Long before 2013 and The Beards won over the hearts and minds of Red Sox Nation, we indulged in an even greater—yet more singular—beard mania.
Kevin Youkilis first rose to prominence as the "Greek God of Walks," better known for his penchant at not swinging than for his wacky batting stance or his defensive prowess. And there was absolutely no sign of the future slugger hiding in that goofy-looking frame. For Youkilis—as attested by his rookie card—was not exactly the prospect who would strike fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers or baserunners hoping to make it to first or third.
But somewhere along the way—sometime before or during the wonderful 2007 season—Youkilis hit his prime. It was at this point that instead of Youkilis, Greek God of Walks, he became the mighty Youk, Destroyer of Pitch Counts and Dreams. The source of that mighty power seemed to be just the realization of promise through hard work. True fans, however, knew the real answer: The Beard of Truth.
You won't find any mention of The Beard on Kevin Youkilis's Wikipedia page (unless some miscreant goes and adds it after reading this just to spite an Internet blogger—and admit it, some of you were just about to head there now!). But it was an indisputable part of his existence and his power. It became the defining characteristic of Youk—he and the beard were inseparable of the minds of many. When Youkilis shaved his beard for charity following the 2007 World Series win, it was so outlandish and so inconceivable that it rendered OTM blogger Randy Booth speechless:
was all he was capable of uttering upon seeing a newly shorn Youkilis. It was a shock to us all.
The Beard was a manifestation of raw, primeval power. It looked like small woodland creatures could inhabit it and Youkilis wouldn't even know. It seemingly had its own personality, taking on different aspects as it morphed in various seasons from a menacing goatee to a less foreboding full beard. It was a sight to behold.
But little did we all know that the best was yet to come. In 2009, the Beard revealed that it had a mind of its own—rather literally. We were unprepared, as Red Sox Nation, to handle the awesomeness and majesty of the Beard in its full stride. Having both a Twitter account and its own website (the Twitter account is sadly moribund), it delighted and amused Red Sox nation and the sports world at large for several years. While its obvious pro-beard bias could have led to disaster if its suggestions were followed—for instance, the Beard once pleaded with Theo Epstein to sign Jayson Werth—the Beard was clearly a thinker ahead of its time. It even inspired homages from the likes of Surviving Grady. With the Beard, all things were possible.
Unfortunately, the Beard of Truth never made it to join in the 2013 hijinks, and we, as a people, are the poorer for not being able to experience it. For, as we know, Youkilis was traded by the Sox to the Sox of the paler color in 2012 as he was clearly in the twilight of his career. Worse still, the Beard's fate was sealed when Youkilis signed a free agent deal with a beard-loathing franchise in Gotham. The rules were the rules, and the Beard had to go. However, without the Beard, Youkilis was little better than Samson without his locks. The predatory punisher of poor pitching practices pretended and performed like an extra from Seinfeld or The King of Queens. In pinstripes Youkilis looked like a shell of his former self. It was what allowed us to endure the shock of the move: he was just somebody with a beard we used to know.
In spite of the loss, we'll always have the wonderful moments when the Beard seemed to take over Youk, like Youkilis's outsized reaction to Daniel Nava's grand slam—and of course, all the many moments when the Beard destroyed opposing pitching. It was truly one beard above all the rest.