As Mustaches Return to Fashion, Aficionados Reflect; a 'Lip Sweater'
By Scott Cacciola,
Wall Street Journal
April 27, 2012
John Axford had a career year for the Milwaukee Brewers last season. The 6-foot-5 reliever posted a league-high 46 saves. He was so good, he got votes for the Most Valuable Player Award, a rarity for a closer.
That was all very nice, Axford said. But to him, one of his greatest moments came after the season when the American Mustache Institute named him its Robert Goulet Memorial Mustached American of the Year. It was an extraordinary honor, especially considering Axford is Canadian.
"I truly believe that a nice, masculine mustache would look wonderful on anyone," he said.
In promoting his self-described "lip sweater," Axford is the latest in a long line of ballplayers who have contributed to one of the game's rich, thick traditions—the mustache. It's been a staple of Major League Baseball for 40 years, curiously resistant to follicle fashion trends off the field. There have been angry mustaches (Al Hrabosky) and handlebar mustaches (Rollie Fingers) and really awful mustaches (Derek Holland).
"I think baseball is such a team game that it's an easy way for guys to express their personalities," said Sal Fasano, a former backup catcher whose burly 'stache was inspired by old samurai movies that he watched as kid. "I also have the advantage of being a hairy Italian."
There's a self-evident truth about ballplayers with mustaches: Ballplayers with mustaches love talking about mustaches. And sometimes they get nostalgic. "I was good friends with Dwight Evans, and he's got a big one," said Dennis Eckersley, a Hall of Fame reliever who now works as an analyst on Boston Red Sox broadcasts. Eckersley hasn't shaved his mustache since 1983, when he broke out his clippers in the wake of a New Year's Eve party. ("One crazy a-- night, know what I mean?") It has since endured because of marital relations. "It's one of my favorite features on him," said his wife, Jennifer.
Dennis Eckersley, A's, 1988
In any case, A's owner Charlie Finley wasn't enamored with Jackson's fashion statement, nor were many of his teammates, who felt he did it to stand out. "I heard the same thing when I'd be on national television and hit a home run," Jackson said. "People would say, 'Well, Reggie only hits home runs on television because he likes the attention.' If that was the f------ case, I would've hit one every day."
He insists he grew his mustache only because his father had one. But this filial devotion didn't endear him to teammates. Several players conspired to grow their own mustaches so Jackson would blend in. (Take a moment to appreciate that logic: The A's were so annoyed with Jackson, they decided to look more like him.) Then the real twist: Finley, who was never a wallflower when it came to marketing gimmicks, offered $300 to anybody on the team who also grew one. Thus, the "Mustache Gang" was born.
The fact that the A's then won three straight World Series, from 1972 to 1974, shouldn't be considered mere coincidence, said Aaron Perlut, chairman of the American Mustache Institute. "It could be argued that there is no greater performance-enhancing device in baseball," he said. Perlut also claims that mustaches improve good looks by 38%. "That's science," he said.
He has evidence. He cites Jason Giambi, who broke out of a slump with the New York Yankees in 2008 after he adopted what Perlut describes as a "sexually dynamic mustached American lifestyle." There's also Carl Pavano, who went 17-11 with the Minnesota Twins in 2010 after he embraced lower-nose foliage.
One of today's most famous baseball mustaches belongs to Holland, the Texas Rangers pitcher whose 'stache has a bald patch in the middle. "Man, it's a bad mustache," he admits. And yet his numbers have been impressive: He went 16-5 last season. "I don't think it's had any bearing on his performance," said his agent, Mike Martini.
Holland said he plans to shave it in June for engagement photos with his fiancée, but perhaps he should think twice. Consider Rick Ankiel, whose mustache was a source of civic pride when he was with St. Louis. Then he shaved it early in 2009. A city mourned. "The world's a little less hairy: Rick Ankiel's mustache is dead," read one headline on stltoday.com. Less than two weeks later, Ankiel slammed into a wall tracking a fly ball and was carted off with a neck injury. "The cushioning that the mustache would have had on impact was largely taken for granted," Perlut said.
Associated PressKeith Hernandez, Mets, 1984
Derek Holland, Rangers, 2012