The game of baseball has seen its share of changes in recent years: stronger PED testing, new instant replay regulations and a new movement of players such as Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Yasiel Puig that hope to keep lifelong fans excited about the game they love. Change is not easy to accept. Babe Ruth didn’t want to stop eating cheeseburgers, Mickey Mantle didn’t want to stop getting plastered the night before games and I know damn well that Keith Hernandez didn’t want to shave his mustache off.
The modern mustache of baseball is an intriguing storyline to keep an eye on. The new school players of 2013 have been keen to show homage to the greats, but also look for ways to stay relevant and unique in the mustache game of today. Superstition is not to be taken lightly as a hitter on a 15-game hitting streak or pitcher with 18 consecutive scoreless innings won’t let go of his creation so easily.
There are five concepts behind the mustache in baseball:
(1) Comfort: You own your mustache and lived your live as one with it ala Keith Hernandez. The thought of shaving never crosses your mind and you know that would look like a complete weirdo. Nobody wants that. You groomed it as a youngster and slowly found your style. Trimming schedule. Length. It’s as natural as putting on clothes. You don’t let it get too long and sure as heck don’t make it smaller. Have you ever seen Magnum P.I. with a pencil mustache? Of course not!
(2) Freestyle: You don’t give a bleep. Baseball is the name of the game and who cares what you look like? A 5 PM shadow could quickly turn into two week scruff, but if you’re putting up solid numbers then everybody should just back off. You might shave or you might not. It depends on how you feel. When you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror you don’t worry about “Swag”. You wash your face and begin your day. When one is workin’ it freestyle they most likely have long hair, and the facial hair is a necessary continuation of the look. Your friend with the comfort mustache and haircut will laugh at you because he doesn’t understand the freestyle game.
(3) Intimidation: This mainly applies to pitchers, typically closers, although first-basemen sluggers like Steve Balboni have been known to use this technique. Comfort does not apply here. It has to be freestyle and it must be wicked. Handlebar, imperial or horseshoe are acceptable as well.. The Clark Gable is not a good look for a closer, at least not in today’s world. If you are a refined starting pitcher like Greg Maddux or Bret Saberhagen then you can get away with a pencil ‘stache, but that does not work in the world of closers. That does not work at all.
(4) Superstition: You have a fresh look and minor swag but you’re hitting .230. What happens? You try something new. Goatee? Classic mustache? Maybe something cool that you don’t even know about. Your teammates give advice and you put a lock on the ‘stache once you find the right feel for you. You travel safely from city to city without fear of prank because teammates don’t shave the mustaches of other teammates. That’s just wrong.
(5) Team: This is the highest form of mustache mojo. The whole team has united as one and the team mustache concept usually appears late in the season and throughout the playoffs. Classic example: The 2004 Boston Redsox aka “The Idiots”. Sometimes all it takes is for one fan to get it started.
We are all familiar with the historic mustaches of baseball such as Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley, Goose Gossage, Rod Beck and Willie McGee, but it is time to look towards the future and appreciate what we have now.
Carlos Villanueva : Handlebar-Imperial Freestyle (not to be confused with the Horseshoe)
After seven years in the league with Toronto and Milwaukee, Villanueva signed with the Chicago Cubs and needed a new look. He has been known to sport a classic mustache and beard, however this season he stepped up his game and went imperial. Notice the upward curl. That’s a crafty technique for a starting pitcher looking to gain a slight edge on his opponents. The bushy beard is respectable in its own right, but the imperial ‘stache is the star here.
John Axford: Poor Man’s Pancho Villa
Any closer demanding respect must have some sort of quirk or mustache. After all, do you really want your closer looking like this? John Axford turned to a Pancho Villa-esque mustache and transformed it into a 70s look by growing out his hair and goatee thus making him look like the long-lost member of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Axford lost the closer role in 2013 which proves that too much mustache mojo can backfire on you.
Brian Wilson: Extreme Freestyle or The NSFW
This is a modern hybrid of styles and I am coining a new term for it called “The NSFW”. It’s an aggressive look even for a closer such as Wilson. It screams “I’m going to strike you out and find you online.” Once upon a time Wilson grew out the mustache and beard for the intimidation factor and superstition, but this is an all out war on the mustache game. This is a look that is in severe danger of being trimmed (not shaved) by teammates while on the road. In fact, Wilson was offered one million dollars yesterday to shave his beard for charity but he politely declined. Brian Wilson is clearly a brilliantly mad mustache mind.
Joba Chamberlain: Superstition Fail
Joba Chamberlain’s mustache appeared in spring training of 2013 and is more offensive than his pitching. After a brief six week life, the New York Yankee pitcher commented that “it wasn’t doing us any good”. It was a valiant effort by Joba, but this is something that you see on Dateline NBC with Chris Hansen. Thankfully Chamberlain had the support of his teammates who put an end to this offensive patch of facial hair. Where were they three weeks into this madness, though? Where were you, A-Rod? Derek Jeter? Curtis Granderson? The disabled list? Minor league re-assignment? Part of the duties of veteran ballplayers is to watch out for stuff like this. Disappointing.
Bryce and Bryan Harper: Freestyle, Superstition and Comfort
What do these two brothers have in common other than blood and a love for baseball? They both have an acute awareness of how one should rock a mustache and/or beard. The young sensation of the Washington Nationals, Bryce Harper, competed at this year’s home run derby and the appearance of his brother, a minor league pitcher in the same organization, caused an uproar. Bryan’s handlebar-style ‘stache is a nice compliment to his brother’s always-evolving freestyle. It remains to be seen if Bryan can make it to the big leagues, but it is safe to say that Bryce will have an amazing mustache consultant as he leads the game of baseball into a new era.