TBT: '72 A's hold memorable 'Mustache Day'
Fans got free admission for sporting same facial hair as Oakland's stars on Father's Day, 43 years ago
It takes a stiff upper lip to win one World Series, let alone three in a row. In 1972, it also took one covered with hair.
The specifics of what happened 43 years ago today -- Father's Day, June 18, at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, now lovingly known forever as "Mustache Day" -- are not necessarily what we immediately point to when we turn back the baseball clock on an unforgettable time. Yeah, the A's beat the Indians, 9-0, and Vida Blue went the distance in the shutout and Joe Rudi and Dave Duncan had three hits apiece.
But the backstory behind the events of that day and the galvanizing, unifying motivation that propelled the A's team to multiple championships ... that's what makes the mustaches so memorable.
Like a few other baseball controversies over the years, it all started with Reggie Jackson. During Spring Training, the star outfielder arrived in Mesa, Ariz., with a mustache and beard, and all of a sudden Jackson and his facial hair had stirred one of his first drinks of frenzy. These were the days of clean-shaven ballplayers. This had been a diamond tradition for decades, after all, so A's owner Charlie Finley, already known for being as colorful and unconventional, and, well, economical, as they came, had another situation on his hands.
"There were no mustaches in the big leagues at the time," 1972 A's member, Hall of Fame reliever and Hall of Fame mustache-wearer Rollie Fingers recalls. "We all started growing our own mustaches at Spring Training because of Reggie -- to get him to shave his off.
"We figured our manager, Dick Williams, would tell us all to shave them off and then Reggie would shave his off. It didn't quite work out that way."
Finley, ever the outside-the-box thinker, went the other way and seized on an opportunity to potentially goose the gate at the yard across the Bay from San Francisco with the view of the Oakland hills. He offered every player and coach a $300 bonus if they grew a mustache and had it in place by Opening Day, or April 15.
"Three hundred bucks? That was a week's pay back then," Fingers says. "He came down to the clubhouse on Opening Day, gave us all our checks, we got 300 bucks out of Charlie, and that was all that mattered."
But it was only the beginning. Soon enough it would be a movement, a culture, a way of life. "The Mustache Gang" was born.
Blue wasn't quite on board, though. The 22-year-old, who had exploded onto the scene the previous season en route to 24 wins, an American League MVP Award and an AL Cy Young Award, wasn't about to give in to any sort of demands from Finley, especially when Blue was in a contract squabble with the owner.
"Everybody knew my squabbles with Mr. Finley," Blue says 43 years later. "It was an open book. It was in the media. Everybody takes sides, which is OK. I was sticking to my guns and so be it. So that was the official reason.
"But I used the military as a reason not to do it also. I was a reservist at the time and you couldn't have facial hair or mustache. But the mustache just kind of capped off us setting us apart from other teams. It kind of completed the package. It was the sign of things to come for our crazy ball team."
The strips of facial hair added to an already-established look of green-and-gold uniforms, white shoes and eventually long hair. By the time "Mustache Day" rolled around on Father's Day, with Finley promising free admission to any A's fans showing up with their own versions of their favorite players' whiskers, Oakland was already on cruise control with the best record in the game at 35-17, and doing it with a cast of characters.
The winning was contagious, and the upper-lip fuzz was getting to be that way, too.
"We all were growing them, and we were beating the heck out of everybody, so we started growing the long hair, pretty soon the press is eating it up, and now we're drawing two million when before we couldn't draw a million," Fingers says. "I think everyone kept the mustaches because ballplayers are superstitious and they're winning. You win and you keep it. Most of the guys did."
Fingers, of course, had -- and still maintains -- a remarkably stellar 'stache. It was known as the Snidely Whiplash because its handlebar design and curled tips brought to mind the character from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. It also became iconic as Fingers' career took him to Cooperstown.
Father's Day in 1972 was another glittering Sunday right at the epicenter of an era. The Mustache Gang didn't always get along off the field but jelled on it. They won and electrified crowds and won some more. They were the last team to win three consecutive World Series before the Yankees did it from 1998-2000. And it started with some facial fuzz.
"There were guys with short fuses, guys sometimes fighting in the clubhouse or in planes and buses, but once the game started, it was strictly business," Fingers says. "We all came up through the minor leagues together and got to the big leagues around the same time. We had a nucleus of 13 or 14 guys that were on the team the whole time. It was like a family."
And rallying around a certain personal look, a la the bearded Giants in 2010 or Red Sox in '13? That's old news to these old A's.
"That's what makes us unique," Blue says. "We were the first ones to do it. We set the trend. Everything else is Brand X."