George Steinbrenner May Be Dead, But His Yankee “Hair Policy” Remains In Effect

George Steinbrenner’s “No Long Hair Or Beard Rule” Is Still Followed

Thurman Munson’s 1976 Topps baseball card shows something you won’t see on any Yankee today, a defiant beard.

At Yankee Stadium’s home opening game on April 11, 1973, the new owner and managing general partner, George M. Steinbrenner III was on hand to see his team. As he watched his players line up along the foul lines and remove their caps for the national anthem,  Steinbrenner pulled out an envelope from his suit pocket. He began writing down a series of numbers on the back of the envelope.

After the game the envelope was given to manager Ralph Houk.

“What is this?” Houk wanted to know.

Sparky Lyle 1974 Topps Baseball card showing his “long” hair

Players who need a haircut was the reply.

Still not knowing any of his players names, Steinbrenner had listed the players numbers who had hair that was not to his liking.

Among the stars on the list were Bobby Murcer,  Fritz Peterson, Thurman Munson, Sparky Lyle and Roy White.

Houk posted the list in the locker room and reluctantly informed his hippie players to go to a barber.

Steinbrenner had been perturbed about the long hair since first seeing the Yankees in spring training. Now it was time to do something about it.

This incident marked the beginning of George Steinbrenner’s 37 year odyssey of interference and unpredictability as owner of the Yankees.

To Steinbrenner, short hair and being clean shaven represented order and discipline. No one mentioned to Steinbrenner that baseball was not the military.

Mike Burke, part owner and president of the Yankees, had very long hair himself. Burke was not very concerned about Steinbrenner’s meddling and downplayed the hair cutting incident.

NEW YORK – JANUARY 3, 1973 Yankees President Michael Burke & George Steinbrenner at press conference at Yankee Stadium where the announcement is made that an ownership group led by Steinbrenner are the new owners of the Yankees. (Photo by: Olen Collection/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

Burke, who had been Yankee president since 1966, was instrumental in putting the deal together for Steinbrener and his 13 limited partners, to buy the Yankees from CBS. Burke was led to believe he would be considered a co-partner on an equal level with Steinbrenner.

When Steinbrenner spoke to the press on January 3, 1973 , he said he would be an absentee owner and Burke would run the team. “We’re not going to pretend we’re something we aren’t. I’ll stick to building ships.”

Burke should have more concerned about Steinbrenner’s controlling behavior and desire to be solely in charge.  Soon after the haircut incident, Steinbrenner started firing off memos left and right asserting his control of the team. Less than 3 weeks after opening day, Burke resigned. The truth was Burke had been forced out as president of the Yankees and later gave up his ownership stake.

Yankee Third baseman Graig Nettles asked with a straight face, “Was his hair too long?”

Steinbrenner kept after his players throughout the 1970s telling them to cut their hair and shave. Mustaches were allowed but had to be neatly trimmed. What length constituted long hair was never clearly defined.

Some players would rebel and test the limits of the hair ban. Yankee captain and catcher Thurman Munson grew a beard in 1977, but eventually shaved it off because he did not want to get manager Billy Martin in trouble. Oscar Gamble, was told to shave his afro. A few years later he grew it out again. Cliff Johnson sported a goatee.

In 1978 Steinbrenner explained to the New York Times:

“I have nothing against long hair per se, but I’m trying to instill a certain sense of order and discipline in the ball club because I think discipline is important in an athlete.

They (the players) can joke about it as long as they do it. If they don’t do it, we’ll try to find a way to accommodate them somewhere else. I want to develop pride in the players as Yankees. If we can get them to feel that way and think that way, fine. If they can’t, we’ll get rid of them.”

“I’ve thought about shaving my head,” Sparky Lyle said, “but my hair is so crappy it might not grow back in.”

“I got my hair cut Friday and I still have to get it trimmed or something,” lamented Lou Piniella. “Ellie Howard’s wife didn’t recognize me I had so much hair cut off. I told George to paint a white line around my head, I’ll go to the barber, and tell him to cut to the white line and the hell with it.”

Piniella, one of the more likable Yankees, who always is well groomed, apparently was the urchin who tacked the sign to the clubhouse bulletin board which had Steinbrenner’s order on it.

“Attention,” the new sign said, “All personal [sic] locker inspection 9:45 A.M. Tuesday March 23rd. Be neat!!” It was signed “G. S. III.”

Someone had posted another sign, indicating that the players were wondering if they were in the Army all over again.

“K. P. detail for the week,” this one read. “Lyle, Tidrow, Munson.”

When Steinbrenner entered the clubhouse, he tore the inspection sign down and threw it away, but he left the other on the board.

Out on the field, during batting practice, Lyle shouted for all to hear, “Piniella, the toes on those shoes are not shined.”

The Yankees of the 1970s had style and individuality. Many grew mustaches and allowed stubble to form around their faces until being told to shave.

All except Munson complied. He often had a five o’clock shadow, or something just short of a beard around his forlorn face.

At one point in the early 1980s Rich “Goose” Gossage grew a beard along with his mustache and was told to shave. He did and created his signature look by shaving only the chin hair and leaving a huge mustache that ran down the sides of his mouth to the bottom of his face. Gossage retains that same look today.

Perhaps the most infamous example of a Yankee growing his hair too long in the eyes of Yankee management, was Don Mattingly who wore his hair down below his collar in 1991. Steinbrenner was officially and permanently banned from day to day management of the Yankees at the time by commissioner Faye Vincent for paying a gambler to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield. But Steinbrenner’s ban on running the team didn’t affect the Yankees long hair policy.

Mattingly was told to cut his hair and he refused. Two weeks later, Mattingly had still avoided the barber. He was fined and benched by manager Stump Merrill on the orders of Gene Michael.

The benching lasted only one game as Mattingly relented and got a trim the following day. The Yankee fans gave Mattingly a standing ovation upon his return for standing on principle, if only for a day.

 

The Yankees as a team last grew mustaches in 2015 led by Brett Gardner and most of the Yankees players followed his example.

Clint Frazier was the last Yankee who tried out long hair. Frazier played in spring training in 2017 with a wild mane until he was told to cut his hair. C.C. Sabathia has flirted with a goatee and mustache.

Ben Gamel in 2016

It is 2018 and no Yankee sports a beard, has long hair or even a mustache unless you count C.C who sometimes sports a small mustache.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the hair rule is now enforced by general manager Brian Cashman. The GM walks around the locker room asking players whose faces are getting unkempt if there is something wrong with their rotator cuff.

“Why”, the player will ask?

“Well you’re obviously having trouble lifting your arm to get a razor near your face, Cashman will reply.

Steinbrenner’s belief that his hair rule would bring order to a team might have held some credence with the Bronx Zoo Yankees teams of the 70s. With these multi-million dollar players of today who carefully cultivate their images, grooming rules are unnecessary. They can decide for themselves how to appear in a Yankee uniform. Having long hair or a beard doesn’t affect how you play.

In 1973 Steinbrenner knew little about baseball and his whim of a rule has evolved into a corporate credo and a uniformity which is outdated and unnecessary.

Not one Yankee has the nerve to challenge this arcane rule set capriciously by a man who has been dead for eight years. And it is unlikely any Yankee will ever try and violate the hair rule.

If a superstar like Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge or Didi Gregorius ever did want to grow out their hair or have a beard, would they really be benched and fined for doing so?

The time has come to end George Steinbrenner’s hair rule. The Yankees management won’t do it. So which Yankee player will have the guts to try? Don’t hold your breath waiting.

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