You’ve probably never thought to notice, but try to think of the last time you watched a game of baseball that did not include at least one player with facial hair. You probably can’t, even if you’re weird and obsessive like me, because it hasn’t happened since the turn of the century.
Generally, in today’s society, facial hair is in. Men in hipster bars and boardrooms alike don beards. A man can wear long hair too, down brushing his shoulders or up in a bun. This follicle freedom didn’t start so recently, of course; hippy culture brought hair to the masses in the 1960s, and there have been times before that, at the end of the 19th century, say, where facial fuzz was en vogue. But the 2010s might be special in that men in more “professional” occupations have been free to grow, providing they’re well groomed.
Major League Baseball, however, currently has one team trying to upkeep more traditional values. The New York Yankees have long enforced an “appearance policy,” which instructs their coaches and players to keep their hair cropped and their faces clean. A tidy moustache is allowed, but that’s all. No beards, no matter how well groomed, and no long hair. When a hirsute player gets traded to the Yankees, he must shave and shear before taking the field.
This sounds crazy, and in today’s age it is, but it was more the norm than not for a long time. Listen to this: When the Oakland Athletics’ Reggie Jackson went into the 1972 season with a moustache, he was the first MLB player to do so since Wally Schang (who was also an A, incidentally) in 1914. That’s 58 years between!
Many players would let their hair grow in the offseason, but after Spring Training it always got shaved. MLB never had an official, league-wide rule requiring clean faces, it was just known to be preferred. And back then, before collective bargaining and the player’s association, the owners had all the power. It was better to not test the system. But, Mr. October, as he was not yet known, was never one to follow along. He knew he was special – a star – and wanted to stand out.
Initially, the A’s owner, Charles O. Finley, did not approve of his slugger’s ‘stache. Apparently he ordered the rest of his men to grow their hair out too, to make Jackson feel less special and therefore less inclined to see his growth as a stand-out feature. But, Finley, ever the profiteer, realized that there was money to be made here. With a whole team of moustachioed ballplayers he could market them as such, as a sight to behold. Plus, Finley was already making bold moves, like introducing baseball to all-yellow uniforms, and to a robotic rabbit ball-fetching machine. Moustaches weren’t so wild, all things considered.
The A’s did go forth, becoming the outcast rebels of baseball, and soon some made a point to stand their ground in opposition to the idea. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was the man behind their appearance policy, establishing it in the ‘70s. And the Cincinnati Reds had the same policy, unofficially. When the A’s and the Reds faced off in the 1972 World Series, the press dubbed it “the Hairs vs. the Squares.”
In the ‘60s, the Reds went so far as to remove the handlebar moustache from their mascot, Mr. Red, who wore one since his creation in 1953 as an ode to Cincinnati’s old-time baseball roots – a previous iteration of the Reds, the Red Legs, were the sport’s first professional side. Facial hair was in then (the 1880s), and so Mr. Red was given a curly, black moustache as a throwback salute. Eventually, this did not match the team itself, and so the mascot was reborn as a “square.”
Many other clubs followed the A’s lead, however, and pretty soon a moustache or beard was nothing to take note of in the Majors. Fast-forward to the present day and you’ll see all sorts of styles; bushy beards, “chin-straps,” goatees, and, yes, moustaches. Even Mr. Red has been freed from his no-hair prison – the mo’ is back.
The Yankees still make the news now and again for their continued hair policing. Most famously when Johnny Damon, who was known for his beard and long hair with the Red Sox, went to the Bronx and got sheared. Losing his signature hair was losing his soul – at least if you asked Sox fans. That was a while ago now, but you’ll still see some before/after content circulate when a player is traded to the Yankees.
But perhaps the most interesting development in this baseball-hair world has been Don Mattingly’s ideological turnaround. Now manager of the Marlins, Mattingly spent his entire playing career with the Yankees. He was known for his contempt of the grooming rule, frequently taking fines for his bushy moustache and long hair. But as a manager, Mattingly did a 180. In 2016 he implemented – you guessed it – a no-facial-hair policy. Even moustaches were banned. The rule breaker became the rule maker.
That lasted just the one season, at least. For whatever reason, Mattingly backed off. Maybe he realized that he had forgotten who he was deep down. Or, perhaps a few players pointed out the obvious: that telling grown men how to groom is an outdated move. Even the army now allows short beards. Whatever the case, Mattingly gave up, and the Yankees once again became the only team in baseball – in all of North American sports, really – with an appearance policy.
Lately, MLB has been trying to modernize in order to attract and keep younger athletes and fans. We Play Loud is the league’s new slogan. These days you will see bat flips, colourful cleats, gold chains, and… facial hair. In spite of complaints by old-timers who say this new generation is “disrespecting the game,” these changes are fun and have been building for a long time – just ask the Reggie and the A’s!
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––For more stories on the A's "Moustache Gang," look to Jason Turbow's book Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic. This piece would not have been possible without it.