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What’s behind the beard? It’s been almost a decade since Charlie Blackmon hid the lower half of his face behind a majestic mane, but we used to know. When the Rockies first called Blackmon up to the big leagues in 2011, he sported sideburns but left his plump 24-year-old cheeks exposed to the world.
Then he got hurt. Less than a week after hitting his first home run, Blackmon broke his left foot sliding into third. He grew a baby beard while rehabbing, shaved it for the start of the next season, bounced between the minors and majors for two more years, and then, finally, retired his razor for good before the 2014 season. Blackmon made his first All-Star team that year. He later told mlb.com that his facial hair made him feel like the Terminator, though he created his own alter ego and named him Chuck Nazty.
Blackmon is now 37 and in the final year of his contract with the Rockies. The trade deadline is July 31, meaning that, if Blackmon continues to post solid numbers this season, the team might flip the aging outfielder to a contender before the month is out. In other words: It’s time to discuss the Bearded Wonder’s legacy.
Blackmon doesn’t have the resumé for Cooperstown. Even the most ardent Chuck Nazty fans will admit that he doesn’t measure up to Todd Helton or Larry Walker, the only Denver players to have their numbers retired by the team. Confined to the lowly Rockies for the entirety of his career, Blackmon has never won a World Series, and thanks to injuries and other extenuating circumstances, he isn’t ending his career with the Blake Street Bombers with as many bombs as he might have.
But I hope Blackmon will be celebrated. Not for what he achieved, including a batting title and four All-Star games, but for how he achieved it.
Out of high school, Blackmon was a weak-tossing pitcher who didn’t garner a single Division I scholarship offer. So he transformed himself into an outfielder, first at community college and then at powerhouse Georgia Tech. After being drafted by the Rockies, his rise in the farm system stalled due to the especially long step he took toward the pitcher before swinging. So, he carried a cinder block with him everywhere—the locker room, the bus, his hotel—to hold his foot still while he practiced his cuts. After three years yo-yo-ing between the majors and the minors left many feeling that Blackmon wasn’t MLB material, he grew a beard and gave birth to someone who was: Chuck Nazty.
It’s safe to say that the face beneath the beard has changed during the past decade. These days he looks less like a superhero and more like a spent moonshiner. That’s to be expected, though. Chasing greatness exacts a toll, especially for people who have to work so hard to attain it. For those of us in Denver who got to see Chuck Nazty streak across center field to erase a double or take the Padres deep to right again and again, his devotion to his dream was worth it. I hope Charlie Blackmon agrees.