A Brief History of the Changing Attitudes Towards Facial Hair in Baseball
by Maxwell Kates (Toronto, Ontario)
A member of the Society for American Baseball Research
Attitudes in sports have frequently mirrored those adapted by a global society during a given period in time. This assumption may be derived with respect to social fashion trends throughout the history of baseball. Moustaches and sideburns were commonplace in the late nineteenth century, both in baseball and in Western society and waned in popularity during the twentieth. As long hair, moustaches, beards, sideburns, and later, goatees, reentered the mainstream fashion spectrum in the years after 1960, so too did they become commonplace in baseball, albeit several years later. Apart from the late sixties through the seventies, when baseball's dress codes remained a last bastion of conservatism, its grooming trends have, in fact, followed those as dictated by society in general.
As mentioned above, facial hair was commonplace in baseball in the late nineteenth century. In James Bready's "The Home Team," a history of baseball in Baltimore, John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson were both depicted sporting moustaches as members of the Orioles in the 1890's. By the time they were managers in the early twentieth century, players with facial hair became a rarity in baseball. According to SABR member Bill Deane, the last moustached player in the major leagues was Wally Schang, who caught for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1914. Deane continued, outlining that there were no official regulations which prohibited players from growing facial hair. Rather, baseball was, simply, "a conservative game in conservative times."
Beards were far less commonplace than moustaches in the early years of baseball. The last National League player to sport a beard prior to the nineteen sixties was John Remsen, who split the 1884 season between the Phillies and the Brooklyn Atlantics of the American Association. A half century lapsed before another bearded player emerged in the major leagues. According to Wayne McElreavy, also a SABR member, Allen Benson pitched two games for the Washington Senators in 1934 while sporting a beard. A USA Today article dated December 29, 1999, "The Time of Their Lives," chronicled Benson's brief career and his maverick fashion statement.
Frenchy Bordagaray, Satchel Paige, Roy Campanella, and Tommy Davis all attempted to reintroduce the moustache to baseball during the mid-century period. Bordagaray "raised quite a stir" in 1936, when he arrived at the Brooklyn Dodgers training camp wearing a beard. He shaved prior to Opening Day, although he kept the moustache for part of the season. Satchel Paige, who sported a moustache throughout his Negro League career, shaved shortly after he signed with the Cleveland Indians in 1948. He remained clean shaven throughout his major league career, although he wore a moustache in the minors and as an Atlanta Braves coach in 1968. In a conversation I had with the late Cal Abrams in 1993, he recalled that his Brooklyn teammates enjoyed an annual rite of shaving Roy Campanella's offseason moustache in spring training. Similarly, Tommy Davis was depicted in the New York Mets 1967 Yearbook receiving a shave from his teammates.
The first team to officially enforce a dress code was the Cincinnati Reds. Perhaps as a backlash to the growing trend of long hair and beards among 'the New Breed,' new team President Bob Howsam insisted that his players maintain grooming standards not much less conservative than among military members. Moustaches, beards, and shoulder length hair were all off-limits to Reds players. Pete Rose derided the rule, arriving at spring training in 1972 wearing a Vandyke beard. Howsam and manager Sparky Anderson insisted that it was gone by Opening Day. The equally conservative Joe Schultz attempted to maintain a clean shaven, crewcut roster as manager of the Seattle Pilots. As Jim Bouton documented in "Ball Four," he was forced to shave his offseason moustache. Surprisingly, he more than obliged, fathoming that "what stands between me and my moustache are 20 wins." In John Robertson's book entitled "Rusty Staub of the Expos," he hinted that a Fu Manchu moustache, which Le Grand Orange grew late in the 1968 season, allowed the Houston Astros to find his expendable, and traded him to the expansion Montreal Expos in January 1969. Ironically, Staub had shaved the moustache by then.
The first modern players to sport moustaches during the season were Dick Allen and Felipe Alou, opening the 1970 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Oakland A's, respectively, both with unshaven upper lips. When Reggie Jackson arrived at the A's training camp in 1972 wearing a moustache, owner Charlie O. Finley devised a promotional scheme. He offered each player a $300 bonus to grow a moustache by June 18th, when the team photo was to be taken. Manager Dick Williams could have proven to be Finley's most obvious obstacle. Williams maintained a martinet rule on facial hair as manager of the A's since 1971, and before that, when he piloted the Boston Red Sox. However, Williams adopted a more pliant stance with the promotion, even growing a moustache himself. By the time June 18th rolled around, only Vida Blue remained clean shaven among A's players. Many of the players and coaches kept their moustaches after the promotion, including Williams. Rollie Fingers, whose handlebar moustache was perhaps the most famous of the A's players, explained the significance of the promotion when he spoke in Toronto in 1995:
"When my two-week paycheque was only $1,200, I jumped at the idea of taking a 25% bonus for any reason."
Not surprisingly, when the A's met the clean cut Reds in the 1972 World Series, it was dubbed the "Hair versus Square" Series by the media.
Not all managers became as liberal on facial hair policies in the seventies as was Williams. As manager of the Montreal Expos between 1969 and 1975, Gene Mauch insisted that all his players remain clean shaven. However, he and President John McHale were willing to make one exception. At the Expos 25th anniversary dinner in 1993, McHale remarked that "late in the 1973 season, we picked up Felipe Alou from the Yankees in order to help us win the pennant. Felipe had this beautiful moustache, and Gene and I were going to let him keep it. But he was mindful of the team rules, and he had already shaved it before he arrived in Montreal." Mauch's dress code remained official team policy until late in the 1976 season, when interim manager Charlie Fox allowed the players free grooming choice.
