There is some chattering going on about Yankees outfield prospect Clint Frazier. It’s not trade chatter. It’s not chatter about how quickly he’ll make it to the big leagues. It’s chatter about his hair.
It’s red and curly and, for most of his time in baseball, it has been long. It was long and flowing and crazy when he was with the Indians, but he got it cut after coming to the Yankees in the Andrew Miller trade last summer. Now, however, it is long again, as you can see in the above photo.
That’s not terribly long but as the New York Times reminds us, when you play for the Yankees, you’re ordered to wear a haircut you can set your watch to:
But with the Yankees, Frazier’s hair has brought unwelcome attention. In short, the Yankees do not do big hair (or beards), under a policy set years ago by George Steinbrenner and vigorously policed by his daughter Jennifer. Now there is a guessing game over whether the team will send Frazier to the barber before sending him to the plate.
The talk now is whether or not — or when — Frazier will be forced to cut his hair.
A lot of you will just nod and say, hey, this is Yankee Tradition and it’s part of their image so Frazier should cut his damn hair. And I appreciate that sentiment to some degree. While I come off as a radical about a lot of things, I do believe that balancing tradition and modernity is important and it doesn’t always come down to “new = better!” This is especially true in baseball, which is more bound up with tradition than most pursuits, and for which I would never argue chucking tradition just for the sake of doing so.
But it’s worth looking at why this is Yankee Tradition. It’s worth looking at why the Yankees, in the year 2017, continue to police players’ grooming habits like this. I mean, it’s not as if baseball players need short hair to play well. Recent history has shown us otherwise. And it’s not as if Yankees players being clean cut and short-haired is some absolute moral good handed down by God Almighty (word on the street is that His son had long hair, after all). Rather, the impetus for the policy was the era in which it was imposed and the social and political leanings of the guy who imposed it.
George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees in 1973. This was at a time when long hair had been in fashion among civilians for several years, but was just beginning to filter into baseball. While Richard Nixon and the Silent Majority couldn’t do anything about the way the hippies wore their hair, Steinbrenner could certainly do something about his players. Whether he hated the hippies or just worried that Yankees fans did and wouldn’t come to the ballpark to see them, his imposition of the short hair rule was an unmistakable reactionary response to the world changing in a way a rich businessman from Cleveland didn’t like. Or, at the very least, to what he worried his customers wouldn’t like.
While one can argue that such a statement was reasonable in 1973, it’s hard to see why it still holds in 2017. But not just because a lot of time has passed. Rather, because the very purpose of the long hair ban — a perceived need to react to allegedly threatening hippies — has passed. Maybe it’d be a different case if the grooming policy had its roots a hundred years back. Maybe if Miller Huggins had established it with reference to some sort of 1920s neo-classical idea about What Makes Men Virtuous or something. That may have been silly too, but at least then someone could argue about it being an aspirational thing that had long been part and parcel of the Yankee Tradition as a whole.
But as it is, the policy’s sole motivation is tied up in reactionary fear of change. What kind of tradition is that? It’s actually kind of pathetic, especially given how, whatever you think of the hippies, The Establishment has clearly won by every possible metric short of personal grooming.
Anyway, like I said: balancing tradition and new ideas is always important. But when the tradition is based on something dumb it has no real argument to recommend it. Such is the case with the Yankees haircut rules. They should be chucked. Let Clint Frazier and every other Yankee fly his freak flag as high as they’d like.