Dustin Pedroia shows off his beard during Tuesday's workout at Fenway Park.
(Photo: Bob DeChiara, USA TODAY Sports)
BOSTON -- At World Series media day on Tuesday, Red Sox outfielder Quintin Berry stood out for his thoroughly unremarkable facial hair.
"This is about three weeks right here," Berry says, stroking a few scant wisps on his chin. He blames genetics for his inability to fit in with his teammates. "My mama did it to me."
Directly across from Berry sat Boston first baseman Mike Napoli, one of the earliest adopters of the facial hair that has come to define the club. Like many of his teammates, Napoli keeps his mustache neat but lets his beard flow to lengths typically reserved for leather-clad bikers and the men of Duck Dynasty.
"It started in spring training," Napoli recalls. "Me, Jonny (Gomes) and (Dustin) Pedroia were just messing around, saying we were going to grow it out all year. And it just seemed like everyone jumped on."
After a brutal 2012 season that saw the Sox finish in last place in the AL East for the first time since 1992, the Red Sox seized an early lead in the division with an 18-8 record in April.
Baseball players are notoriously superstitious, and though no one on the Red Sox associated the team's record with its hairiness on Tuesday, it's hardly surprising that more and more of them grew out their whiskers as the club coasted toward the playoffs.
The beards have become a rallying point for the players, who take turns tugging on each other's beards in celebration, and the team's fans, many of whom now wear real or fake beards to games in the club's honor.
Napoli's beard is the gold standard for Red Sox players - "It's beautiful," says Berry - but plenty of his teammates will now take to baseball's biggest stage looking far less dignified. Starting pitcher Clay Buchholz's best effort, a translucently thin group of brown patches on his face, drew smirks from some Red Sox on Tuesday.
"It's kind of a white-trash beard," says veteran catcher David Ross, whose own thick, graying beard merits comparisons to Civil War generals.
"He stuck with it," outfielder Mike Carp says in Buchholz's defense from behind a face full of flowing blond curls that make him look like a 19th-century philosopher. "It doesn't matter what we look like. We're doing it because we're doing it as a team."
Gomes, who according to Carp "came into spring training with a pretty fierce beard," agrees that the quality of a player's beard matters not, so long as it's there.
"We don't vote on it," he says. "It's either have a beard or don't have a beard. We're all tied for first."
The so-called "playoff beard," long a tradition in hockey, is nothing new in baseball, either.
But even by the bushy standards of recent World Series, the 2013 contest will likely be the most hirsute of all time. Nearly every player on both teams has some configuration of facial hair.
Cardinals reliever John Axford won the American Mustache Institute's Mustached American of the Year Award in 2011 as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers. And Axford, who now wears a full beard himself, appreciates the Red Sox' dedication to the look.
"As a lover of facial hair myself, I think it's fantastic," he says. "They play it up quite well, pulling on the beards and blowing it out.
"Obviously their beards are a lot stronger than ours right now," Axford continues, looking around the room. "We have a lot of young guys, some baby-faces. Trevor Rosenthal actually has facial hair if you can tell, but it's very light in color. Maybe in a few years these guys will be able get it going."
But the comparatively well-kept Cardinals, many of whom only started growing beards when the team clinched the NL Central in September, will not be shaken by their shaggier opponents.
"If we're intimidated by the beards, we're in trouble," explains St. Louis manager Mike Matheny.
"It's definitely not intimidating," echoes the Red Sox' Ross. "Have you seen Buchholz's beard?"
Ted Berg, USA TODAY Sports