Although dress codes were commonplace when Preston Gomez managed the Padres from 1969 to 1972, they became unusual once he became the Astros skipper in 1974. In a Sports Illustrated abstract dated July 1, 1974, Houston shortstop Billy Grabarkewitz, in spite of being a Texas native, insisted being traded from the Astros, in order to keep his moustache.
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner never had a problem with moustaches, but he has always reviled beards and long hair. Several Yankees players, including Thurman Munson, Reggie Jackson, and Dave Winfield, have grown beards as contractual bargaining tools or simply, to rankle "The Boss." On Opening Day 1976, Steinbrenner even insisted that team publicist Marty Appel recall the Yankees yearbooks, as several players were depicted with long hair. Fifteen years later, in 1991, Tim Kurkijian documented in a Sports Illustrated article that Steinbrenner benched Don Mattingly because he refused to get a haircut. It is surprising that after nearly thirty years of managing the Yankees, nobody has reminded Steinbrenner of the Biblical Samson, whose strength was stultified after he got a haircut.
Similarly, moustaches were acceptable on the Dodgers when the O'Malley family owned the team, but beards were not. After Peter O'Malley sold the Dodgers to Rupert Murdoch in 1998, many Dodgers players began to grow beards and goatees.
Even as the seventies progressed, managers Alex Grammas and Vern Rapp insisted on maintaining old school grooming codes. Grammas, a former lieutenant with the Reds under Sparky Anderson between 1970 and 1975, managed the Brewers in 1976 and 1977. Ironically, under manager Del Crandall in 1975, the Brewers grew perhaps more Fu Manchu moustaches than any team in history. George Scott, Gorman Thomas, Darrell Porter, Robin Yount, Kurt Bevacqua, Pete Broberg, and Jim Colborn were all depicted on their 1976 Topps baseball cards wearing the popular seventies whiskers. Grammas made certain that they were all clean shaven in 1976.
As the Brewers were equally mediocre in 1976 and 1977 as they were in 1975, Grammas' dress code was perhaps less controversial than Rapp's, as it did not impede on the performance of the team. When Rapp was appointed as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals prior to the 1977 season, however, he insisted that all players be clean shaven, including ace reliever Al Hrabosky. As "the Mad Hungarian," Hrabosky attributed much of his pitching success to his long hair and Fu Manchu moustache. Ineffective in 1977, Hrabosky was peddled to the Kansas City Royals that winter, and Rapp was bounced as the Cardinals manager in early 1978.
At the Toronto Blue Jays initial training camp in 1977, President Peter Bavasi dictated that manager Roy Hartsfield outline the grooming rules for the players: no moustaches, no beards, no jeans. Players initially complied with Bavasi's request, until he joined a team road trip wearing jeans. "They were designer jeans," he protested. Manager Hartsfield began to allow moustaches and jeans in light of the incident, but beards remained off limits until Bobby Mattick was appointed manager in 1980.
Perhaps no team's grooming code has drawn as much controversy as has that of the Cincinnati Reds. Even as moustaches and beards became more mainstream in society as the twentieth century drew to a close, the Reds retained the strictest of dress codes. When Dave Collins and Wayne Krenchicki were acquired by the Reds, their press photos from prior organization depicted them with moustaches. Not only were the team logos airbrushed for the Reds media guide, but so were the moustaches. In 1982, the Reds acquired Jim "The Emu" Kern from the Texas Rangers. In a case not unlike Hrabosky's on the Cardinals, Kern's effectiveness was hampered after he was required to shave his beard. When he began to grow it back, he was quickly dispatched to the Chicago White Sox. After being traded from the Reds to the Montreal Expos, a newly bearded Dann Bilardello remarked in the 1987 edition of Street and Smith's Magazine that, "in Cincinnati, you were lucky to survive if you had eyebrows." After Marge Schott purchased the team in 1985, jewelry was added to the list of taboo items. When, in 1993, she remarked that "only fruits wear earrings," every player and coach on the Los Angeles Dodgers, the visiting team when Schott made her insensitive remark, wore clip-ons for the game that evening. The dress code became history early in the 1999 season, when the Reds acquired Greg Vaughn from the San Diego Padres. He insisted on keeping his goatee, a request with which new owner Carl Lindner complied.
Apart from the aforementioned instances of resistance against liberal grooming codes, baseball fashion has, for the most part, mirrored that of Western society. Surprisingly, nobody objected to the stubble beards of Burleigh Grimes, Sal Maglie, Darold Knowles, Joe Torre, and other players with notable cases of 'five o'clock shadow.' According to "The Birds Up In Arms," an anecdotal article Phil Jackman wrote for the Baltimore Orioles 1980 Yearbook, Knowles (an Oriole in 1965) was so hirsute that he shaved three times daily. Similarly, when sideburns were in vogue, roughly from 1969 to 1982, and also with goatees today, both styles of whiskers have entered baseball without notable objection. Just as grooming attitudes in baseball during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have been similar to those in society, there is no reason to consider any change in this parallel during the twenty-first century.
» Maxwell Kates was born in 1978 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He is a recent graduate of the University of Toronto, obtaining his Bachelor of Arts degree in History in June 2001. A panelist on "Sportsline," a sports memorabilia radio programme from 1998 to 2000, Maxwell Kates is a black belt in tae kwon do, and has also worked as an amateur standup comedian. He is clean shaven, shaves twice daily, and lives in Toronto.