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The Yankees who made it cool to wear glasses

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Wearing glasses on the field was once considered embarrassing. These guys helped break the four-eyes stigma.

New York Yankees Player Reggie Jackson

Gleyber Torres’ good-luck glasses made their debut in 2019. Torres busted out his frames again in August, during the Yankees’ series against the Blue Jays in Buffalo. The Yankees had just hit rock bottom, having lost 15 of their last 20 games, before Gleyber began donning the glasses. That first night in Buffalo, Torres helped the Yankees break the slump by going 2-for-5 at the plate, with a home run and four RBI. And so the good luck glasses were born.

New York Yankees v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

Because Torres’ bat got hot once he put on the glasses, some fans speculated that Torres’ eyesight had worsened, and was the cause of his slump. At some point, The Athletic’s Lindsey Adler set the record straight.

“Gleyber Torres says he wears contacts and the glasses are non-prescription,” Adler tweeted. “Somehow, some of you guys thought he had been playing with fuzzy eyesight and that’s the magic of the glasses. No, the magic of the glasses is superstition and swag.”

One Yankee who absolutely did wear his glasses in order to see better was Ryne Duren. One of the best relievers throughout the 1950s and a key piece of the World Championship-winning 1958 Yankees, Duren was one of the first real flamethrowers in MLB. As a right-handed reliever, his fastballs regularly topped 100 mph. He also struggled with control at times, enough so that MLB players who faced Duren often described how frightening the experience was. With his 20/200 vision, Duren’s 100 mph fastballs and hit-or-miss control made for a formidable, and frightening, combination.

Ironically, Duren’s vision problems and love for baseball were inextricably linked. As a high schooler in the spring of 1945, Duren caught a severe case of rheumatic fever, and the illness caused him to develop problems with his vision. While recuperating and bedridden from the fever, Duren started listening to Cubs games on the radio. His passion grew from there.

New York Yankees Photo by: Kidwiler Collection/Diamond Images/Getty Images

After Duren signed with the St. Louis Browns, he saw an eye specialist and started wearing thick “Coke-bottle” lens glasses. Once he joined the Yankees, Duren’s specs had become his trademark look. Anecdotes about the nearly blind flamethrower also inspired one of the best baseball movie characters of all time: Ricky Vaughn from “Major League.”

Flashing forward a couple decades, Reggie Jackson was the first real superstar ballplayer to rock frames. He helped break the four-eyes stigma by making glasses look really, really cool. Who could doubt the look when it looked this cool?

Horace Clarke, one among a number of baseball players who sadly passed away in 2020, was another guy who needed to wear corrective lenses in the Bronx. The media unfairly brackets the Yankees’ losing seasons between 1967 and 1974 as the “Horace Clarke” era (during that time, the Yankees highest finish was fourth).

Horace Clarke of the New York Yankees

That said, Clarke’s 151 career stolen bases ranks in the top 20 all-time list for the Yankees. He also had an interesting background, being the fifth of 16 men (as of 2020) hailing from the U.S. Virgin Islands to make it to the major leagues.

Maybe Torres will keep up his superstition and continue to wear glasses in 2021, and maybe he’ll switch back just to wearing contacts. Either way, for at least one summer, he continued a tradition players in pinstripes making four-eyes look cool.