Yankees: What Must Be Done About Hair Policy

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 06: Brian Wilson #00 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches in the eighth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game Three of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 6, 2014 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 06: Brian Wilson #00 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches in the eighth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game Three of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 6, 2014 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /

Recent demands for social change across the nation have re-energized the debate over the New York Yankees’ appearance policy and whether the club should abolish it.

Reflecting a rebellion by the counter culture in the 1960s and 1970s, numerous young people decided to radically change the way they dress, grow their hair long, and grow mustaches and beards.

Most establishment types (like Wall Street bankers and businessmen, lawyers, those in the military, most parents, etc.) of that era were horrified and pushed back, arguing, among other things, that this change in dress and appearance projected a dirty, druggy, and, dare I say, “smelly” lifestyle.

While many young people embraced the new radical changes in clothing and physical appearance in the 60s and 70s, a large number were undecided about what to wear and how to look. This deeply-felt pressure was expressed in the song, Almost Cut My Hair sung by David Crosby, Steven Stills, Graham Nash, and Neil Young on their 1970 Déjà vu album.

Almost cut my hair

Happened just the other day

It’s gettin’ kind of long

I could’ve said it was in my way

But I didn’t and I wonder why

I feel like letting my freak flag fly

And I feel like I owe it, to someone, yeah

…But I’m not, I’m not giving in an inch to fear

More from Yankees History

Yankees Appearance Policy

The Yanks appearance policy was established in 1973 by traditionalist and conservative George Steinbrenner, supposedly after witnessing several players’ hair covering their numbers during the performance of the Star Spangled Banner. He wrote down their numbers and told each one to cut his hair.

The rule was quickly adopted as a club policy. The policy states: “All players, coaches and male executives are forbidden to display any facial hair other than mustaches (except for religious reasons), and scalp hair may not be grown below the collar. Long sideburns and ‘mutton chops’ are not specifically banned.”

This policy largely came into being because Steinbrenner wanted the Bombers to amplify a corporate and professional attitude and look. He also had been a member of the United States Air Force, which similar to other military branches also has an appearance policy.

As most Yankee fans know, Don Mattingly openly defied the requests by the team’s management for him to cut his hair. He was fined and punished for disobeying their orders. Lou Piniella challenged the rule by pointing out that Jesus had long hair. Steinbrenner quipped that if Piniella could walk on walk on water, he could wear his hair any way he wanted. Supposedly, Brian Wilson and David Price refused to sign with the Yanks because they wanted to retain their facial hair.

Most players over time, however, have succumbed to the club’s edict and have agreed to cut their hair. And why not? This is the New York Yankees, a historic dynasty, not the Sheepshead Bay Little League.

Andrew McCutchen speaks out on facial hair policy

When the San Francisco Giants traded former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen to the Bombers during the 2018 season, he agreed to cut his hair and shave his beard. Now with the Philadelphia Phillies, he recently called on MLB to question the Yanks’ appearance policy, arguing that we must be more open as a society and permit players to express themselves in their way. Otherwise, he says, the policy takes away from practicing their individualism.

While I agree with McCutchen’s position in general, I don’t buy his reasoning. Isn’t baseball supposed to be a team game? Plus, if he felt that strongly about the policy, why did he agree to play for the Yanks? And why didn’t he complain once he was with the Bombers?

As a well respected and veteran ballplayer and someone who drew accolades for his clubhouse presence while with the team, his opinion would have carried weight. Maybe he wanted to stay with the club beyond 2018, and perhaps he felt that by speaking up then he might hurt his chances of being re-signed by the club.

Times have changed

In 2016 the Miami Marlins banned facial hair but abolished the policy one year later. The Yanks are the only club in MLB that has an appearance policy. Furthermore, no team in the NBA, NHL, or NFL has such a rule.

This is now 2020 and American society is dramatically different from the way it was in 1973, almost 50 years ago. A casual stroll through the offices of Apple, Google, and other successful companies would reveal that what looked corporate or professional in 1973 does not look corporate and professional now.

Today, employees and executives of such iconic companies communicate professionalism and earn respect not by their appearance, but by what they bring to the table in terms of creative ideas, ethical and moral behavior, and old fashioned hard work.

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Simply put, the logic and reasoning behind implementing the appearance policy by Sir Steinbrenner are no longer valid today. The world has changed, and the Yanks are ironically hurting their image rather than protecting their image by continuing to obstinately insist that the rule should continue to remain in place.