(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Is it just me, or does it seem like a player instantly becomes more interesting, from a fantasy aspect, when he starts growing crazy facial hair? I'll be sitting at home, flipping through games, and I'll see a that a certain batter or pitcher is suddenly sporting a new goatee or beard, and instantly become intrigued. Baseball players are a superstitious lot, and many times if they're growing out a wacky soul patch/sideburn combo, it's because they're going good and they're terrified of shaving it off. Being able to identify these shaving-deprived hot streaks could be a skill that separates the fantasy champs from the chumps.
This form of superstition has led to some of the most awesome facial hair concoctions in the history of man, a bevy of bizarre bristles that would make Ambrose Burnside proud. Who could forget Al Hrabosky, The Mad Hugarian, and the mustache that screamed bloodthirsty insanity? How could we ever forget Don Mattingly's awesome 'stache that George Steinbrenner loathed ever so much? I'm halfway convinced that Ted Turned handed Bruce Sutter a nutty contract in the '80's simply because of Sutter's incredible beard.
In tribute to the brave men who have added color to our favorite sport by putting down the razor and ramping up the awesome, here is a position-by-position list of the players with the greatest facial hair ever to grace the sport. If they could concoct a fantasy team based solely on shaving habits, this would be the All-Star team. I'd incorporate FHORP (Facial Hair Over Replacement Player), but I'm afraid that's still a work in progress.
1B: Jeff Bagwell
Jeff Bagwell rocked the goatee for most of his career, but in one season in his later days, he apparently decided to start sprinkling chia sprouts onto his chin. You certainly couldn't be blamed for thinking that Bagwell's super-charged chin fuzz had him looking like an extra from The Road Warrior.
While his personal grooming decisions may have been in question, his bat wasn't. In a fabulous career that spanned 15 seasons, Bagwell left the game with .297/.408/.540 batting line (149 OPS+) despite spending a good portion of his time in the home run-killing Astrodome. That should be good for an easy waltz into the Hall Of Fame, assuming he doesn't get sucked into the "steroid era" vortex.
2B: Scott Spezio
Okay, so I'm cheating a little here. Spezio actually played more games at first base in his career, but he initially came up as a second baseman and played quite a few games there throughout his twelve big league seasons, so sue me. The erstwhile World Series hero and Sandfrog founder made a name for himself in the annals of facial hair heroism with this dyed-red soul patch he grew upon joining the Cardinals in 2006. Whether or not it was coincidence, Spezio also enjoyed a career resurgence that year, bouncing back to be a key contributor to the Cards' World Series run after two miserable seasons in Seattle.
SS: Rich Aurilia
Historically, shortstop has a deep position when it comes to facial hair excellence. You had Robin Yount and his mulleted handlebar brilliance. You had Dickie Thon sporting the tasteful, conservative 'stache. You had Ronny Cedeno with...this. For all-time greatness, though, I have to go with one of my favorite players ever, The Goateed One, Giants shortstop Rich Aurilia. The Brooklynite had a solid career as a shortstop with pop, but it was the goatee that endeared him to Bay Area fans as he helped lead the team to three postseasons in four years during his heyday.
The goatee defined him. When I was a senior in high school, I grew a truly hideous goatee in tribute to Aurilia. To this day I can't look at my Senior graduation video. I failed because I made the mistake of trying to replicate true genius. No one could rock the goat fuzz like Aurilia, and I'm pretty sure no one has since.
3B: Wade Boggs
The perpetual mustache that Boggs wore in his eighteen major league seasons essentially symbolized his entire career. Consistent. Excellent. Stable. Before 2004, Red Sox fans knew only tragedy, defeat, and disappointment, but they knew that they could always count on Boggs for three things: a league-leading batting average, a good glove, and the 'stache. Even when he defected and went to the Yankees, and then later with Tampa Bay, Boggs never doffed the bristles. He even kept the mustache when fighting mutated swamp creatures in horrible SyFy made-for-TV films. Now that's commitment to a cause!
LF: Dave Kingman
Kong is one of the most maddening players in baseball history. Fans used to flock to Mets and Cubs games to watch him hit 500-foot home runs, but he would rarely supplement that with any other skill. He hit for a low average, didn't draw walks and, by many accounts, was an unbelievably horrible fielder. He once led the league in home runs while batting .204. One time, when a game got delayed because Kingman's glove tore and needed to be repaired, Mets announcer Richie Ashburn quipped that they should have hired a welder.
