PHOENIX — When the Chicago White Sox signed veteran starter Dallas Keuchel to a three-year, $55.5 million contract in December, he had the fiercest, mightiest, hairiest beard in all of baseball.
“I didn’t even bother trimming it all winter,’’ Keuchel said. “I loved it.’’
Well, spring training rolled around, and Keuchel had no choice but to grab the scissors. The White Sox don’t require players to be clean-shaven like the New York Yankees, still permitting players to wear facial hair, only it must be trim and neat.
They made former ace Chris Sale cut off his “shaggy’’ beard in 2014, and slugger Jose Abreu was told to trim his beard two years ago when he arrived in camp.
“Our team rule is that you can have facial hair,’’ White Sox manager Rick Renteria said, “but it’s got to be clean.’’
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Keuchel arrived into camp with a trimmed beard, only not enough to satisfy the White Sox. He trimmed it again. It wasn’t enough. And trimmed it again.
Now, with two inches of hair coming off since his arrival, he still has a full beard, but it stretches the limits of the White Sox’s policy.
So, when White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf met last week with his team, telling his players he was available for anything they needed, he told Keuchel afterwards that he wanted to see him.
“I thought, ‘Oh, crap, I’ve got to trim this even more,’ ’’ said Keuchel, who has had a beard since 2014. “He was like, ‘Hey, man, you’re officially violating team policy. But I hear you’re a great guy. So let’s just keep winning, and we’ll be all right.’
“I said, ‘All right. My guy.’ Now, we’ve just to keep winning to keep this beard going.’’
It’s certainly not the rich, dark beard Keuchel enjoyed during his days with the Houston Astros, but it’s still a nice full beard.
“To me, it’s almost gone,’’ Keuchel says, “even though there’s still a lot there. It’s taken my face shape a little differently. But I love beards. My girlfriend (Kelly) met me at the height of my beard. It’s either you love it or hate it. There’s no in-between. A lot of guys don’t know what I look like without a beard, so they’d rather have me keep the beard, so I don’t look like an alien to them.’’
Yet if the White Sox start winning this season, and earn a playoff berth for the first time since 2007, who knows, maybe that beard can get a little fuller by the month.
“I started my beard the last week of spring training in 2014,’’ Keuchel said. “It’s going on seven years, and I love it. It’s taken on various shapes and sizes.
“It’s one of those things where I always liked beards growing up. My dad had a beard for 30-plus years. He was a horticulturist, and always had one during the winter. So, I always saw that growing up, and knew that’s what I wanted when I got older.
“So, the way I figure it, the more we win, the better it will be for the beard.’’
Just call it Survival of the Beard.