Facial hair is all the rage these days for those many, who spend inordinate amounts of time and money cultivating beards, mustaches and other elaborate whiskery concoctions. Although many ball players currently sport all manners of hair on their faces, it’s something that has not always been tolerated. An early opponent was Hall of Famer Fred Clarke, who came out swinging heavily in the press in 1905 when the question of mustaches was broached with his team.
For whatever reason, whiskers have been a regular point of contention throughout baseball history. At various times, they were prohibited, or at the very least, frowned upon, despite whatever craze might have been sweeping through society. The powerhouse New York Yankees are well known for not permitting their players to have anything on their faces other than eye black and a smile during the season. This has branched out to other teams, as the Miami Marlins adopted a similar policy under new manager Don Mattingly, a long-time former Yankee and former wearer of a very distinctive mustache.
This all takes us back to Clarke. A .312 batting average in 21 years (1894-1915) as an outfielder with the Louisville Colonels and Pittsburgh Pirates occurred simultaneously with a 19-year stint as a player manager, resulting in a .576 career winning percentage, four pennants and winning a World Series in 1909. He was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1945. Simply put, he was one of the most successful all-around figures in the history of the game, so when he spoke, it was wise to listen.
In 1905, Clarke was 32, one of the stars (along with shortstop Honus Wagner) of the Pirates and in the midst of directing his squad to a 96-win season. He was asked why he didn’t let his players wear mustaches, which were in vogue at the time, and he had a surprising amount to say about his mandate on shaving
“Mustaches make the men look older than they are and I think the people like to see men as young as possible playing the game,” mused Clarke. “The time was when practically all the players who could raise them wore mustaches, but that day is past, and I don’t think it will ever return. I wore a mustache once at Savannah, when I played there. If I could show you a photograph taken at that time you wouldn’t recognize me.”
It was interesting reasoning from Clarke to say the least but his conviction has had staying power over the years. Although teams like the 2013 Boston Red Sox will certainly continue to rear their shaggy heads, many teams will play with their players sporting faces as smooth as a baby’s behind, and in part that can be attributed in part to those like Clarke who have been so passionate about keeping facial hair out of the game.
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