By Louis Zona
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The baseball team I follow closely is the Pittsburgh Pirates. If you have tuned into one of their televised games recently, you know that the team has been so lacking in talent this year that the announcers have to be creative to keep you from tuning out and instead watch reruns of “Gilligan’s Island.”
Recently the topic of facial hair was discussed, which I thought would be about certain teams’ policies that ban any kind of facial hair.
As I recall, the New York Yankees forbid their players to grow whiskers of any type. After all, they are the clean-cut goody two-shoes New York Yankees that gave us Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Billy Martin (I couldn’t help myself!).
Getting back to the announcers’ discussion of facial hair, when Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynolds came to bat merely sporting a mustache, they mentioned that Reynolds is definitely old school because a simple mustache recalls the way men satisfied their need for facial hair decades ago.
Mustaches are definitely out of favor. Or should I say no longer in style or in fashion.
Well, I take umbrage with those learned announcers. I have been sporting a mustache since I was in graduate school in the early 1970s – and continue to be proud of my tiny bit of facial hair.
So what that my mustache is of another time? I like it and it is enough self-expression for me. Actually I like Bryan Reynold’s mustache, which is much darker than mine. (After all, he’s many decades younger and probably doesn’t even know that mustache dye exists for those of us with a lot of gray in our beards.)
In fact, after seeing Bryan’s dark mustache, I did the unthinkable and purchased a little kit to darken mine. So what? I don’t look like Errol Flynn or even Burt Reynolds. But at least I don’t think that I‘m scaring little old ladies.
Speaking of little old ladies, I think that I may have scared one in particular while traveling across the country with my nephew on Amtrak.
If you have spent any time on a domestic train, you know that you have no choice of seating in the dining car. When you are seated, you could sit next to anyone. My nephew Nick, who also sported a mustache back then, and I were seated at the same table with an elderly woman.
Frightened at first, she kept her head down until she had the courage to confront us about our mustaches. She said, “Both of you men have mustaches and I’m frankly afraid.”
I assured her that neither of us were train robbers or scary dudes. By the time our supper was over, Nick and I had won her over. I don’t think she feared mustaches ever again. To this day, I do wonder how she would have dealt with us had we worn full beards. She probably would have chosen the snack bar on the train rather than sit in the dining car.
What appears to be the big fashion these days is the goatee. It’s where the mustache encircles the mouth by a closely trimmed beard and reaches up longer than the usual sideburns. It’s a well-trimmed mini beard – a professorial look that appeals to so many men including my late brother Jerry who trimmed his goatee with incredible artistry. He once told me that there is nothing worse than to have Floyd the barber treat a goatee like your common, ordinary 15-minute haircut.
The other night while I watched the Pirates lose once again, I noticed that two of the players are sporting full red beards and a third has a dark brown full beard. Maybe it’s just me but I think they look like the guys on the Smith Brothers cough drop box.
For those of you old enough to remember, full beards always bring to mind Gene Autry’s sidekick, Gabby Hayes. But Gabby’s beard was gray and black and scraggly, to say the least.
Abraham Lincoln and dozens of presidents have sported beards, including Ohio’s own, William Howard Taft. Apparently, John Quincy Adams, our sixth president, was the first with facial hair. Probably the coolest presidential facial hair belongs to another Ohio-born president, Ulysses S. Grant.
But it was Lincoln’s beard that became an interesting element in his election to the presidency. An 11-year-old girl, Grace Bedell, wrote to President-elect Lincoln in 1860, encouraging him to grow a beard for luck – which he did. He eventually got to meet the young Lincoln fan and it became a national story.
In the world of art, the famous Surrealist painter Salvador Dali grew a mustache so long that he curled it up at its ends. I once saw a photograph of him hanging from a helicopter from his handlebar mustache. No kidding!
Of the mythological bearded characters, I would have to place jolly old St. Nicholas at the top. Santa’s pure white beard makes many a child very happy during the holiday season as evidenced by his ongoing popularity in every mall across America.
But then there was me. I can’t begin to tell you how afraid I was of Santa despite my father’s urgings at Christmas. I think that I simply was in awe of the great man with the long white beard.
I do wave to him every holiday season and I’m convinced that he remembers the little guy hugging his father’s waist instead of sitting on old Santa’s lap.
I’m not sure that I’ll get used to baseball players who look like Santa Claus fielding grounders. On the other hand, the occasional high hard one might not hurt as much if the batter is protected by lots of facial hair – especially muttonchops like Rutherford B. Hayes sported.
Hey, maybe I’m onto something!