The goatee that forever changed the Reds

December 5th, 2020

CINCINNATI -- Greg Vaughn played just one season (1999) for the Reds, and it proved to be a transformative one for a reason that had nothing to do with his performance on the field.

Sure, Vaughn became an instant clubhouse leader and the outfielder slugged 45 home runs as Cincinnati went 96-67 in that season. The club just missed the postseason after losing a Game 163 tiebreaker to the Mets.

But Vaughn’s goatee changed the Reds forever when he came to camp and broke the club’s longstanding policy against facial hair. He told owner Marge Schott he didn’t want to shave and she surprisingly acquiesced.

“Greg Vaughn came along and pretty much defied that [rule],” Reds Hall of Fame executive director Rick Walls said. “He was a dominant player with the Reds that year. He helped the team have one of the best seasons they’ve had in a while. That was pretty much the end of it after that.”

When the Red Stockings were founded in 1869 as baseball’s first professional franchise, nearly every player had facial hair. By the turn of the 20th century and keeping with the changing times, an unofficial clean-shaven policy took hold in Cincinnati.

In 1967, as the times were a changin’ again with hippie culture and long hair and beards becoming popular, the Reds went completely against the grain. That unofficial no facial hair policy became very official under general manager Bob Howsam and remained well after his departure -- for 32 years until Vaughn’s arrival.

Cincinnati was a dominant force in the 1970s with four World Series appearances and two championships. Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, George Foster and company may have sported longer sideburns, but their faces were shaved. Even the team’s mascot had to shave. The team’s running Mr. Red logo had his mustache removed upon Howsam’s arrival as well.

“The Big Red Machine and the clean, professional look,” Walls said. “They tried to have a very uniform, workman-like team. All of their shoes had to be painted black. The idea of not having facial hair was one way to keep the clean look. Marge Schott had a lot to do with that as well, to continue having the clean look. Everyone looked the same and you didn’t have anybody stand out so much.”

The policy was a -- pardon the pun -- red line in the sand for new arrivals over the years. Some players known for having mustaches and beards, like closer Jeff Reardon in 1993, went clean shaven. Others tried pushing back and faced the consequences.

In 1972, pitcher Ross Grimsley won two games for the Reds in the World Series vs. Oakland. By ’73, according to The Hardball Times, Grimsley’s preference for longer hair and not shaving began surfacing and clashed with management. After the ‘73 season, Grimsley was traded to the Orioles -- where his long curly locks and bushy mustache could flow freely.

Pitcher Jim Kern was traded from the Mets to the Reds on Feb. 10, 1982, for Foster and fought the organizational policy. On Aug. 23 of the same season, the Reds shipped out Kern in a trade with the White Sox.

In 1986, future Hall of Fame reliever Rollie Fingers was being wooed to join the Reds during Spring Training after he was let go by the Brewers. Fingers’ trademark was a spectacular handlebar mustache and its genesis came from the '70’s A’s, who had a policy that actually encouraged facial hair.

According to The New York Times, Fingers told Reds GM Bill Bergesch no thanks to his offer and retired.

“I am not about to shave it off just to play baseball,” Fingers said.

Of course, the sweet irony is the Reds' current mascot and logo shows Mr. Redlegs, with a handlebar mustache, when he was re-introduced in 2007. The club’s logo for the '15 All-Star Game in Cincinnati was a handlebar mustache, and handlebar mustache statues popped up all over town to promote the host team.

Vaughn moved on to Tampa Bay in 2000 and he left a new facial hair policy in his wake. Reds players from Ken Griffey Jr. to Eugenio Suárez and other future stars could simply focus on playing and not worry about shaving.