"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Cooperstown Confidential

By Bruce Markusen

Regular Season Edition

April 22, 2004

Card Corner: Hair Here, There, And Everywhere

Call him the “Unfrozen Caveman.” Call him “The Hippy.” Call him the “Mountain Man.” Call him whatever you like, but no nickname can entirely capture the untamed image that Johnny Damon has created by not cutting his hair for nearly a year and not shaving his face since the latter stages of 2003. Damonís “biblical” appearance has become such a sidebar of attention that it motivated ESPN.com to come up with an all-time, all-hair team featuring some of the longest and most unusual hairdos in the gameís history. ESPN included some worthy candidates on its list, including Oscar Gamble and Ross Grimsley (owner of the white-man afro, as ESPN puts it), but somehow left off the man who sported baseballís longest hair during the frenetic decade of the 1970s.

Until Damon and Pittsburghís Craig Wilson, whose flowing blond locks arenít far behind Damon in length but havenít received nearly the attention, no one had longer hair than former major league catcher Dave Duncan, now the pitching coach for the St. Louis Cardinals. Based on how he looks today, with short hair and a clean shave every day, you might not have recognized the wild-looking Duncan during the latter stages of a journeyman career that saw him play for the Oakland Aís, Cleveland Indians, and Baltimore Orioles from 1964 to 1976. In his formative years with Oakland, Duncan still featured a close-cropped hairdo, as did most players of the 1960s. (There were two primary reasons for the short-hair preference of that era. Most teams had unwritten policies that outlawed the wearing of long hair, along with mustaches and beards. Also, a number of players served in the military reserves during the Vietnam War, necessitating that they maintain their hair in the brush-cut look.) That all started to change in 1972, when Reggie Jackson showed up to spring training with a fully-grown mustache, eventually prompting owner Charlie Finley to offer $300 bonuses to each Aís player who followed suit. Duncan complied with the ownerís “request” and then pushed the trend two steps further by growing a beard and letting his blond hair grow out. By the end of the í72 season, Duncan sported both a full beard and lengthening hair that stretched beyond the collar of his neck, making him look like an extra during the filming of Deliverance.

The following spring, the Aís traded Duncan, not because of his new mountain man appearance, but because of a salary dispute that saw the catcher engage in a spring training holdout while asking the penurious Finley for more money. The spring training trade landed Duncan in Cleveland, allowing him to bring the long-hair look to the Midwest. Duncan shaved off his blonde mustache and beard but continued to let his hair lengthen, well beyond the lower reaches of his helmet and cap, to the point that his tresses draped onto his shoulders. Whenever Duncan ran, his long mane of hair flapped as if stirred by a stiff breeze, creating a memorable impression for those who had become used to major league players who looked more like soldiers than flower children.

Sometimes derided with catcalls of “Goldilocks” and “Prince Valiant,” Duncan drew raised eyebrows from many in the baseball establishment. Some critics used Duncanís unusual hair style as an excuse for questioning his smarts and hustle, portraying him like a caricature of Cheech and Chong proportions. Yet, those close to Duncan realized that such characterizations were all stereotype and little truth. “With that long hair, he looked kind of goofy as a player,” said former slick-fielding shortstop Eddie Brinkman, who coached with Duncan during a stint with the Chicago White Sox. “But once you get to know him, you realize heís one of the kindest, smartest men youíll ever meet.” Few would question Duncanís baseball intelligence, given his success as a pitching guru with the Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners, White Sox, Aís, and Cardinals. Heís sometimes criticized for being too blunt with young pitchers, but his triumphs with veteran hurlers and the overall success of his pitching staffs remain his hallmark.

Most of Duncanís baseball cards donít do his “Mod Squad” head of hair full justice, but his 1975 Topps card (No. 238 in the set) probably offers the most emblematic view of his blond bombshell appearance. Duncan is also featured in an intriguing 1977 Topps card (No. 338) wearing the air-brushed colors of those awful White Sox throwback uniforms, yet he never actually played for Chicago, instead drawing his release just before the start of the 1977 season and prompting him to call it quits. By the time of Duncanís retirement, a number of other players had also “let down their hair,” as baseballís conservative approach toward grooming quickly crumbled and gave way to a more liberal hygiene. And perhaps weíre headed toward that same trend again, at a time when almost every fashion statement is allowed on the field, from goatees to earrings to tattoos. Yes, let the hair flow freely.

All-Hair All The Time

ESPN presented its own All-Hair Team, so why canít I? Letís give it a try, position-by-position:

Catcher: Dave Duncan (backed up by Ted “Simba” Simmons and curly-haired Rick Sweet)

First Base: Don Mattingly (long hair prompted a fine and a benching)

Second Base: Pete Rose (enough said there)

Shortstop: Teddy Martinez (a full but well-manicured beard)

Third Base: Buddy Bell (flowing blond locks)

Left Field: Craig Wilson (a Duncan-Bell look-alike)

Center Field: Johnny Damon (backed up by Jose Cardenal and his mini-Gamble afro)

Right Field: Reggie Jackson (first mustache since Wally Schang in 1914)

Backup Outfielder: Tarzan Joe Wallis (Mountain Man III, pre-Damon, post-Duncan)

Designated Hitter: Oscar Gamble (the largest afro this side of Darnell Hillman)

Starting Pitcher: Randy Johnson (mullet madness)

Starting Pitcher: Don Sutton (as Skip Caray once said, hair like cotton candy)

Starting Pitcher: Ross Grimsley (afro aside, he allegedly didnít wash his hair or bathe regularly)

Starting Pitcher: Mudcat Grant (somehow made mutton chops look good)

LH Reliever: Stan Wall (hair almost as long as Duncanís)

LH Reliever: Al Hrabosky (king of the Fu Manchus)

RH Reliever: Rod Beck (his long, ragged hair epitomized the wild and wooly look)

RH Reliever: Rollie Fingers (from handlebar mustache to Hair Club For Men)

Major League Morsels

The Kenny Lofton Era has started poorly in the Bronx, so much so that the Yankees are already shopping their free agent acquisition, who has already made a visit to the disabled list with a strained quad (the most fashionable injury of the last 15 years). A combination of factors have pushed Lofton to the trade block, in particular the play of backup outfielder Bubba Crosby (who deserves a spot on the 25-man roster), Loftonís chronic complaints about his roles with the team, and Joe Torreís unwillingness to remove Bernie Williams from center field on a fulltime basis. Two contending teams may be interested in Lofton: the Phillies, who are unhappy with the development of center fielder Marlon Byrd as a leadoff man, and the White Sox, who also need help in center field and at the tablesetting spots in the batting order

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