As long as there have been baseball players, there have been baseball beards. Some are temporary good luck charms, the annual playoff scruff that sneaks up on a bullpen around late September and October. Others take on personas and slogans of their own, becoming mythically-proportioned entities that nearly subsume their owners. Still others are grown without rhyme or reason, allowed to roam free regardless of circumstance, superstition, or playoff qualification (here's looking at you, Dustin Ackley).
It's silly to think that beard maintenance (or lack thereof) has any bearing on playoff success or overall player value, but just for kicks, let's see what happens when beards go wild. Do relievers find it easier to turn a double play with a five-inch goatee hanging off their chins? Did Brian Wilson blaze by more batters with a fearsome beard at his disposal? Does Dustin Ackley actually need facial growth long enough to inspire a line of beard hats? Let's find out.
Below are the five biggest beard cultivators* in the major leagues and their performance trajectory from minimal scruff to full-blown furriness. We'll start with the king of playoff beards himself.
*This is not a scientific process and the order of hirsute major leaguers below is largely up for debate, excepting the first two players mentioned. Players whose beards merit consideration are listed as honorable mentions at the end of this post, including those with significant growth but short beard lives (e.g. Joba Chamberlain, who only developed his beard during the 2014 season after terminating a long career with the smooth-faced Yankees).
Brian Wilson, Dodgers' RHP
Believe it or not, there was a time when Brian Wilson's face knew the blade of a razor. The eclectic San Francisco closer kept a close-shaven mug throughout much of the 2010 season, then let loose in August when the playoffs became more than a distant possibility for the team. By October, Wilson's beard was at 2014 Joe Beimel status -- impressive, but nothing too unusual according to the playbook of playoff scruff. Unfortunately, 2010 was also the best season Wilson had -- or would -- see for the next five years. The Giants experienced a down year in 2011, then Wilson vanished from the major league stage entirely. By the time he returned, he and his Beard were pitching for the Giants' most storied rivals. While the Dodgers have qualified for the postseason twice in the last two years, and Wilson's beard has nearly doubled the size of his face, the closer hasn't quite recovered the numbers he put up in his inaugural playoff year.
Jayson Werth, Nationals' RF
Off the mound, no one holds a candle to Jayson Werth's Fabio aesthetic. As with Wilson, Werth's best years were played when his beard was in its formative stages, and as it grew, his performance on the field spiraled downward. He saw his numbers dip well below average in 2011, then sat much of 2012 out with a recurring wrist injury. However, a resurgence in 2013 and 2014 might be enough to turn the tables -- and it doesn't look like his flowing locks will be trimmed anytime soon, especially not with a Jayson Werth Chia Pet giveaway in the works for the 2015 season.
Adam LaRoche, Nationals' 1B
Werth's teammate and Washington infielder Adam LaRoche grows his beard for one thing: hunting season. In a series of interviews given last spring, the 34-year-old explained that the beard was intended to help him "blend in" during his offseason hobby. Several months later, when baseball season began in earnest, LaRoche found no reason to trim the ginger unruliness sprouting from his chin, let alone get rid of it. While he has maintained his beard for just two seasons so far, it appears that wild facial hair agrees with him after more than doubling his value from 2013 to 2014 and seeing him through a semi-successful postseason run.
Dustin Ackley, Mariners' LF
The number one reason for getting creative with an array of facial ornamentation -- from handlebar mustaches to foot-long goatees -- is the celebration and superstition surrounding the playoffs. Dustin Ackley, on the other hand, is either trying to summon the favor of the baseball gods or inspire a 2013 Red Sox' vibe in the Seattle clubhouse. His WAR has been steadily declining since his rookie year with the Mariners, but his playing time has increased and he's handled a major position switch with relative ease in the last couple of years. His beard reached its peak in 2014 and, with it, his value got a significant boost from its sub-1.0 mark in 2013. If anything, the facial growth can only mean good things for the Mariners going forward... notwithstanding the departure of Joe Beimel and his luscious locks.
Jason Motte, Cubs' RHP
For Jason Motte, facial hair is more than an accessory. "It's a jungle in there," Cardinals' pitcher and former teammate Seth Maness told the press during a preseason expose on Motte's beard. "It's got waves to it now," Motte admitted, adding that his toddler used it as a pull-up bar to steal his sunglasses from time to time. On the field, the beard did little to pad Motte's statistics, even less so after the right-hander was sidelined with Tommy John surgery for the entirety of 2013. The 2014 season was his worst yet, preventing Motte from a third consecutive trip to the playoffs. The 32-year-old was recently acquired by the Cubs, who will test his ability -- and the luck of his monstrous beard -- in 2015.
If these five facial hair aficionados are any indication, perhaps it's the Yankees who have the right idea after all. A strict no-beard policy may eliminate some of the fun of the postseason, but it might also return some of the finesse and strength obstructed by scraggly neck beards and chin curtains.
Honorable mentions: Joba Chamberlain, Sean Doolittle, Justin Turner, and Adam Lind.