George Steinbrenner, the longtime (37 years) New York Yankees owner who died on Tuesday of a massive heart attack at the age of 80, will be remembered for a lot of things. The iron fist he ruled the Yankees with for years, the huge checkbook he employed to rebuild a once battered franchise, the softer side that paid for college scholarships for strangers and gave former drug addicts like Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden a second shot at baseball greatness. And his men’s grooming policy, something that secretly endeared him to many an employee of barbershops in Portland for years.
George Steinbrenner expected his players to play like greats and look like them too. He allowed no facial hair except a “discreet” mustache and allowed no players hair to be grown longer than collar length. From when he acquired the team in 1973 (the era of long hair and beards for trendy men) to this day (even though he officially handed over day to day operations of the club to his sons in 2006) the policy stands.
The policy was not always popular with the players. He ruffled feathers as early as his first game in charge with his demands for proper male grooming. At the opening game of the 1973 season when his new players took off their caps for the national anthem he spotted right away that several players had hair too long for his liking. Not yet knowing their names he wrote down the numbers and ordered then manager Ralph Houck to pass on the haircut order. Stunned the players – Thurman Munson, Bobby Murcer, Sparky Lyle and Roy White – agreed, but there would be more controversy to come.
In 1983, when Steinbrenner’s manager was the legendary Yogi Berra the Boss demanded that pitcher Goose Gossage remove a beard he had been growing during the offseason. The Lightning complied- to a point- deliberately leaving a bushy mustache extending down the upper lip to the jaw line. Strangely enough this became Goose’s signature look, he still has it today.
But as many a client of barbershops in Portland will likely remember it was the most revered of the modern day Yankees, Mr. Donnie Baseball himself, Don Mattingly who objected loudest and longest to Steinbrenner’s grooming rules. Inexplicably rocking a mullet in 1991 (why Donnie, why?) Steinbrenner ordered him to the barbershop. Donnie refused and waspromptly benched. The huge media frenzy that followed bordered on insanity but Mattingly was not reinstated until the mullet was gone.
Donnie tried again, growing a goatee in 1995 which Steinbrenner ridiculed on TV. Within the week it had been trimmed back to a discrete mustache. Ever since Donnie Baseball, in his time as a coach with both the Yanks and now the LA Dodgers has remained short haired and clean shaven.
Some say that in the 21st century George’s grooming policy, which his son Hal has been enforcing, is old fashioned and out of date. But gentlemen, whether you love baseball or not whose style would you rather ask to emulate at your next visit to the chair at your favorite barbershop in Portland – Derek Jeter’s clean cut elegance that sets a million hearts afire every time he steps up to the plate or Johnny Damon’s Boston Red Sox era scary Grizzly Adams/caveman style (which changed quickly when he was traded to the Yanks) ? We know which we’d go for…