One man’s hair is another man’s distraction. That was the message relayed at Yankees camp on Friday afternoon.
Whether or not Clint Frazier’s red mane was refreshing, distinctive, or even marketable, it certainly outran its course in the clubhouse, as the 22-year-old outfield prospect went under the razor at George M. Steinbrenner Field to appease the Yankees and their strict, clean-cut policy.
“I asked him. I talked to him a little bit about it and he said, ‘OK, I’m going to cut it,’” Yankees manager Joe Girardi told the New York Daily News. “You always have a choice in life. He had a choice. But he wants baseball to be the focus, not his hair. He’s talked all along that he wants his baseball to be the focus, and a lot of times it’s not. And I want his baseball to be the focus, too.”
Go ahead — call it ludicrous. Call it nonsensical. Call it prim. But don’t forget to also call it tradition. For it’s been this way since 1973. No hair below the collar, no long sideburns, and especially no beards.
It seems like the choice was simple for Frazier. He wants to play. He wants to make a lasting impression. He wants to be liked. Even if this was a “collaborative” decision between Frazier and Girardi, everyone is on good terms.
But the Yankees haven’t always been fortunate enough to come across players who take this initiative. For example, travel 26 years back in time, when the franchise’s captain was so upset with the team’s hair policy, he actually requested for the front office to explore trade options.
In August 1991, as a beat writer for the New York Times, Jack Curry wrote of Don Mattingly’s quarrel with Yankees manager Stump Merrill over the length of his hair. After refusing to get a haircut, Merrill rolled up his sleeves.
Here’s an excerpt from Curry’s story:
Don Mattingly, the team’s best player, asked the Yankees to trade him two months ago and they said nothing doing. Yesterday, the Yankees asked Mattingly to get a haircut and he said the same thing.
As a result, Mattingly was benched, fined and left bristling as he repeated his request to be sent elsewhere. For the rebuilding Yankees, it seemed like old times.
Merrill said Mattingly, the team captain, would not play for the Yankees until his hair was shortened. Mattingly spoke about possibly leaving New York, saying he had asked General Manager Gene Michael to scout out trade options.
“Maybe I don’t belong in the organization anymore,” Mattingly told reporters after the Yankees had defeated the Royals, 5-1, without him. “I talked to him about moving me earlier in the year. He said we’ll talk at the end of the year. Maybe this is their way of saying we don’t need you anymore.”
Of course, Mattingly eventually complied with the Yankees’ wishes, but it left a sour taste in his mouth. Earlier that spring, Mattingly was named the 10th captain in franchise history, but following his late summer squabble, Mattingly told reporters that his captaincy was pointless, adding, “They should take that away. It doesn’t mean anything. Take it. It’s been stripped. I’ve been impeached.”
And so the lesson was learned. The clean-cut policy isn’t biased. It doesn’t favor All-Stars or rising stars. And as long as its implemented, the Yankees will never lose … even when it gets hairy.