Thursday, May 23, 2024

When the New York Yankees introduced Juan Soto to the news media last week after a blockbuster trade with San Diego, their new slugger was already in midseason form.
His cheeks were smooth and his hair was short. Not even a curl poked out from beneath his brand-new Yankees cap.
That’s not always a given for the club’s acquisitions, many of whom arrive with some assembly required. Such is the case for Alex Verdugo, a bearded outfielder acquired in a Dec. 5 trade with Boston. Verdugo, a slick-fielding 27-year-old, faces a choice that is unique to the Yankees: Adhere to the team’s ban on beards and long hair, instituted by team owner George Steinbrenner in 1976, or hit the bench.
For the Yankees, who still don’t have names on the backs of their jerseys, adhering to an appearance policy created by an owner who died in 2010 is yet another tradition that makes them stand out from other teams. But in an era when facial hair is common even in the corporate world, a sports team with strict rules for grooming inspired one former Yankee to wonder aloud what it might be costing the team in terms of signing new players.
“This might be an unpopular take to Yankees fans, but you’d be surprised how much more attractive the Yankees would be if they got rid of that facial hair rule,” Cameron Maybin, a former Yankee, wrote on X this month. “You wouldn’t believe how many quality players just think it’s a wack rule to have.”
To be clear, plenty of prominent players over the years have been willing to cut their hair or shave their face — provided the paycheck was large enough.
The policy, which allows only for a neat mustache, did not scare away bearded free agents like Gerrit Cole ($324 million in 2019), Carlos Rodón ($162 million in 2023) or Johnny Damon ($52 million in 2005). Nor did it get in the way of a 2005 trade that sent the future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson from Arizona to New York. Mr. Johnson, who was rarely known for compromise, agreed to waive his no-trade clause — and cut his long, shaggy mullet — in exchange for a two-year, $32 million contract extension.
Even Don Mattingly, the former Yankees captain who once publicly butted heads with the team over the policy — and had his haircut mocked on “The Simpsons” — said players will generally find a way to make things work.
“Seems like that shouldn’t be a game-changer if that’s where you want to play, right?” said Mr. Mattingly, whose long hair got him benched for a game in 1991. At the time, he lashed out at the rule, volunteering to give up his captaincy and questioning “whether I belong in this organization anymore.”
The decades since have softened his views.
“Looking back, it wasn’t really about the hair — it was more the way they went about it,” said Mr. Mattingly, who is currently the bench coach of the Toronto Blue Jays. “Nobody said anything to me about getting it cut before that. Then that day it was either get it cut or you don’t play. That rubbed me the wrong way. I would have always gotten it cut if they said: It’s a little long. Can you get it cut?”

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