Preface: Facial hair and sports have an interesting relationship. During any postseason run, teammates encourage each other to not shave in order to stay lucky. Other current athletes have iconic facial hair. James Harden of the Brooklyn Nets, is nicknamed "The Beard." There is even a month designated for athletes to put down their razor and let the hair run wild (No Shave November).
Facial hair is not only a sign of personal expression, but a way to engage fans. Major League Baseball has some of the most recognizable bears, mustaches, and other facial hair in its 117+ year history that fans have loved.
Guest writer, James Siddall, takes us through some of the most recognizable facial hair pieces in MLB history. Enjoy his article below.
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The Most Important and Interesting Facial Hair in MLB History
Have you ever thought to yourself, “Jeez, I really wish I could nail down the most important and interesting facial hair in Major League Baseball history?" No? Well, that’s why I’m here, to worry about the seemingly silly aspects of sporting aesthetics you’ve never even thought about. Don’t worry, the topic will grow on you… Get it?! Ok, no more messing around, it’s time to get into it.
To start, let’s look at baseball’s most illustrious franchise, the New York Yankees. Many of you may already know that beards are not allowed in the Bronx. Well, at least if you work for the Yankees. Yes, they have a facial hair policy and still, to this day, anything more than a tidy moustache is a no-go if you’re wearing the famous NY. Why? Because the Yankees are “classy” and “professional” and “traditional.” The policy started in the 1970s, thanks to George Steinbrenner. The volatile owner recoiled at the thought of his Yankees looking like a bunch of hippies; The Boss wanted law and order, dammit. Behave and shave, or get out.
Some got around Steinbrenner’s policy by testing the limits of what “tidy moustache” meant. Take Goose Gossage’s flared Fu Mancu, for example. Frustrated with “The Man” trying to keep him down, Goose let his follicles fly, and for some reason Steinbrenner let it slide. Maybe it was too blonde and wispy to get noticed. But when Yankee catcher and captain Thurman Munson tried to rock a full beard, The Boss said no way. Munson complied, but not before getting a few photos taken for the folks at Topps. Forever more there would be a bearded Yankee, if only on a few thousand pieces of cardboard. Munson didn’t know it, but he made history with that face.
The facial hair of Gossage and Munson may stand out because of the notoriety of the Yankees, but this wouldn’t be the case if not for the daring expeditions of Reggie Jackson and the Oakland A’s. In 1971, Jackson showed up at Spring Training with a moustache. This had been done before. But then, Opening Day came around and he refused to shave it. In doing so, he became the first MLB player to have facial hair in a regular season game in five decades. Wally Schang, also of the Athletics franchise, is said to be the last to have worn a ‘stache in-game, way back in 1914. Since that time, there was an unwritten rule in baseball that all players and staff should be clean shaven. Once the real season began, everyone always complied. But not Reggie. He did things his way, and thus the shaving streak was snapped.
The A’s own maniacal owner, Charlie Finley, ever ready to capitalize on an out-of-the-box idea, took his player’s ‘stache and ran with it. He urged his entire roster to grow out their face fuzz, offering a cash reward. The way Finley saw it, all news was good news, and a hairy team would get him attention. Soon enough, every able Oakland A was letting it grow, and the Moustache Gang was born. Finley’s plan worked, too. So much so that when the A’s faced off against the Reds in the ‘72 World Series, the media dubbed it the “Hairs vs. Squares,” the latter title referring to the clean-cut guys from Cincinnati. Oakland ended up winning that one, plus the ‘73 and ‘74 titles, which cemented the hirsuite’s good standing in professional baseball. Soon other teams would follow. In fact, moustaches became the norm in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I’m sure they didn’t really think much of it then, but Reggie and the A’s brought on a true revolution, a sea change in personal expression.
