You may have missed it during the sports madness that is March, but one of the New York Yankees top prospects recently survived a hair-raising experience with a pair of barber’s shears. Known as much for his wild, flowing, shoulder-length red locks as for his ability to pulverize baseballs, Clint Frazier avoided a confrontation over the team’s appearance policy and had his long hair hacked off.
The 21-year-old outfielder posted before-and-after photos on Twitter, and tweeted that he couldn’t wait “to chase my dream in pinstripes!’’ Yankee fans are looking forward to that, too, though some have to be praying that Frazier doesn’t suffer the same fate as the biblical figure Samson, who lost his strength after his locks were shorn.
Now, this might seem like a much-ado-about-nothing story, but the Yankees have been sticklers about limiting the length of hair on heads and faces since the late George Steinbrenner purchased the club in 1973.
The story goes that on opening day of his first season as owner, Steinbrenner surveyed the players as they lined up along the first-base base path during pre-game introductions and began jotting down numbers on an envelope. After the game, he gave his notations to manager Ralph Houk and instructed him to tell the players who wore those numbers to get haircuts. Houk crumpled the paper and tossed it into the trash. He parted ways with the meddling Bronx Bomber owner after that season, prompting a two-decades-long manager merry-go-round and the coining of a new phrase: “Hair today; gone tomorrow.”
Four years later, catcher Thurman Munson, angry with Steinbrenner, decided to get back at his boss by growing a beard during a road trip. Steinbrenner retaliated by taking out his ire on Billy Martin, saying the manager had lost control of the ballclub. Rather than subject Martin to any more of Steinbrenner’s vitriol, Munson was talked into shaving off his beard at a Syracuse motel before an exhibition game against the Chiefs.
There would be other close shaves in the Bronx. Hall of Fame reliever Goose Gossage was ordered to shave his beard. He complied, sort of, paring it down to a menacing Fu Manchu mustache. Yankee legend Don Mattingly actually was benched a game for refusing to cut his hair in the 1980s. And in 2006, when Johnny Damon joined the Yankees from the Boston Red Sox, he underwent the dramatic transformation from “caveman” to clean-shaven, losing his beard and name-plate-covering locks.
Whether it is lumberjack playoff beards, bushy Afros, waxed handlebar mustaches, mutton chop sideburns or long-flowing mullets, hair—and sometimes no hair at all—has long-defined athletes. In the pre-helmet days of football, the more hair the better, as grid-iron warriors often lacquered up their follicles for added collision protection.
Of course, after the introduction of helmets, first leather, then plastic, some players continued to boast more hair than their armored shells could contain. Perhaps, the most famous head of hair, and certainly the densest, belonged to former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, who wound up starring as the “Mane Man” in those Head & Shoulders television commercials. As Polamalu and Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews can attest, there are downsides to shoulder-length hair on the football field. Polamalu recalls returning an interception where a running back tackled him by his hair, then added insult to injury by yanking the Steeler up from the ground by his mane.
Unlike their crosstown rivals, the New York Mets don’t adhere to any hair-length restrictions. The long locks of Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom haven’t precluded them from hitting triple-digits with their fastballs.
Somewhere, Charlie Finley, the late owner of the Oakland A’s, must be cheering. At first he didn’t like facial hair, but he came to embrace it and saw it as a way to stick it to the baseball establishment. He wound up encouraging stars like Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter and Rollie Fingers to grow hair above their lips, and the “Mustache Gang” was born. The 1972 World Series between the A’s and the clean-shaven Cincinnati Reds was billed as the “Hairs vs. Squares.”
No athlete ever sprouted more hair than longtime outfielder Oscar Gamble, whose Afro was so voluminous that he used hairpins to keep his cap on. Artis Gilmore, Julius Irving and Roosevelt Bouie had no such problems because basketball players don’t wear hats. Bouie, the former Kendall High School and Syracuse University All-American, lost the ’fro long ago. But there’s no question it made him look bigger (7-foot-something, instead of 6-foot-11) and more menacing to opposing players foolish enough to drive the lane on him.
Dennis Rodman is the NBA’s all-time leader in tattoos and different hair colors. The Chicago Bulls Hall of Fame rebounder once sported a shoulder-length blonde wig – for a photo session featuring him in a wedding gown. Even Allen Iverson’s corn rows, Joakim Noah’s samurai bun or James Harden’s bushy beard couldn’t compete with that.
Hockey’s playoff beard tradition can be traced to New York Islanders Hall of Famer Denis Potvin in the 1980s. The Isles won a game after he didn’t shave, so he kept the razor on the shelf and wound up winning four consecutive Stanley Cup championships. A superstitious tradition was born.
Whiskers would become Ryan Fitzpatrick’s calling card, too. “Fear the Beard” T-shirts bearing a caricature of the Buffalo Bills quarterback sprouted in Western New York, but the playoff famine continued.
In the 1990s, when everybody wanted to “Be Like Mike,” Michael Jordan went to the shaved-head look. Who knew that bald could be beautiful? It certainly didn’t hurt that Jordan sported the cue-ball look on his way to six NBA titles. That should be comforting to Clint Frazier, whose lightened head already has resulted in some good. His shorn locks were retrieved and will be sold to fans, with the proceeds going to children’s charities.