By: Daniel Wilkins
If you were to go up to a random Joe Schmoe on the street, and ask him to name a team in Major League Baseball, odds are that he's going to say the Yankees. Many people don't even have to enjoy baseball, or know anything about it, to have heard about the Yankees. After all, they've been around for over a hundred years, they've won 27 championships, and they , produced all-time greats that have even had their presence in pop culture like Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Joe DiMaggio. One thing that people might also notice is the fact that Yankees players are always clean cut. By that, I mean that they aren’t shaggy, they don’t show too much “swagger”, and they prefer to be more elegant in their style of play and conduct. One of the rules that the Yankees had (and still have) are a strict dress code that prevents players from being too “flashy” on the diamond. In this article, I want to set my opinions about this rule aside, and give you the pure facts about what is in place for the Yankees on and off the field.
You may remember the name George Steinbrenner. Before his passing in 2010, he was the owner of the New York Yankees. During his tenure as owner, he had strict rules regarding the team's public image. He was extremely self-conscious about his team's image, and he believed that the traditions of baseball and its’ purity was just as important as playing the game itself. Therefore, many of his rules regarding the dress code of players definitely gave the teams a vibe of years past.
Steinbrenner's policy started in 1973, which was the same year that he bought the Yankees for $8.7 million. Allegedly, Steinbrenner's policy started after he saw some of his player’s hair covering their jersey numbers during the National Anthem. Because of that, he wrote down the player's jersey numbers and instructed them to cut their hair. As a result, his appearance policy for players, coaches, and executives was introduced and enforced soon after.
The policy forbids all facial hair, and mustaches weren't allowed either, except for religious reasons. Scalp hair may not be grown below the collar. Long sideburns and mutton chops were discouraged, but never officially banned.
Now, why would George Steinbrenner adopt a policy that prevented his players from showing off their personality with their facial hair? Many players today do that, like Yasiel Puig, Yadier Molina, Brian Wilson, and Mike Clevinger. Well, Steinbrenner wanted to adopt “a corporate attitude” for the team. Many speculators believe that Steinbrenner's policy could have been inspired by his military service. Steinbrenner was a member of the United States Air Force before he was an executive and eventually owner of the Yankees. Many military organizations in the US have very similar appearance policies, which prevent individuals from being too creative. And that's exactly what the Yankees have: a restrictive policy.
Now, just because this rule is strictly enforced doesn't mean that all Yankee players wish to abide by that rule. Don Mattingly, the famous first baseman, is a rather famous exception to this rule. Mattingly grew a mustache during his career, and he was passionate about it. However, the Yankees were not thrilled about Mattingly's decision. Yankees coaches repeatedly told him to trim it (along with his excessively long hair), but he denied. Eventually, tensions got so heated that Mattingly was benched, and repeatedly fined large sums of money until he promised to cut the hair. Eventually, he folded, but it wasn’t without a tough fight.
Former Yankees manager Lou Piniella wasn't a fan of the rule either. He once challenged the rule during a spring training season in Fort Lauderdale. Piniella, who is known to be a religious person, said that the rule should be dropped because Jesus had long hair. Steinbrenner fired back with an unbelievably classless quote, saying "If you can walk on water, you can wear your hair any way you want."
In 2015, certain Yankee players started growing mustaches against the rule’s wishes, but none of them were punished or fined. In fact, Joe Girardi (the manager at the time) even said that he’d join the players if the team won 10 games in a row. Surprisingly, this was after Girardi said that he would keep Steinbrenner’s policy in place after he had passed.
Many players, even on other teams, have spoken out about the rule. In 2019, free agent pitcher Dallas Keuchel reportedly said that he would shave his beard in order to play for the Yankees. That sparked many rumors saying that he was going to sign with the Yankees, but he did not sign there after all. Back around five years ago, relief pitcher Brian Wilson, known for having an extravagant beard, said that he would refuse to play for the Yankees if he was traded there. Red Sox pitcher David Price has also said that he will not play for the Yankees as long as this policy is in place.
Don't get me wrong, the Yankees are not the only major league franchise to have restrictions against players and coaches sporting facial hair. In fact, until the 70s, not many players in Major League Baseball wore facial hair at all due to fashion trends of the time. The Cincinnati Reds had an unwritten rule which banned players from wearing beards until 1999. Shockingly enough, Don Mattingly banned his players from having facial hair during his first season as manager of the Miami Marlins in 2016. In 2017, the policy was dropped.
What do you think about the Yankees facial hair policy? Do you believe that is an important measure taken by a professional team to keep themselves “professional” and not silly? Or, do you think that times have changed in baseball and it's time for the Yankees to adopt the modern way of life, and let their players have personalities?