Hairy situation: Beards sprouting in bullpens

Hairy situation: Beards sprouting in bullpens

Hairy situation: Beards sprouting in bullpens
"Fear the Beard"?

Some marketing types obviously have misunderstood the Giants' rallying cry for closer Brian Wilson. They thought it went "Fair the Beard," so an amusing campaign has renaissance types having a jolly good time among those black whiskers.

Coupled with Wilson's starring role in the Giants' 2010 World Series championship, the spots have turned his into the best-known beard since the Smith Brothers'.

As for others in baseball, it has been more a case of "Flatter the Beard," imitation being the highest form of that sentiment.

More and more relievers seem to be exiting Major League bullpens with enough hair on their cheeks and chins to give members of the International Barber Association nightmares.

Houston reliever Jeff Fulchino sports a full beard (as does Astros starter Brett Myers, himself a one-time closer with the Phillies). Cleveland closer Chris Perez may resemble a member of ZZ Top by the All-Star break -- he started the season in full bloom, the Indians are hot, and he brought a perfect ERA into Tuesday's game against the Angels, so this is no time to pick up a razor.

Then there is the Royals' hirsute bullpen. Half of Kansas City's eight relievers sport beards: Tim Collins, Aaron Crow, Kanekoa Texeira and Sean O'Sullivan.

Yet, all this and more notwithstanding, we say seem because facial hair has long been as crucial a part of relievers' repertoires as split-fingered fastballs and short memories.

Go back to Al Hrabosky's "Mad Hungarian" Fu Manchu. Rollie Fingers' handlebar and Goose Gossage's muttonchops. Or another Hall of Famer, Bruce Sutter, full-bearded during his days with the Cardinals and Braves.

You could even go all the way back to that most famous of Cuban pitchers, Fidel Castro.

Coming in to get three outs with the game's outcome in the balance can be a hairy responsibility, sure. But what's with all the hair?

Part intimidation. Part superstition. You get lazy for a few days, go without shaving -- and you're untouchable. Gotta be the stubble, so they stay.

Consider Ryan Franklin, who continued the Cardinals' fine tradition of bullpen beards by showing up for Spring Training a couple of years ago with a thick red growth on his chin, and the next thing he knew it was the middle of May and he hadn't yet given up a run.

"Yeah, man, this thing's got a lot of power in it," Franklin said when his beard had begun to attract attention. "It's got a mind of its own. It talks to me."

This St. Louis tradition may be safe for yet another relief generation. Jason Motte, one of the team's potential closers-in-waiting, already has his training whiskers.

Incidentally, lest you think Wilson has inspired a first-of-its-kind phenomenon, be reminded that Franklin's growth became every bit as famous, but without crossing the line into pop culture. There were no "Dread the Red" signs around Busch Stadium.

But has Wilson inspired a new tidal wave of bullpen beards? After all, in baseball, success breeds mimicry, whether it's infield shifts, stealing bases -- or leading with the hair on your chinny chin chin.

The Royals' Collins concedes that Wilson has had an influence -- up to a point.

"Well, he sorta did," Collins said, "but I don't think we're trying to grow his kind of a beard."

Teammate Crow waved off the notion, crediting lethargy, not Wilson, with his own beard.

"I just got lazy and it just grew up," Crow said. "It looked a lot better than I expected," so it stayed.

"I started growing it last year in Spring Training and got off to a good start, so I kept it," said the Indians' Perez. "Now, it's kind of my image."

Collins, incidentally, mentioned another reason why he went to the beard -- bringing to light why some teams' relievers will always be clean-shaven: Because he could, after spending 2010 on Minor League teams with the Braves and the Royals, teams that had no-hair policies in the farm system.

Being invited to the Royals' Major League Spring Training camp freed him to "actually grow a beard this offseason, so I'm trying to keep it as long as I can."

Several big league teams, such as the Yankees and Marlins, have strict facial-hair policies. Mariano Rivera won't be growing a goatee or vandyke anytime soon.

Beards certainly have not been the exclusive province of pitchers. Position players have also worn noteworthy facial bushes. Johnny Damon shed his Boston-era caveman look for charity, as well as a contract with the Yankees. More recently, the Phillies' Jayson Werth reigned as the outstanding bearded outfielder.

But pitchers, especially relievers, are the most prominent members of the Wild Hair Bunch -- even though having a beard certainly does not assure success. Blaine Boyer must take his beard away from the Mets, who designated the right-hander for assignment on Sunday.

Even the few ballplayers who had a Beard on their driver's licenses (and we don't mean just the photo) were pitchers.

The only active one is Hayden Beard, a 26-year-old Australian right-hander trying to pitch his way out of the depths of the San Diego Padres' farm system. He began this season in Lake Elsinore of the Class A California League.

Dave Beard was quite a bullpen workhorse on the Oakland side of the Bay in the early 1980s. With the A's in 1982, he earned 19 decisions, an unusually high total in relief, going 10-9 in 54 appearances, only two of them starts. Beard wound up logging seven seasons in the Majors, including a brief 1989 return with the Tigers.

With a career record of 19-20, Dave was the most successful Beard in big league history, by far. There have been only three others since the 1800s, and two of them were also pitchers: Mike Beard (1974-77) won four games and Ralph Beard (1954) went 0-4.

The only other Beard was Ted, an outfielder from 1948-58 whose lifetime batting average of .198 suggests that perhaps he, too, should have given pitching a go.

Tom Singer is a national reporter for Follow @Tom_Singer on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.