In the middle of his decade-long tenure at Sports Illustrated, Steve Rushin once wrote: “Perhaps you’ve noticed, the men at the top of baseball’s all-time saves list are at the bottom of baseball’s all-time shaves list.”
Little has changed since then. Today, pitchers sport ‘staches, beards and goatees of all varieties to give them a mental edge, a sort of primal, furry battle cry. But inside every lip lizard, nose merkin and wideburn, there’s a dark side. Sure, they make you look tough at first, but they can turn on you in an instant, like old sushi. One second, you’re standing on the mound looking like you were touched by Gods of Selleck, and the next you’re just a dude, alone on a hill, with schmutz on your face.
So here, for your appreciation, we offer 10 examples of this stunning shift.
Ryan Franklin’s Chin Fire Crotch
The fire raging on Franklin’s chin immediately endeared him to the fans in St. Louis, who appreciated how well it matched their Cardinal Snuggies. But after four amazing years in the closer role, he started blowing saves. Soon the beard that represented safety and security for Cards fans became the symbol of their oppressor. If you look closely, you can see him Yelping barbershops in his head, while Yadier Molina watches the ball take out a riverboat on the Mississippi.
Jason Motte’s Amish Paradise
Here, Franklin’s teammate opts for the full-face look, which does a pretty good job of getting his point across. On the left, check out Motte, looking generally terrifying. On the right, check out Motte, looking like a Build-A-Bear.
Rollie Fingers’ Wax Museum
While Rollie Fingers was setting saves records with the Oakland Athletics, his waxed, twirling twister of a mustache was winning him groupies all across the country. It was the ’70s, hair was in and people thought so highly of good closers they said stuff like this about them: “A fellow has to have faith in God above and Rollie Fingers in the bullpen.” –Former A’s manager Alvin Dark.
Fingers went to Milwaukee to finish his career, the ’80s dawned and his Dali-With-A-Slurve look went from charming to annoying.
John Axford’s Fu Man-Chewwwww
Axford, the hair apparent to Fingers out of the Milwaukee Brewers’ pen, pulls off the handlebar to near perfection. At left, we see him looking toward the plate like someone just heisted one of his velvet pillows. On the right, he rubs the ball down after giving up a run. He’s not frowning, technically. But his fu manchu is.
Clay Zavada’s Bonnaroo Attendee
Zavada, now in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ farm system as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery, showed the world what he was made of when he was up with the Big League club in 2009. At left, we see him with a mustache running down his face like he just chugged some tar. In the second frame, you see him wishing that he actually did.
George Sherrill’s Pudgy Pirate
Sherrill, shown here sporting his trademark Flapjack Sparrow, had the Pudgy Pirate look down through much of 2009. Over the final two months of the regular season, he swashbuckled his way to an ERA below 1.00, struck out twice as many guys as he walked and strutted around L.A. demanding that staff at In-N-Out “shiver [his] timbers” every time he ordered a milkshake.
Then he got ripped by the Phillies in the NLCS. The right side is what that looked like. A pirate. Planked.
Jayson Werth’s Ginger Beard Man
Relievers aren’t the only ones caught in the grips of the power-parody duality. Take Jayson Werth. On the left, we see Werth in 2010 rocking the Trucker Tim Riggins in his final year with the Phillies. On the right, we see Werth after warm-ups in Philadelphia this year, a couple minutes after he realized he was actually playing for the Nationals.
Eric Wedge’s Aging Walrus
Managers, too. Look how happy Seattle skipper Eric Wedge looks after he was announced as M’s manager last October. A new beginning. A new mustache. Like a walrus with a Windsor knot.
But that was the off-season. Since April, the Mariners have carried their fans through another roller-coaster ride–the kind that breaks down pretty much always–to another sub-.500 record at the All-Star Break. The season’s also taken its toll on Wedge and his facial frock, as you can see on the right.
Note: Wedge’s mustache later ended the argument by eating the ump.
Bobby Jenks’ Chin Shrub
Jenks once threw over 100 mph with regularity, leading some to believe that his goatee just exploded out of him one day, like Athena out of Zeus’ skull. Or the cream out of your doughnut. Whatever. Either way, on the left, we see Jenks ready to uncork one. On the right, we see Jenks, post-HR, trying to pretend he can’t see you.
Brian Wilson’s ZZ Mop
The awful facial hair phenomenon even afflicts the unflappable Brian Wilson, closer for the Giants and possessor of the most prolific follicles in baseball. When the city of San Francisco needs to re-sod a park, Wilson just rubs his face on the dirt.
So when things are going well, the beard looks like Night itself is holding onto his jawbones for safety. But when things go badly, things look like this:
Photos: Getty Images