We’re approaching the end of baseball’s World Series between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals and one thing is certain. Never has there been such a display of beards and bling in one place for a sporting event since the Olympic games of Ancient Athens. And even then the Athenians used laurel leaves to adorn themselves, not titanium.
You may have noticed the beards. Throughout the majors, ballplayers are starting to look like extras in Game of Thrones. For the 2019 series, Houston has Robinson Chirinos, José Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, and two pitchers, Robeto Osuna and Gerrit Cole.
Osuna, in particular, gives menacing stink eye from the mound, which sits just sixty feet from the batter’s box. He throws 95 mph fastballs from that distance. Not only is that not enough time to react, it barely leaves time to think. I’ll let you do the math.
Meanwhile, conscious of their scruffy, newcomer image to postseason play and not to be out-bearded by a team that used to play on Astroturf, the Nationals have met the hirsute challenge and even raised the stakes. All you have to do is look at Stephen Strasburg, Aníbal Sánchez, and Anthony Rendon to realize that they are serious.
Actually, you can’t do anything but take seriously a guy named after Hannibal, scourge of the Romans.
Fernando Rodney, Nationals pitcher, is in a class of his own for sporting a beard, wrapping his head in a bandanna, and tugging his cap to one side as if to add crazy to the mix. You don’t get much more ferocious than that. An eye patch, maybe.
Although not in the World Series, Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies has attracted interest not just for his beard but for the Samson effect it has produced. Clean shaven, Blackmon hit only one homerun in 2011. Then, looking like a woolly mammoth, he hit 37 in 2017. I’ll let philosophy professors and mathematicians debate the significance of facial hair in that turnaround (see “The length of Charlie Blackmon’s beard is directly proportional to his home run output”).
And then there’s bling. It, too, seems to be everywhere. Look no farther than Jon Lester of the Chicago Cubs and Justin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox. You would think that it’s a matter of fashion, all those necklaces that look like bicycle chains hanging down from ballplayers’ necks. But not so. There is a scientific–or pseudo-scientific–reason to the fashion madness.
The necklaces are made of titanium, which some believe stimulate electrical charges in the body, thereby enhancing performance. The company that manufactures them claims to have developed an “aqua-titanium technology” and that their necklaces are “favored by professional athletes all over the world.”
I don’t know much about titanium except that NASA uses it on Saturn V rockets and satellites. I also don’t know much about the company, although it is the target of a class action lawsuit, which means consumers were certainly stimulated, just not in ways the company had hoped.
I have seen similar kinds of jewelry on basketball players, although not nearly to the degree as in major league baseball. Baseball may be a natural sport for such self-expression. Ballplayers don’t run up and down the court, sweating, jostling, and careening. Neither are they burdened with heavy gear as in ice hockey and football. You also wouldn’t see rugby players wear bling for obvious (and painful) reasons.
Perhaps a new style is emerging, combining baseball with the wider culture. After all, chains and baseball caps have been de rigeur among rappers and avant-garde film directors for a while. Why shouldn’t the trend move in the opposite direction? We may be on the verge of a new cultural expression. Think of it as Las Vegas meets Cooperstown. Think, too, of the money Major League Baseball can make from ancillary markets.
Think of the money you can make. This could be the tip of a lifetime. Wouldn’t you like to be the guy who invested in a ball cap factory in the nineties? Well, here’s your chance to create the next look.
Just remember. You heard it here.