Out by a Whisker


Jason Giambi and David Wells changed more than their jerseys when they signed with the Yankees this winter. Thanks to George Steinbrenner’s well-documented disdain for beards, both players have had to shave their goatees. Granted, facial hair isn’t quite the same as a uniform, but it’s close enough to fall under Uni Watch’s purview, especially since it’s been one of baseball’s more interesting visual elements over the years.

Nineteenth-century ballplayers routinely sported facial hair, but shifting codes of etiquette made baseball a clean-shaven sport by the early 1900s. Research by Maxwell Kates of the Society for American Baseball Research indicates that the first modern whiskered players were Dick Allen of the Cardinals and Felipe Alou of the A’s, who wore mustaches in 1970. A selective time line of subsequent hirsute highlights shapes up as follows:

1972: After Reggie Jackson arrives at spring training with a mustache, A’s owner Charles Finley sees a promotional opportunity and offers a $300 bonus to any player who grows facial hair. Most players oblige (as does manager Dick Williams, who had previously banned whiskers), and by mid June, Vida Blue is Oakland’s only clean-shaven player.

1973: Felipe Alou is traded to Montreal, where manager Gene Mauch doesn’t allow facial hair. Expos president John McHale later recalls, “Felipe had this beautiful mustache, and Gene and I were going to let him keep it. But he had already shaved it before he arrived in Montreal.”

1974: Mustachioed infielder Billy Grabarkewitz is traded to the Astros but refuses to report because of manager Preston Gomez’s anti-‘stache policy. Houston in turn trades him to the Cubs.

1976: Brewers manager Alex Grammas bans facial hair, forcing George Scott, Gorman Thomas, Darrell Porter, Robin Yount, Kurt Bevacqua, Pete Broberg, and Jim Colborn, who all wore Fu Manchu mustaches the previous season, to go clean-shaven.

1977: Cardinals reliever Al Hrabosky, who’d credited his earlier success to his Fu Manchu, blames his ineffective season on manager Vern Rapp’s whisker ban. Hrabosky is traded to the Royals that winter.

Nowadays, of course, anything goes. Goatees are so prevalent that they’ve spread to the once staid ranks of managers (Davey Lopes), GMs (Steve Phillips), and even commissioners (Bart Giamatti). Mike Piazza gets rope-braid patterns shaved into his beard, Wells had small animals nesting in his, and for a while there it looked as if Jeff Bagwell had joined ZZ Topp. In the face of such excesses, Steinbrenner’s beard ban actually seems—dare Uni Watch say it?—reasonable.