the Rockies pair form and function by growing neckbeards. Camaraderie, they agree, will never have felt so cozy.

Later, sexless for nearly a fortnight, they look in a mirror to see exactly why. The neckbeard! Camaraderie, they agree, should not equate to celibacy.

After all, one reason they worked so hard to become big-league ballplayers was for all the tail. Yeah, sure, the money is nice, but c’mon! And so the team bonds again, this time with Barbasol and a trip to La Boheme Cabaret.

Antennas up

With a leap to the whisker bandwagon, the Mets get really creative by growing traditional Fu Manchus. (Made popular by fictional Chinese villain Dr. Fu Manchu, the mustache grows downward in a pair of long, tapered tendrils that end in narrowed points below the jawline.) Two weeks into the season, the Fu Manchus are a resounding success. The team is in first place. David Wright still looks pretty good. And Fred Wilpon still has some walkin’-around money. Then comes the fateful day in May: Lying back for a pre-game nap, Dillon Gee begins receiving AM radio signals on his Fu Manchu and subsequently chases a UFO piloted by Bigfoot.

Curtains

In hopes of bonding in an atavistic, out-of-the-city-and-back-to-the-land kind of way, the uber-urban Cubs grow chin curtains in the manner of Henry David Thoreau, poet, philosopher and weirdly bearded author of Walden. Less philosophical than Thoreau, and considerably more accustomed to the conveniences of modern life, the Cubs soon begin to sour on the chin-curtain thing. First, like the Rockies and Thoreau himself, they realize that while chicks do dig the long ball, they do not much dig the curtain. It’s ugly. It’s gross. Frankly, it’s birth control. Louisa May Alcott said as much to Ralph Waldo Emerson, observing that Thoreau’s facial hair “will most assuredly deflect amorous advances and preserve the man’s virtue in perpetuity.” Of course, with regard to Darwin Barney, Starlin Castro said much the same thing.

And vice versa.

Second, and especially on a hot day in St. Louis, the Cubs find that the chin curtain is hot, uncomfortable, itchy and/or scratchy. It also collects sunflower seeds and tobacco spit, creating a strange sort of found-object art.

Jeff Loria wants to buy one.

Soon, citing Thoreau himself—“I wan(t) to cut a broad swath and shave close”—they shave close, leaving the broad swath for Prince Fielder.

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