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The story behind the Yankees’ facial hair policy

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It was enacted in 1973 after George Steinbrenner saw his players with hair “down to their numbers.”

N.Y.Yankees vs Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium., New York Y Photo by Linda Cataffo/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

We all know what it is. We’ve seen players like Jason Giambi, Randy Johnson, and Johnny Damon all shave their facial hair and get clean haircuts when joining the Yankees. $324 million dollar man Gerrit Cole is the newest member to join the “they look so different without a beard” club. Being in quarantine had me wondering why the appearance policy was enacted in the first place, so let’s dig deeper and find out.

It all began back in 1973 when George M. Steinbrenner saw some of his players looking sloppy while standing for the National Anthem, most notably Thurman Munson, Bobby Murcer and Sparky Lyle. As a result, Steinbrenner introduced an appearance policy for the Yankees.

The official policy by the New York Yankees states: “All players, coaches and male executives are forbidden to display any facial hair other than mustaches and scalp hair may not be grown below the collar. Long sideburns and ‘mutton chops’ are not specifically banned.”

Now we have the language of the rule, but I’m still not satisfied with why the rule was put into place. Let’s keep going.

Steinbrenner wanted the Yankees to adopt a “corporate attitude.” What does that mean? Well, he wanted the team to be looked at as more professional and stand out almost as if they were the military. In fact, many believe that is one of the main reasons behind Steinbrenner’s action. At 14-years-old, he joined the Culver Military Academy in Indiana. It was there where he had to be clean shaven and hair trimmed.

After the Yankees signed Damon in 2006, he acknowledged that he would have to shave his long beard and cut his lengthy hair. “George Steinbrenner has a policy and I’m going to stick to it,” he noted. Steinbrenner later added, “He looks like a Yankee, he sounds like a Yankee and he is a Yankee.”

However, not everyone responded that well to the rule. In 1983, Steinbrenner ordered that Goose Gossage remove his facial hair. Gossage obliged by shaving the beard, but he left an exaggerated mustache extending down the upper lip to the jaw line, also known as a “handlebar.” Hey, there’s nothing in the rulebook about that!

Let’s not forget about the “Stache Squad” in 2015.

The most infamous incident involving the Yankees and facial hair happened in 1991. Yankee management ordered Don Mattingly to get a hair cut, who was sporting a mullet-like hair style. Mattingly refused, and was effectively benched because of it. It created a bit of an uproar and the media mocked the team for doing so.

Not only has the rule been looked at distastefully by the media and some in pinstripes, but also players on other teams and in free agency. Believe it or not, the Yankees have actually passed up on players who would not shave. Take relief pitcher Brian Wilson in 2013, for example. The Yankees needed some help in the bullpen and Wilson was on the radar for New York. When he told the team that he would not shave, they crossed him off the list. “I can rule out Brian Wilson,” Brian Cashman said. “That was volunteered to me during our conversations, that the beard stays on.”

I understand both sides of the arguments. I get that being clean shaven could be looked upon as “more professional,” I even had the same appearance policy in my high school. But when the rule was enacted, Steinbrenner said he wanted to adopt the corporate attitude. That was almost 50 years ago and times are changing. Are clean shaven men still looked at as more professional in 2020 than someone with a beard? Should the Yankees now adopt to modern times? Let us know what you think in the comments!