Is it any wonder then, that Kingman had his best year when he grew this bit of awesomeness in 1979 with the Cubs? After Kingman started sporting the mustache, he became a legitimate MVP candidate. That's no joke. In 1979, Kingman hit .288/.343/.613, with a league-leading 48 home runs. Defense aside, those are far better numbers than those that Willie Stargell, 1979's co-MVP, put up that season. Kingman got hurt in 1980 and then got traded to the Mets, where he never put up numbers close to matching '79. We'll assume it's because he shaved off the 'stache.
CF: Gorman Thomas
No player represented the blue-collar, beer-swilling Harvey's Wallbangers Brewer teams of the early-80's quite like Gorman Thomas. With his wild hair-and-mustache combo, Thomas seemed more like a guy who'd be watching the game at the local tavern rather than actually playing in it. Thomas was a three true outcomes god before his time, and he (shockingly) played a pretty adept center field despite not looking anything like the part of a guy who is supposed to cover the most outfield ground. If there's anyone on this list that you'd expect to suddenly get up and yell, "Oh, fiddlestache!", it's probably Gorman. Let's all raise a glass to one of the most intoxicating mustaches, on one of the most colorful players, in baseball history.
RF: Oscar Gamble
Here he is. The legend. Gaze in awe. It isn't just the mustache that puts him on this list, of course. It's the full ensemble. Gamble is the real deal. He didn't mess around. He beats any mullet, faux hawk, or...goodness gracious...cornrows that have come ever since, And you know what? For a guy who looked like he should be co-starring in films with Pam Grier and Rudy Ray Moore, he was a pretty darn good hitter, amassing 200 home runs and a career 127 OPS+.
C: Thurman Munson
Taken from baseball way too early, Munson was apparently a pretty surly guy, and the mustache backs up that claim. That's a catcher's mustache, a big, tough beast born of years crouching behind the plate and taking hits at full speed from opposing runners. It's a mustache that pitchers don't shake off, if they know what's good for them. It's one that doesn't take any guff, from nobody. Munson tragically died when he lost control of his plane in August of 1979, but the legend, and the 'stache, lives on.
DH: Steve Balboni
Owner of one of the great nicknames ever, Steve "Bye-Bye" Balboni hit a lot of home runs in his prime years with the Royals, and was a key player in the franchise's 1985 championship season. Honestly, it should be a legal requirement that anyone dubbed "Bye-Bye" must sport a cool mustache. That mustache he sported was pretty much representative of his hitting philosophy: swing hard and watch the ball go bye-bye. Balboni didn't mess around at the plate. He was going to wail away at the ball and try to hit it over the fence, and if he struck out, so be it. That worked for a while, but once the strikeouts consumed him, Balboni went "bye bye" himself.
SP: Dustin Hermanson
Pitchers are a different breed altogether, and there's just something about them that lures them toward the world of bizarre facial hair. You've had the mustaches (Randy Johnson, Dave Stieb), the bad mustaches (Derek Holland), the goatees, and the beards. For this, though, I'm going to go a little obscure, in the form of journeyman pitcher Dustin Hermanson, who rocked some of the craziest goatees ever.
Hermanson started experimenting with intricate goatee designs sometime around 2004, and the result was this. I mean, look at that. It looks like a miniature alien spacecraft landed on his face and we're seeing its takeoff spot etched in his beard. I remember he used to shave in designs that resembled odd, alien languages. Mediocre pitcher, Hall Of Fame goatee.
RP: Brian Wilson
Here we are, the inevitable conclusion to this post, a discussion of Brian Wilson. There's a laundry list of honorable mentions at the relief pitcher position (Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, etc.), since part of a relief pitcher's schtick is scary facial hair intended to make him look like a serial murderer. However, for the top spot, we've got to go with The Beard. It started a movement, a genuine phenomenon. In the waning weeks of the 2010 season and all throughout the postseason, The Beard became San Francisco, and San Francisco became The Beard. Never has face fuzz captured the heart and soul of a city's populace like the dark beast that Wilson sported during that playoff run. When compiling a list of the greatest facial hair in baseball history, the line starts at The Beard.