The Yankees made Clint Frazier cut his hair yesterday. We all knew it was coming. Ever since he was acquired over the summer there has been talk about his hair, how long it was, and whether or not the team would allow him to keep it. He even cut it several times to help groom it into something the Yankees would be ok with. It wasn’t enough.
Joe Girardi wants to claim that they had a conversation where “they agreed it had become a distraction,” but we all know that’s not how it went down. Some Yankees executive probably got wind of how often the media talked about it and decided to make the decision that Frazier’s personal appearance was theirs to control. Frazier was even quoted as saying that he chose the haircut over not playing in the organization. As if the Yankees would trade him just because he had long hair.
The problem is that this organization, and those who own it, worship at the altar of George Steinbrenner. He devised the policy 1973, and 40+ years later, the Yankees appearance policy is outdated, unpopular, and could even be seen as culturally insensitive (at best). As Kunj Shah recently declared, it’s time for a change because this is helping no one in the year 2017. I’ll keep the calls to remove the policy to his article. Here, I want to talk about how this handwringing over body hair can only be seen as a negative at this point.
While some out there still support this idea of “tradition,” it’s important to remember that there really is no tradition this is in reference to. It only became popular for men to wear long hair in the 1970’s and was practically unheard of before then. This tradition also calls back to a time where baseball didn’t even allow black people to play baseball. What kind of tradition is that? If you go even further to the 19th century and the origins of baseball, notice how many of them have giant, exaggerated mustaches. Again, no one had long hair back then, but that doesn’t mean everyone was always well manicured. Wanting a system in place simply because it has always been in place is not legitimate discourse on the matter. There is no tradition here, just conformity and control.
While one man being forced to cut his hair for his job isn’t the biggest issue in the world, it also just represents an issue many fans have with baseball in general. For many reasons we don’t need to discuss here, baseball has been resistant to change and actively avoids appealing to younger generations. MLB’s war on GIFs has stopped many potential fans from viewing their content. Fans want more fun, less old-time grandstanding, and while that is happening to some degree, the Yankees organization represents the stubbornness of the old guard from top to bottom.
What does making players cut their hair do besides make the team look annoying, outdated, and out of touch? Fans today want to see personality. Baseball isn’t worse than it was a few decades ago, it’s mostly the same and just a little bit different. That’s OK. Fans of other teams aren’t applauding the Yankees for keeping to tradition, they are mocking them. That’s what is happening.
How important, then, will this policy be when it causes a player not to sign with them? We all know money is the first and last thing anyone will ever care about, but the Yankees have more competition than they did in the past. This isn’t 2003, where the organization spent more than anyone else could imagine. Television money has allowed teams to fill the gap and now there is an even playing field when it comes to spending. If all things are equal, would a player not be more receptive to a team that allows them to be themselves?
David Price already came out and said he would never sign with the Yankees because of that. Obviously, I’ll believe it when I see it, but the sentiment is still there. Joe Maddon, popularly considered to be the best manager in baseball, has openly supported individuality in his clubhouse. While sometimes it can be a little over the top, it’s clear that the players appreciate it, which is the only thing that matters. We like to think of these players as machines, but wouldn’t you also want to be happy where you work? If you felt comfortable, would you not then feel less tense and be able to perform better?
It’s no coincidence that every ex-Yankee grows a beard the second they leave the team. Facial hair is in style, players want to grow them, and as human beings, they want to express themselves openly. Shouldn’t they have that right? Instead, the Yankees are too interested in policing and even insulting their own players to realize just how authoritarian, bland, and wholly un-fun they look as a potential employer.
This, of course, leads us to Bryce Harper. For years the media and fans have been counting down the days before Harper becomes a Yankee, but let’s be honest, do you really think this is the kind of organization he would even want to join? Sure, he was a Yankees fan growing up, but if this sport is also a business, then it goes both ways. Harper is going to get paid no matter where he goes—believe that—so why would he take the time to get used to a mandated grooming policy?
It’s also incredibly insulting to Clint Frazier, a young player who was pulled from the organization and the people he knew, to have this thrust upon him. As a minor leaguer not on the 40-man roster yet, he is criminally underpaid, and yet the Yankees are still going to make him “live up to tradition” while forcing him to live in relative squalor.
When you get right down to it, the Yankees aren’t even that good anymore, so please tell me why any player would want to play for this organization if they didn’t have to? This organization needs to take a long hard look in the mirror, but I know that’s never coming.