There has always been a certain type of diehard Red Sox fan who feels the need to prove his devotion. And this season, the team inadvertently presented its male fans with a very simple way to display their commitment, one that is much easier than attempting to spell Saltalamacchia in a tattoo parlor.
Just get on the beardwagon, because 2013 is the year of the fur chinstrap in Red Sox Nation.
The beard-growing movement began in spring training with Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes, and as the Red Sox kept winning — despite all predictions to the contrary — most of the team got on board with the beards. Soon, many fans were making the commitment to put away their razors until this most-improbable season is over.
When the website Barstool Sports began selling T-shirts that read “Blood, Sweat & Beards” and the players started wearing it in the locker room, the team had a rallying cry, just like “The Idiots” and “Cowboy Up” of the past.
When the team clinched a playoff spot, thousands of Sox fans got on the beardwagon.
Beards as a form of team bonding is nothing new in sports. Hockey teams have been growing “playoff beards” for years. But it’s a first for the Red Sox, and it gels well with a team that feels more blue-collar than the star-studded disasters of previous years.
“I’ve grown playoff beards for the Bruins before, but this Red Sox team just felt different,” said George Conde, a fan from Malden who started growing his beard around the All-Star break this summer. “I can’t say I had a feeling this team was going to go this far, but this group plays with heart, which is so different from the teams of the past couple years.”
Conde has been able to grow a nice full beard. Some of the Red Sox, and many fans, have not been so lucky. Last month, the team released a guide to the beards — along with the popular hashtag #getbeard — that politely referred to the chaos on Clay Buchholz’s face as “The Buck.”
In truth, he’s having the same kind of luck as Scott Thompson, a 29-year-old Maine native who lives in San Diego and said his beard looks like he has a bunch of ants crawling on his chin. “I was never meant to grow a beard,” he said. “There’s hair here and there.”
And like many fans, and even some players, Thompson reports that the beard is not a hit with the ladies.
“I’m seeing a girl, and she’s not a big fan of sports, but I tried to explain to her that it was my way of showing support,” he said. “She said she’s going to cut it off in my sleep.”
Red Sox widows are not the only ones hoping for a sweep in the World Series. Many men are reporting that their children are less than thrilled with dad’s new beard.
“They say it scratches them, but they’ll have to live with it for a couple more weeks,” said Aaron Vowels, a Sox fan in Louisville. “I refuse to shave it for fear they won’t hit any more grand slams.”
Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at Tufts, said his 9-year-old daughter refuses to kiss him until he shaves, but his 13-year-old son said it makes him look distinguished and professorial. His students, however, have been silent about his attempt, and he guesses it’s because they think they would insult his look, which he describes as “homeless guy in a professor suit.”
“I’m realizing I’m totally unschooled in the notion of beard hygiene and trimming,” he said.
If beard conditioning is not your thing, or you’ve got an ant problem like Thompson, there are always fake beards. Boston Costume in Cambridge reports that they always see a run on fake beards during a Bruins playoff series, but that it is nothing compared to what’s happening with the Red Sox. “It’s definitely more extreme and peculiar,” said Susan Rowe, an assistant manager at the costume shop.
But there is nothing like the real thing, and once you start on the solidarity beard, fans say, you enter a subculture where you get knowing nods from other fans, strangers who want to shake your hand, and bosses who just want to make sure it’s not a permanent decision.
And once it’s there, the bearded say, the only rule is that it cannot come off until the Duck Boats start rolling for the victory parade. (Or something else happens, which they refuse to consider.)
Joe Jeffrey, a newly bearded fan from Northborough, was at Game 2 of the series against the Tigers, and as the Red Sox were being no-hit for the first couple of innings, he told his brother that maybe he needed to cut his beard to swing the luck their way.
“Two innings later, David Ortiz hit the grand slam,” Jeffrey said. “I can’t believe I lost faith.”
As Ortiz’s home run landed in the bullpen and Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter dove over the wall after it, a bearded Boston police officer named Stephen Horgan shot his arms into the air in what has now become the iconic image of this wild season. After the game, it was revealed that Horgan himself was on the beardwagon — he had started growing his just before the playoffs.
For all its itchiness, and the accompanying disgruntled wives and children, the newly bearded say their whiskers come with one grand bonus: It gives them something to stroke during tense games.
Bob Oakes, a Worcester native and the host of the NPR show “Morning Edition,” said that he was rubbing his playoff beard a certain way during game 6 against the Tigers, and the Red Sox kept striking out. As soon as he changed his stroke, Shane Victorino hit a grand slam.
“I’m going to be rubbing under the chin for the World Series,” said Oakes, who had a beard for 20 years before shaving it off 10 years ago. But after the seven-game series — “Hopefully only four,” he said — it has got to go.
“I said to my wife, ‘Do we keep this?’ And she said, ‘Been there, done that, not doing it again.’ ”
Correction: An earlier version of this story gave the incorrect name for a person interviewed. Scott Thompson, a 29-year-old Maine native, was interviewed in this story.