NEW YORK -- Because Gerrit Cole grew up cheering for the Yankees, watching as many games on television as possible from his Southern California home, no one needed to instruct the Bombers’ new ace about the organization’s famed grooming policy.
"I haven't shaved in like 10 years, but you know what? So be it,” Cole said, sporting clean cheeks and a shorter haircut on Wednesday. “That's the way it is. If you're a Yankee, you shave. That's what's up."
Cole, who had exhibited a beard and shaggier hair while signing autographs outside a Manhattan hotel on Monday afternoon, joked during Wednesday’s news conference that he was experiencing razor burn for the first time in about a decade.
One of the Yankees’ clubhouse barbers had the honor of ensuring that Cole’s appearance adhered to the uniform standards that were instituted by the late George M. Steinbrenner following his 1973 purchase of the club.
“I woke up this morning, got a shave and came here,” Cole said. “The guy who does it in the clubhouse just came to the hotel and dialed me in.”
Cole follows in the lineage of celebrated free-agent imports like Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi and Randy Johnson, all of whom had to forego longer locks as a requirement of changing business addresses to East 161st Street.
The Yankees are the only Major League franchise to expressly prohibit players from wearing any facial hair other than mustaches, and head hair also may not be grown below the collar.
The policy was instituted shortly after a group led by Steinbrenner purchased the team prior to the 1973 season. A graduate of Culver Military Academy in Culver, Ind., Steinbrenner believed that his players should adhere to similarly strict grooming standards.
As legend has it, Steinbrenner watched his players step to the first-base line on Opening Day of that first season, jotting down uniform numbers of players he believed needed a haircut.
The list was presented to manager Ralph Houk after the game. Though Steinbrenner had yet to learn his players' names, those instructed to find a barber included Sparky Lyle, Thurman Munson, Bobby Murcer, Fritz Peterson and Roy White.
In 1978, Steinbrenner explained the policy to The New York Times: "I have nothing against long hair per se, but I’m trying to instill a certain sense of order and discipline in the ball club because I think discipline is important in an athlete."
More than four decades later, and nearly a decade after Steinbrenner's passing, the policy remains intact. Jennifer Steinbrenner-Swindal, one of The Boss' daughters and a Yankees general partner, counts it among her many responsibilities to see that the current players groom themselves in a manner that her father would have deemed acceptable.
Now that Cole’s beard has been addressed, Yankees manager Aaron Boone said that his main concern is that the hurler is able to rapidly assimilate into the clubhouse culture once he reports to Spring Training.
“I want him to get acclimated as soon as possible; get comfortable with a new environment, with a new uniform, with his new teammates,” Boone said. “We’ll try and acclimate him as best we can. We want him to be healthy and try and support him the best way we can to put him in a position to be as great a player as he can be.”