Monday, May 24, 2010

Beards of Summer

Since I reminded myself of it yesterday, here is one of Larry Anderson's Shallow Thoughts, which during television broadcasts in the late 1990s were always preceded by this question from Harry Kalas (clearly grinning in anticipation as he asked it): " you have a Shallow Thought for the day?"

"Yes I do, Harry. If a turtle loses its shell, is it homeless or naked?"

a pregnant pause, then the obligatory chuckle from HK

Man, when it's not Interleague Play, those Phillies sure are fun to watch, aren't they? They've made first place their exclusive home as of late, and in no small thanks to that lovable furry slugger, Jayson Werth.

Playing his first full season as a starter in 2009, Werth came into his own, bashing long balls left and right and displaying more patience at the plate than anyone else in the game. And for female fans, Werth wasn't a bad dude to look at while he trotted around those bases, growing out his locks for the playoffs and rockin' the cool soul patch on his chin.

Then JW showed up at Spring Training camp in late February looking like he had just spent the last three months mushing sled dogs through the Yukon. The patch had transformed into a thick forest, which became the focus of all his interviews. Werth grew irritated by that same question (Who are you hiding underneath that fur?) after a few days like anyone would. Then again, maybe Barry Bonds should have done the same thing. I'm not in any way suggesting that Werth is taking steroids, but if Bonds had grown out a long beard, it might have distracted everyone from his freakishly expanding cranium.

I already touched on the subject of Werth's facial hair in a column I wrote for the Times at the start of the 2010 season. Unfortunately for me, the jerk went and shaved off his beard the day before the column ran, disproving all of my humorous predictions about how long he would keep it.

Werth then turned the tables again by simply growing the beard right back! It's recently dawned on me that Werth, like all baseball players, is probably ridiculously superstitious when it comes to playing the game. He grew the beard in the offseason and decided he liked the look (god knows why; it makes his long face appear downright creepy), but the Florida heat eventually got to him and he shaved it off.

Then the baseball superstition kicks in when he realizes this is his final season before becoming a free agent, and he needs to convince the higher-ups around the league that last year wasn't a fluke. It's Opening Day, and that beard can't grow back fast enough.

In his first two games against the Washington Nationals (Werth and everyone else's punching bag in '09), Werth goes just 1-for-8. By the end of the week, however, whiskers have sprouted all over the place. He's back in the zone. Five games in, Werth's average spikes to .409.

But where's that explosive power? Put your trust in the beard, Jayson.

By late April, Yukon Werth has all but returned, and he goes yard twice in one game against Arizona. Come early May, the beard is large, and Werth is in charge. He piles up eight extra-base hits in six games and nabs Player of the Week honors. As of this posting, Werth is ranked third in the NL with a .327 batting average and leads the league in doubles with an eye-popping 22. He's also on pace for his first 30 home run/100 RBI campaign.

Though I make fun, Werth's strategy is clearly working, so stick with it, buddy.

It's possible Jayson could be taking the advice of teammate Ryan Howard. The Big Man has been sporting a thin beard since last season, and it has apparently done wonders for him as well. 2009 was Howard's most consistent season since his rookie year. Consider that his batting average dipped below .250 in just two games the entire season, and both of those came in the first week of April. For a power hitter that strikes out nearly 200 times a season, that's an amazing accomplishment. It's all thanks to the scruff.

Clearly I am not basing any of this posting on dependable and recommended statistical analyses. Werth and Howard will likely shave off their beards before tomorrow night's game and combine to go 7-for-9 with five taters just to spite me and my hairy theories. That's fine; fuzz or no fuzz, just keep on winning fellas.

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