Here in Los Angeles we have been having an early autumn sports feast. The Dodgers and the Angels made the baseball playoffs, the UCLA and USC football teams have been involved in very dramatic games (both coming out as losers), and even our upstate rivals in Palo Alto and the Bay area are adding to the excitement.
My wife and I used to be active fans. We went to Dodger games, followed the Rams until they abandoned us, and cheered the composure of Mike Sciosca, even though his team plays in Orange County, where Republicans in California go to die. But we drifted away from sports -- watching as the games grew longer, the player salaries more grotesquely inflated, the commercial interruptions on TV more frequent, the commentary more tedious and pretentious. Bring back the Vin Scully style of sports announcing, with its emphasis on the character of the game, not the statistics, we begged.
But this year's lineup of events has drawn us in, to our dismay. My wife and I -- especially my wife -- have been shocked at the proliferation of long shaggy beards obscuring the faces of baseball players, making them all look like Cossacks. She remarked, "Most of them are not that attractive to begin with [she prefers ballet dancers]. The beards just make them plain ugly." I have to agree that scruffy beards don't suit them out there on the diamond, with its beautifully manicured lawns and tidy base paths. The players look like ruffians who somehow made it through security.
The beard fad started a few years ago with the Boston Red Sox, a perennial contender for a while after years of playoff drought. Now it has spread all the way to the west coast, like some kind of whisker virus. Do the players hope the fur will boost their batting averages? Have they all been recruited from the Hatfields and the McCoys? Or are they sons of lumberjacks? Aren't they embarrassed to step out of the batter's box to tuck their uncropped locks under their helmets and wipe away the spittle from their chins? Some of them have peanut shells lodged in the shrubbery. How would fans have reacted if Ted Williams or Babe Ruth or even Hank Aaron had come to the plate with facial hair growing down to their collarbones?
My wife is also put off by the baseball uniforms. "They look like they're playing in their pajamas," she notes with a sniff, referring to the lumpy pants that pile up cloth over their cleats, as though they have just come from a sleepover. "Why don't they all wear knickers, like the Cubs when they last won the World Series ?" If I am watching an important game, and she drops into the TV room to have a look, she turns away with a shake of her head if none of the players is wearing stockings. I can't argue with her on this. The long pants look terrible. Especially on a player who hasn't shaved since he came up from the minors.