Yankees-Red Sox Rivalry Heats Up with Free-Agent Signings…And Beards

Dan Levy@danlevythinksNational Lead WriterDecember 4, 2013

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 15:  Jacoby Ellsbury #2 of the Boston Red Sox reacts to striking out in the third inning at tduring Game Three of the American League Championship Series at Comerica Park on October 15, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Jacoby Ellsbury never looked right with a beard.

While the rest of the Boston Red Sox were scraggily avoiding razors during their 2013 run to another World Series title, Ellsbury maintained a quaffed goatee, perfectly manicured and trimmed at all times.

Now, after signing for seven years and $153 million, according to Yahoo's Jeff Passan among others, Ellsbury is going to have to break out the blade before his Yankees press conference. 

Maybe the Yankees just really, really hate beards.

I mean, look, we know the Yankees organization has hated beards as far back as the early Steinbrenner era. Since the days of the Bronx Zoo crew, the Yankees have had a stiff upper-lip-only policy with regard to face whiskers.

But maybe it's more than that this year. Maybe the Yankees are attempting to get their playoff karma back by not only forcing their current players to show their bare cheeks, but also targeting every top free agent with a beard in hopes of ridding Major League Baseball of facial fuzz. 

Think about it logically—as if a conversation tying in MLB free-agent signings based on their facial hair can be set inside any kind of logic. The Red Sox won a World Series after team bonding got out so of control the players were naming their own beards. They NAMED their beards! "Yeah, that's, uh, Fat Tony and that's Jimmy the Weasel."

What did the Yankees do in response? They went out and signed two of the 10 best free agents on the market, one of whom came from their bearded rivals to the north and another in Brian McCann who has one of the most recognizable beards in all of baseball, even if it's hidden under a catcher's mask most of the time. 

MIAMI, FL - JULY 8: Brian McCann #16 of the Atlanta Braves reacts in the dugout during the 11th inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on July 8, 2013 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Steve Mitchell/Getty Images)
Steve Mitchell/Getty Images

Sure the Yankees upgraded two key positions, but spending a combined $238 million on McCann and Ellsbury for five and seven years, respectively, was worth it for New York just to ensure a half decade with two fewer beards in the game. 

The Yankees must really, really hate beards. Especially after last season.

Don't believe the Yankees beardspiracy? Other Major Leaguers might. 

In spring training, Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price said the facial hair policy in New York was "not something I want to be a part of."

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - MAY 24: Pitcher David Price #14 of the Tampa Bay Rays watches play against the New York Yankees May 24, 2013 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. The Yankees won 9 - 4. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Of course, a day later, the pitcher—or, more likely, his agent, who is presently working with the Rays on any number of trade possibilities this offseason—walked back his anti anti-beard sentiment by telling reporters, via the New York Daily News, "[i]t probably wasn't the best thing to say, but I didn't mean anything by it. I wasn't looking to offend the Yankees. It's probably the best organization in all of sports. Not just baseball, but all of sports."

The Wall Street Journal went full boarder, beardback in February, quoting everyone from David Wells to Brian Cashman to another formerly bearded Red Sox star turned Yankee, Kevin Youkilis:

"I think I'm not the type of person who kept it well-groomed at all times, anyway—the length varied all the time. I'm not all that picky about my looks," Youkilis said with a shrug.

Before news broke that the Los Angeles Dodgers are planning to re-sign eccentric Rip Van Winkle enthusiast Brian Wilson, there was a brief rumor the Yankees may be interested in kicking the former closer's tires. 

The Wilson refusal led to Fox Sports scribe Tully Corcoran positing that the Yankees are losing out on free agents because of their antiquated but steadfast belief that beards are unprofessional.

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 15:  Brian Wilson #00 of the Los Angeles Dodgers sits in the dugout before the Dodgers take on the St. Louis Cardinals in Game Four of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium on October 15, 2013 in Los Angeles,
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

A week later, McCann agreed to terms in the Bronx. (Another team that was courting McCann? Yep, the Red Sox.) 

Surely Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is looking to do more than just rid the baseball world of flourishing follicles. He wants to win again. The Yankees have only been to the Fall Classic twice since 2003 and last won the World Series in 2009. Imagine how long Cashman's beard would be if he started growing one after his team's last championship.

Following a season where his clean-shaven Bombers not only missed the playoffs but finished a distant third in the American League East, Cashman had to make some major moves to upgrade a depleted lineup that—by way of injury, old age and suspension—can't seem to stay on the field.

If the Yankees go on to make the playoffs this season and McCann and Ellsbury are the cornerstone pieces of a resurgence to World Series greatness, it may be fair and reasonable to suggest that a part of the success had to do with beard envy. Or beard enmity, as it were. 

Anything under that hand, Brian?
Anything under that hand, Brian?Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The Yankees' free-agent haul is far from over, as Cashman still needs to figure out what to do at second base—to re-sign Robinson Cano or not—and snag a piece or two for his incredibly thin pitching staff. Could that include chin-strap-laden Matt Garza?

From Pinstripe Alley

If the Yankees are unable to land Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka this offseason, the team could turn to free agent pitcher Matt Garza to fill voids in their rotation. Garza is no stranger to the AL East after spending time with the Tampa Bay Rays before being traded to the Chicago Cubs, which could be attractive for teams who feel like the environment is a concern. Doug Williams of the YES Network thinks that Garza might be a good place to turn for insurance in case the Yankees are somehow out-bid for Tanaka's services when he posts.

Garza is a serviceable starting pitcher at this point in his career. He's also another player who would have to shave his face before his press conference.

And yes, the beard thing may be nothing more than coincidence. It does, however, fuel the fire of one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports while giving those of us with Hot Stove Fever something oddly conspiratorial to follow.

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 27:  Mike Napoli #12 of the Boston Red Sox pulls teammate Jonny Gomes #5 beard after hitting a three run home run to left field against Seth Maness #61 of the St. Louis Cardinals in the sixth inning during Game Four of the 2013 Worl
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Perhaps the latest chapter of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry will be remembered in that Boston grew epic beards during the 2013 season simply because Mike Napoli didn't feel like shaving, but somewhere in that movement must have been a stick right in the gut of The Man—with the Yankees playing the role of that particular Man.

The Red Sox hate the Yankees.

The Red Sox wore beards.

The Yankees hate beards and the Red Sox.

The Red Sox won with beards (and some suggest in part because of the beards).

The Yankees signed players, including one from the Red Sox, with beards. 

Those players must shave their beards.

SARASOTA, FL - MARCH 11:  Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury #2 of the Boston Red Sox smiles just before the start of the Grapefruit League Spring Training Game against the Baltimore Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium on March 11, 2012 in Sarasota, Florida.  (Photo by J
J. Meric/Getty Images

There are dots, people, and I can't be the only one connecting them. When the Yankees continue their offseason spending spree, signing players who can help usurp the Red Sox in the division is surely what matters most, beards notwithstanding. 

Taking Ellsbury away from Boston not only helps the Yankees in the short term—one has to wonder if the deal is a little too long and a tad too lucrative for a guy who has been as injury plagued as Ellsbury for there to be an enormous long-term benefit—but it hurt the rival Red Sox as well. 

The same can be said for the deal with McCann, who also signed a deal for a little too long and a tad too much, as evidenced by Boston's rental of baseball roustabout A.J. Pierzynski for one season.

For 2014, at least, the Yankees have already made enormous upgrades while taking talent away from Boston. New York does not like losing, especially to the Red Sox. 

This offseason has shown how serious New York is at thwarting its biggest rival. Even if it has to do it one shave at a time.


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