OAKLAND, Calif. — Many a bearded major leaguer disapproves of the bushy black mess hanging from Brian Wilson’s chin these days.
Yet there’s no arguing the beard’s potential as the relief pitcher chases a third World Series ring in four years.
“Horrible, but it fits him,” said Oakland right fielder Josh Reddick, who trimmed his own beard during a funk earlier this season.
Across baseball, from the Bay Area to Boston and, this year, Southern California, those out-of-control playoff beards are back in a big way this October.
Hands down, the bushiest, most gnarly of them all belongs to Wilson. And he certainly can be considered among the trendsetters considering he grew his for the Giants’ run to the World Series title three years ago and has hardly touched it or tamed it since.
With a recent move from San Francisco to the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, Wilson is back in the playoffs. He won a World Series ring in 2010 as the majors’ saves leader, then earned another last year despite being sidelined for most of the season recovering from a second Tommy John elbow surgery.
Despite the often sore sight of Wilson’s ratty dyed-black ‘do, he has earned his share of respect.
“It’s impressive, and it’s got a World Series ring,” A’s reliever Sean Doolittle said. “That’s what everybody’s after, and that’s what all beards aspire to, I guess.”
Doolittle has a good one himself, unusual with its varying colors featuring a blond tuft in the middle — not chemically enhanced like Wilson’s foot-long fuzz.
“It’s tough to compete with the multicolored look, how it’s got the brown and the red, and the blond in the front,” Doolittle said. “It might not be the thickest or anything like that but it gets points for being unique and different.”
For many in this superstitious, unshaven fraternity, there’s no shaving until season’s end. Let those rally beards grow.
The Red Sox added some new bearded stars to their lineup this season, signing Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino as free agents along with Jonny Gomes — who took his beard from out West in Oakland to the Red Sox.
A’s catcher Derek Norris offered up some coast-to-coast razzing.
“The one common denominator with the beards, I think Jonny Gomes is probably the one who started that over there,” Norris said. “We had initially started some beards, so I’m not sure if Jon is stealing that away or is just wanting to continue it. In here, Doolittle takes it. In spring training, I asked him if he was going to grow it out and he said no. I said, ‘Just test it out for a few weeks,’ and look where he is now. It’s majestic, and it’s beautiful and red, and it’s great.”
Manager Bob Melvin is all for it. Just don’t ask the 2012 AL Manager of the Year to go anything but clean shaven.
“Whoever wants to do it,” Melvin said. “This organization has been known for its different looks and free spirit, so if that’s what they want to do and get some guys in the same direction with that, that’s fine. I’m not going to be one of them. They haven’t tried.”
While Wilson will be the biggest beard on the big stage in the National League playoffs, Cardinals closer Jason Motte and his beard will be bystanders this time around as he recovers from season-ending Tommy John surgery in May.
In Boston, the beards are something to celebrate right along with the club’s return to the playoffs under first-year manager John Farrell following a three-year absence. Napoli has taken to a beard-tugging ritual when things go right.
“It’s become one of the personality traits of this team,” Farrell said. “It’s kind of gained in popularity. As much as the helmet-slapping can be commonplace, this is ours. I can only imagine it doesn’t feel real good.”
The Red Sox marketing department pulled off a home run of its own when Fenway Park hosted “Dollar Beard Night” and had more than 4,000 beards show up — both the artificial and legitimate kind — with many others turned away.
“The beards are part of the camaraderie. It’s almost intense,” Red Sox owner John Henry said last month. “I, for one, underestimated — potentially have always underestimated — the effect of camaraderie.”
Doolittle won’t argue that. It has been a hoot in Oakland’s low-key clubhouse.
“Absolutely,” Doolittle said. “You get guys who are joking about each other’s beards and having friendly competitions to grow beards. It helps give the team a little bit of an identity. It’s just another fun thing that helps.”