In Praise of Baseball Beards and Howard Johnson

Everyone knows a good baseball mustache.  Dennis Eckersley’s is the perfect example.  Mike Schmidt’s won co-MVP in ’81.  Sparky Lyle had the kind of lip thatch that could argue balls and strikes.  Any manager in any baseball movie ever had a proud one. In recent years, Jim Leyland has almost single-handedly maintained one of baseball’s finest traditions.

Great for wrestling. Fun at parties. Not a baseball ‘stache. Stupid James Blunt. He gets to do EVERYTHING.

As you probably know, the sweet science is a game of subtle nuance, and the term “baseball mustache” cannot be awarded tjust any goofball tresses sprouting betwixt a player’s nose and cupid’s bow.  Mike Piazza never had a real baseball mustache in my opinion.  Rollie Fingers, Catfish Hunter, and Goose Gossage had amazing staches each, but I’ve always considered their entries too old-timey for my very narrow definition of what makes a great sabermetic philtral coif.  Even Robin Yount is on the bubble, losing points in my system as his face hair rounds the corners of his lips and heads for home halfway to his chin.  Leading is fine, but I will tolerate absolutely no stealing  as long as I’m calling the game.  I will protect the plate, and in this case, the plate is the point at which  a stellar baseball mustache becomes a Hogan. Look, I know this leaves out Thurmon Munson, and I feel like a jerk about that.   But these are my parameters.  It’s a gut thing.  The quintessential baseball mustache is elusive.  It’s not perfect-game-elusive, but it’s kind of like a unicorn.  Everyone can tell you it’s not really out there, but you know deep in your heart it is.  You know that someday, when you need it most, it will be be there.  And it will have absolutely nothing to do with Jason Giambi.  It will be on a baseball card from the 80’s, an old issue of SI.  It will be from a time when proud men wore mesh hats and double knits without irony.  When torsos were bedazzled and every team wore powder blue for road games to show just how very tough they were.  Yes friends, the early, heady days of postmodern baseball were too fast and too few, so very much unlike the long off-season of our retro discontent.  So very much unlike the constructs in this paragraph.

Who’s more intimidating than Charles Bronson? Oh, that’s right. It’s me. By the way, I’m a pitcher, and yes, yes I will be holding a bat in my official Phillies photo.

Even so, the baseball mustache is widely (though often improperly) hailed, and hail it we certainly should.  But what about its shy-guy cousin, the greatness that is the baseball beard?  Off the top of my head, I can refer you to three Phillies and one no good stinkin’ Met.  Garry Maddox had a perennial beauty in all shapes and sizes.  Steve Bedrosian and Jeff Parret were a bearded bullpen tandem called the Firemen.

And then we have the man in blue and orange, a third baseman for the only team I hate more than the Yankees.  But alas, you majestic wonder, I can muster absolutely no ill-will for you whatsoever.  You are Howard Johnson, the Elliot from 30something of the Dwight Gooden-era Mets.

HoJo (can I call you HoJo?), I have to confess.  Back in the day, when Mackey Sasser, Mookie Wilson, Ron Darling and Co. were all my cousin could talk about, you were the Met I picked on.  You were, to me, a nerdier Gary Carter, and your nerdiness grew and grew in my mind as you slipped from the bright lights of baseball card fame.  Over time, I remembered you only as a caricature, a joke about hotels.  But you were actually a pretty good player, weren’t you?  Yes, I think you were.  Thanks for Kevin Elster and Greg Jeffries, by the way.  Rated Rookies.

Hoje, I have to tell you something else.  I was always convinced that you owned the line of comfortable, affordable hotels that bear your not-so-rare but oh-so-fitting name.  I mean, come on. Their corporate colors are blue and orange.  What was I supposed to think?  What were any of us supposed to think?  Brooks Robinson owned a sporting goods company.  Lots of players own car dealerships and restaurants.  I was convinced you owned the joint across from Dorney Park (next to the Perkins) and this is why I could never really hate you, sir.  And an awesome beard.

That’s not also the concierge uniform?

When you went to the Rockies, the hotels stayed blue and orange.  But I don’t think I even really noticed. You were out of the NL East. Out of sight and out of mind, as I believe they say.  Then you all went on strike and lost me for the most cynical (and strangely awesome) part of my teens.   I will forever feel a strange connection to you, HoJo, welling up from somewhere I know I’ve failed to name.  If the Mets ever make it back to the playoffs (of course I hope they don’t), I hope you grow your beard anew.  I hope you let that freak flag fly, Howard Johnson, right-handed 3b, New York Metropolitans.  You just let it fly.

Hogan picture via alacoolb on Flickr.

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14 comments

  1. A slighted Wade Boggs · February 11, 2011

    Entertaining read Bedrock! I now know what you were wishing for #31. You’ll still have a better stache when we hit up Phils fantasy camp in 9 years. Oh, and that HoJo autograph looks like my handiwork circa 1992. Did you steal that card from Paul Hudak?

    Like

  2. Howard Johnson · February 11, 2011

    Chris —

    You cannot hate me because I am a part of you.

    — THE Howard Johnson

    Like

  3. Laura G · February 11, 2011

    Wait a second! Neither Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own nor Danny Glover in Angels in the Outfield had facial hair!

    Like

    • Christopher Cocca · February 12, 2011

      Well, ALOTO is a period piece, so that doesn’t count. But it is a great baseball movie. One of my favorite movies in general, I’m proud to say. You make a good point about AITO, but we both know he should have had one.

      Like

  4. Eric Sylvester · February 11, 2011

    Say what you will about old timey mustaches, but they definitely have a place in baseball lore. I cannot believe you didn’t include Catfish Hunter; the SECOND I saw you go into your mustache conversation I was just waiting to see your admiration for the Fish.

    Oh, and the Mets suck.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Christopher Cocca · February 12, 2011

      With you on all counts. I mention the Fish…and I love his style. I do think Old Timey anything has a place in baseball, central place, even, but when I think baseball mustache, I think of those late 70s-early 90s gems. Very similar in form to the NASCAR ‘stache or the Selleck, but with a deeper voice.

      stinkin’ Mets.

      Like

  5. J · February 12, 2011

    I have that Howard Johnson baseball card. It resides in a box along with all the other worthless pieces of cardboard I thought would make me rich by the time I hit 30.

    Like

  6. Christopher Cocca · February 12, 2011

    Me too. I love the internet. Do you also happen to have Batman #500? Foil embossed cover, of course.

    That same set that the HoJo card is from (Topps 1990) also had Frank Thomas and Ken Griffey, Jr., cards, neither of which are worth anything as far as I know. There is a rather rare Frank Thomas error card that’s worth something, though…so check your cardboard.

    Like

  7. Jim · February 13, 2011

    Hi Chris…..I thought Rosie O’Donnell had a beauty.

    Like

    • Christopher Cocca · February 13, 2011

      HA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Just another reason why you were the best baseball coach ever. And you had (still have?) a GREAT baseball mustache!

      Like

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