Let’s fast-forward to a more modern era. We’re in the 2010s; by now the Reds have given up on their unofficial facial hair policy, and the Yankees are the last stand against the fuzz revolution. For the rest of the league, freedom reigned, and one man decided to take that extra slack and run with it. Brian Wilson, the Giants’ eccentric, hard-throwing closer, had toyed with some scruff before, like most others in baseball. But in 2010, he took it to a whole new level. It was time to “Fear the Beard.”
By the turn of the century, beards had started to become more common. Wilson, though, was really the first to go big. Like, hipster-lumberjack big. And he not only let it grow out, but also dyed the thing pitch black. It was, as they say, “a mood.” This came at a key time too: the Giants were good. They ended a seven-year division-title drought, and then stormed through right to the World Series, which they won in five games against the Rangers. It was their first title since moving to San Francisco after the ‘57 season, and the first for the franchise overall since ‘54. Wilson got the final three outs and did so wearing that full, black beard. The Giants had adopted “Fear the Beard” as their rally cry that postseason (with other players like Sergio Romo letting it grow), so it was fitting that Wilson was the one to seal the deal. Even some fans stopped shaving, or wore fake beards – it was a movement, and Wilson started it all.
Photo Credit: MLB
Wilson kept growing. His beard reached epic proportions by the next season. The Giants got back to the World Series in 2012, though by that time Wilson had started to struggle on the mound and Romo took over as closer for the postseason. It was Romo who got the final out against the Royals, but he was still sporting major growth too, so the spirit of the “Fear the Beard” movement remained alive. After that season, Wilson left the Giants for their bitter state- and division-rivals, the Dodgers. He spent two years in LA, keeping the extra-long beard throughout that period. It got so long that he began to gather it at the bottom in a little ponytail, definitely a first for Major League Baseball. Unlike his beard, Wilson’s performance continued to yo-yo, largely due to injury, and by ‘15 he was out of the game.
Even before Wilson left the game, the level of beardedness in baseball had grown way beyond just him and the Giants. In 2013, a pretty big club over in the American League adopted the “Fear the Beard” rally cry. The Red Sox went on yet another World Series run and this time, in a show of team unity, they let their facial hair grow. A dozen or so players took part, but the best beard of the bunch was Mike Napoli’s; it flowed down to the collar in cascading waves.
Now, in this new decade, the torch has been passed once again. Many of that ‘13 Sox team – Napoli, David Ortiz, Johnny Gomes, and, as of just the other day, Dustin Padroia – have retired. The new hirsute kings of MLB are stars and role players alike; finding scruff really ain’t tough. There’s Charlie Blackmon and Justin Turner, of course, big-time stars who go for the full wild-man look.
Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies (Photo Credit: AP)
Justin Turner of the Los Angeles Dodgers (Photo Credit: Tim Heitman-USA Today Sports)
One of my under-the-radar picks is Colin Moran of the Pirates. He’s only been in the league since ‘16 and has never made an All-Star team, but that massive red beard of his is MVP quality. Some still rock the ‘stache, like former-Oakland and current-KBO starter Daniel Mengden, who’s handlebar looked especially resplendent amongst the green and gold, just as Rollie Fingers’ did before it.
Colin Moran of the Pittsburgh Pirates (Photo Credit: Ian D'Andrea)
Daniel Mengden While Playing For the Oakland A's (Photo Credit: Twitter)
And there you have it - a rundown of the most important facial hair in MLB history, from then to now. Maybe you’ll feel inspired by this piece and, if you’re able, grow out your own scruff. Or, perhaps you’re a Steinbrenner type, one who needs things neat and proper. Whichever you may be, I know your decisions are by now well informed!
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James Siddall is a major baseball fan from Vancouver Canada. He runs a personal blog (Yours in Sport) to share all of his ideas and adventures. He also manages a gallery/retail mixed store that has a vintage sports lens in Toronto called The SPORT Gallery. If you can't find him working at home with his cats or admiring his latest attempt at legendary facial hair, he'll be down at the ballpark rooting on his team. Follow him on social media: @yoursinsport
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