One of the most celebrated episodes of The Simpsons involves local oligarch Montgomery Burns luring professional ballplayers to Springfield so that his company baseball team can win. Homer at the Bat is the story of how these ballplayers relegate Homer Simpson and his best friends to the bench, before all being unable to play for various comedic reasons. One of those players is Don Mattingly, who quickly falls into a hair-related row with Mr. Burns, a parody of his real-life benching by Yankees manager Stump Merrill. The exchange pokes some well-earned fun at New York’s hatred of hair.
The Yankees, as you probably know, have a pretty stringent (most of the time) policy when it comes to hair. No facial hair below the lip, no sideburns, no hair that’s long enough to fall below your collar. It’s meant to make the Yankees look clean-cut, or something, while still allowing for Thurman Munson-esque bushy mustaches. Of course, we’ve seen guys like Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia sporting some pretty serious stubble at times, but they’re veterans and they’ve earned a little flexibility, one would guess.
This brings us to young Clint Frazier, the fire-maned bat-speed-maven prospect the Yankees acquired in the Andrew Miller trade. Frazier is one of the better prospects in baseball, and he was known just as much for his long red locks as he was for destroying baseballs like they said something about his mother. He certainly wouldn’t be welcome on Mr. Burns’ team with that flow. His acquisition by the Yankees presented an obvious issue to the way he chose to wear his hair, and now things have come to a literal head: Frazier’s hair is gone.
— Yankees PR Dept. (@YankeesPR) March 10, 2017
“Distraction” was the word used to describe it. It’s hard to imagine that Frazier’s hair itself was the distraction as much as the media’s questions about whether or not he’d be allowed to keep. Sure, it may have generated questions of “Well, why can’t I wear my hair that way?” but it’s also a matter of the Yankees’ long-standing policy being tested by a rising star — and manager Joe Girardi (and Frazier himself, probably) getting tired of being asked questions about it.
Frazier did trim his hair a bit upon being traded to New York, but was it still really in violation of the rule? Let’s roll the film.
It’s hard to tell for sure, but it does appear to be testing the bounds of “below the collar,” without necessarily crossing over the line. Here’s the more important question, though: who gives a rip if a member of the Yankees has long hair, or a beard, or even just a Yoenis Cespedes-style soul patch? What’s the harm?
The Yankees have long aspired to portray themselves as regal and refined, as the example of professionalism and decorum. The Yankees are all about dynasty and tradition and Pride and Pinstripes. That apparently includes being presented as clean-shaven and clean-cut, and was so declared by George Steinbrenner himself. The Boss’s word is law, even to this day, especially since his son owns the team. If the Boss says it, then it is so.
The thing is, it’s 2017. Today’s young people couldn’t care less about Frazier’s hair, beyond thinking that it’s pretty cool. The policy is a marketing tactic that’s still in place for the middle-aged fans who lap up the Pride and Pinstripes stuff like it’s manna from heaven, that it’s how a real ballclub functioned back in my day, dammit, before these dang hippes got a hold of the sport. Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander may be winning Cy Young awards left and right, but Derek Jeter never had any facial hair.
Frazier is an employee of a private company, and companies have the right to dictate how employees present themselves while they’re on the job. The Yankees are the only ones doing this right now, though. Mattingly himself imposed a no-beards rule on the Marlins when he took over as manager last year, but he’s lifted it for this season. That’s good, because in case you haven’t noticed, whether or not players have long hair or beards has no impact whatsoever on their level of play, and New Yorkers themselves are all for it. The Yankees need only look across town to see how beloved Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom are, and how eagerly the Mets have embraced their flow.
This policy is an archaic one, and the Yankees are hardasses about it. Remember Darnell McDonald? He was on the team for all of four plate appearances.
McDonald had 4 ABs with the team and then was DFA'd. He said he "wanted to cry" when the Yankees had him cut his hair off pic.twitter.com/emTU805iZL
— Ben Diamond (@_BenDiamond) March 10, 2017
That’s messed up. Sure, fans are going to work themselves into a lather the first time a Yankee steps up to the plate with a beard. It’ll be a massive scandal on the radio and on tabloid back pages for a few months. But then it’ll go away, because nobody actually gives a damn at the end of the day. People just don’t like change, especially middle-aged baseball fans who like to bellyache about the good old days.
It truly is shocking to see the Yankees being caught up in the past and anti-fun to a fault, but we’re all surprised by things every now and then. All we can hope for is to have a camera in the room in two years when they tell Bryce Harper that he’ll need to shave if he wants to collect his humongous, earth-shattering paycheck and come to the Bronx. One can only wonder how that will go.
He’ll probably need to shave those those sideburns, too.
Nick is a columnist at FanGraphs, and has written previously for Baseball Prospectus and Beyond the Box Score. Yes, he hates your favorite team, just like Joe Buck. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets, and can contact him at stellinin1 at gmail.