Following the A’s 4-3 loss to the Texas Rangers on Monday night, newly clean-shaven starting pitcher Dan Straily was asked how it felt working without a beard.
“It feels very clean,” Straily said. “But it’s just facial hair. It’s not really a big deal.”
Theoretically true, maybe – though a look around the A’s clubhouse, populated by faces of varying hirsuteness, could leave that up for debate. The bearded look is not universal, or even defining as it was for, say, the Boston Red Sox in last year’s playoffs.
Rather, for an A’s team that considers itself inclusive of a wide array of personalities and characters, that openness extends to the hair that extends off its players’ heads and chins.
Case in point: catcher Derek Norris, whose long, multi-colored beard is complemented by an equally flowing mullet. Norris has alternated between bearded and not since arriving in Oakland in 2012, but at some point last season opted to let it grow. He said he’s “not trying to be the next member of ‘Duck Dynasty’ or anything. It’s just something I like to have fun with.”
The freedom may be the key. Norris came up in the Washington Nationals minor-league system, where there were policies about facial hair. When Norris was traded to the A’s, he found no such policy. Thus the possibility for the range of appearances seen under the gold A’s cap bill, from Josh Reddick’s participation in a “beard-off” with WWE wrestler Daniel Bryan last year to Straily’s erstwhile stubble to the clean-cut look of Tuesday’s starting pitcher, Tommy Milone.
“I’m a firm believer that if you’re comfortable with the way you look and feel, you’re going to be more comfortable and play to a higher level on the baseball field,” Norris said. “In the minors, you have to have some structure, that’s a good thing.
“But I feel like at this level, the way we do things is you’re able to be who you are. And I think ultimately that’s what leads to some of our success is that as long as you play the game the right way and respect the game, respect your teammates, you can be yourself.”
It’s a feeling shared by reliever Sean Doolittle, whose red-orange whiskers form perhaps the only beard that rivals Norris’ for sheer impact. Doolittle, who started growing his last spring when the A’s relievers were doing “bullpen beards,” said he finds he learns more about teammates when all can express themselves freely.
While other A’s relievers last year ultimately shortened or shaved their beards, Doolittle kept growing his – even during a three-week stretch of summer when he pitched badly enough to consider trimming it.
“I’m superstitious but not to a point where I’m going to cut it if something happens,” said Doolittle. “At this point, I’ve fallen down this weird beard rabbit hole where I notice other people’s beards. I’m really into making sure it’s combed out, taking care of it, washing it. It’s just kind of who I am at this point.”
Beard rabbit hole?
“Yeah, I didn’t realize it’s like this club you’re in,” Doolittle said. “I’ll just be walking down the street, see some guy’s beard, see somebody’s beard in the stands. And they’ll like nod at you, you nod back to them. It’s crazy.”
Reddick was part of that club last season, though the right fielder recently became one of the A’s opting for a cleaner guise this year. Formerly long-locked catcher John Jaso, for example, arrived at FanFest this spring with a close-cropped look that prompted manager Bob Melvin to say he didn’t recognize Jaso at first. (“It was just way too long,” said Jaso, who termed the shaggy hair under his catcher’s mask “too much.”)
Reddick, meanwhile, started the season with long hair and beard – until a trip to a barber resulted in a shorter cut than Reddick intended. He trimmed the beard to match.
“I wanted to get back to a chinstrap look like I had two years ago,” Reddick said – part of the reason being that in 2012 he also had the best offensive season of his career. “Sort of, yeah,” he said. “And as much as I was a fan of the ‘beard-off,’ I wasn’t really a fan of the beard itself. Too high-maintenance.”
Current beard leader in the clubhouse?
“I’ve got to go Norris,” Reddick said. “Doolittle’s is more salon up-kept. D-No just lets his fly.”
While Norris isn’t sure how long he’ll keep up his appearance, Doolittle sounds attached to his.
“I enjoy being in a place where they don’t make you look a certain way,” Doolittle said. “You can kind of express yourself a little bit, so I tried it and found out I liked it.
“And, fortunately, my girlfriend, she says she likes it,” he added. “Whether she means it or not, that’s good enough for me.”