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It's 'Claws and Antlers' vs. 'Fear the Beard'

It's 'Claws and Antlers' vs. 'Fear the Beard'

The "Beard" is weird, but it's winning. The "Claw and Antlers" are wild, but they're working.

It seems like every great baseball team has some sort of rallying cry in the new millennium, and this year's pennant-winning themes are unique.

The bizarro Grizzly Adams look fashioned by eccentric Giants closer Brian Wilson and setup man Sergio Romo have inspired San Francisco fans to adopt "Fear the Beard" as the midterm year's version of "Yes We Can."

Meanwhile, the American League champion Texas Rangers have been dialing up long-distance high-fives while making like a deer in the spotlights with the "Claw and Antlers" acknowledgements of good deeds and speed on the basepaths.

These makeshift mantras have naturally electrified the sold-out crowds that have joyfully witnessed the ascension of their underdog clubs to rarefied October air. They've also followed a fun recent tradition of clubhouse unity that rises into the seats as fans share in the playoff groove.

The AT&T Park stands are now filled with "Fear the Beard" signs and rabid Giants backers wearing fake black beards. The Giants have responded, reaching the World Series for the first time in eight years.

But first, a fall fad postseason primer (and yes, there might be a bit of a primer undercoat in Wilson's shockingly dark whiskers, but that's another story entirely and one he as of yet has refused to tell).

"Fear the Beard" began to sprout in August, when Wilson decided to grow out facial follicles that he hadn't worn since the Minor Leagues. As the year turned to fall, the shade of the fuzz grew darker and darker to the point where it's now comically obvious that the closer, who led the Major Leagues with 48 saves, has used Just For Men or some other store-bought dyeing product.

Wilson, of course, denies this, coyly repeating his own mantra: "I'm just rockin' the beard, having fun."

He's also a huge reason for the Giants' success, and he realizes that when he's got the ball in the ninth -- and oftentimes the eighth -- inning, it doesn't matter what he looks like as long as he gets the right amount of outs for his team.

Wilson has appeared in seven games this postseason, and he has a win, five saves, a 0.00 ERA and 12 strikeouts in nine innings. Three of his appearances have been of the multiframe variety, and two of those have resulted in saves.

"The only thing I'm doing is trying to let you know that you're not going to beat me," Wilson said recently.

"That's it. [When I'm] stepping on that mound, you'd better take it seriously. You can say whatever you want about the hair, the beard ... you can have your opinion. But you'll know the truth when the ball's coming at you. It's for real."

The Rangers are for real, too, as the Yankees just found out, and their "Claw and Antlers" schtick, while not as strange as the beard, seems to be just as effective.

The "Claw," which is simply a non-contact hand slap most effective when orchestrated from the dugout to the bases to celebrate hits, was conjured by Rangers infielder Esteban German, who learned it in the Minors. The Rangers have been doing it a lot lately. In fact, they even did it when their skipper, Ron Washington, singled in an alumni game in early September.

"They have a good time with that thing," Washington said.

The same goes for the "Antlers," signified by placing one's hands atop his cap and outstretching the palms to mimic a male deer's proud 10-pointed rack. That move honors a beneficial play earned by the use of one's speed.

"You show you are running like a deer," outfielder Julio Borbon said.

Rangers fans have caught on, as have the team shops, which can't sell enough T-shirts. There is also a Deer Cam and a Claw Cam at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and websites devoted to them. Fans crowd the stadium sporting foam claws and homemade antlers.

"I love it, because it's a true grassroots movement," Rangers CEO Chuck Greenberg said.

And in devising their own creative motivational symbols, the Rangers -- and the Giants -- have, in their own way, sewn up a few more stitches in baseball's ever-changing fabric.

It brings to mind the 2009 Yankees, who got hold of a World Wrestling Entertainment championship belt and began awarding it to their self-selected Player of the Game on the road to last year's World Series title.

Or the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, whose manager, Joe Maddon, coined the mathematically challenged term "9=8" (nine players playing together will lead to being one of the eight postseason teams), put it on T-shirts in Spring Training and watched as it took on a life of its own all the way to that year's Fall Classic.

Who can forget the 2003 Red Sox, who got within one Aaron Boone homer of the World Series riding first baseman Kevin Millar's "Cowboy Up" mantra?

And yes, who can forget the silly simian known as the Rally Monkey bopping up and down to House of Pain as the Angels stormed to the title in 2002?

All of these mottos are different and yet strikingly similar. They've created bonds with teammates and fans in the midst of unforgettable playoff runs, and that's always a good thing.

In fact, in summing up the "Claw and Antlers" craze, Washington could have been talking about any of these recent creative calls to action.

"My honest opinion when it started [was that] it's nice for something those guys could have fun with," Washington said.

"I never had a negative thought about it. Whatever it takes to relax them, whatever it takes for them to perform better, I am all for it."

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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