The 2017 Mariners leave an undeniable first impression, one that surpasses anything I’ve seen from this team in years – maybe ever. They possess an abundance of talent in a particular area that happens to be gaining prominence throughout baseball.
PEORIA, Ariz. – The 2017 Mariners leave an undeniable first impression, one that surpasses anything I’ve seen from this team in years – maybe ever. They possess an abundance of talent in a particular area that happens to be gaining prominence throughout baseball.
No, not power, or speed, or hard-throwing hurlers, though they hope to shine in all those categories.
“I do know that we are going to lead the league in hair this year,” manager Scott Servais said with a laugh.
Yes, these Mariners are The Titans of Tress. The Monsters of Mane. The Leviathans of Locks.
OK, I’ll stop. But for a handful of Mariners, their hair never does. Sprinkled throughout the clubhouse are several Chris Hemsworth clones, most of them new to the organization, who are rocking free-flowing ’dos that might have been more fitting on college campuses in the 1960s than the sometimes-staid environs of a baseball team.
But the times, they are a changing. It might have been Johnny Damon who started the slow but steady infiltration of long hair back into the game (at least until he went to the ultimate conformist team, the Yankees, and they made him get a haircut). Or maybe it was Tim Lincecum at his most Freakish. Certainly, the Mariners had an outlier in the button-down 1990s when Randy Johnson used his wild locks as part of a calculated mask of intimidation.
But it is undeniable that after a long (and to my mind, regrettable) stretch where full, often mangy beards were the follicle trend of the moment, long hair is on the rise. Or more accurately, on the fall, as in falling down over the shoulders.
Think Noah Syndergaard, better known as Thor, or his Mets’ teammate, Jacob deGrom. Think Jayson Werth or Andrew McCutchen or Jeff Samardzija or Zack Greinke or Jered Weaver or any other abundantly mopped major-leaguer.
The Mariners had been mostly immune from this phenomenon – until players started showing up for this year’s camp. There was utility man Taylor Motter, acquired from Tampa Bay, with hair tickling his numbers. There was left-handed reliever Dillon Overton, added from Oakland, looking like a modern-day Jesus. There was Zac Curtis, a pickup from the Diamondbacks, proudly displaying his flow. There was Dylan Unsworth, a young pitcher from South Africa whose admiration for Lincecum and Weaver prompted him to grow out his hair in homage. There was catcher Sebastien Valle, with a curly black mane he can’t contain under his hat. There was returning outfielder Ben Gamel, who like Valle came out of the Yankee organization and was delighted to no longer have restrictions on hair length.
“I think it is a trending thing in baseball,” Overton said. “I think the more people that have it, the more people are going to try to get it.”
Curtis, acquired along with Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger in the trade that sent Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte to the Diamondbacks, noticed right away he had kindred coiffured spirits on the Mariners. Servais, in fact, dropped a reference to the House of David, a hirsute traveling ballclub in the early 20th century.
“It’s nice when you see more guys with longer hair, and you’re not the single guy,” Curtis said. “Especially with the Diamondbacks, there weren’t too many guys, so I was always the guy with long hair. So seeing other guys makes the clubhouse a little more inviting.”
The Mariners have since lost, at least partially, one of their longhair crew when Unsworth got a haircut on Monday. It’s still a bit on the long side, but before his first live bullpen session in his first major-league camp, Unsworth decided he wanted to present a more dignified look.
“Once I stepped on the mound, it starts, so I wanted to get fresh and look good,” he said. “Then I’ll start growing it out.”
For a pitcher, there might be a tactical advantage to having hair that whips back and forth, Willow Smith style, during delivery. One anonymous ballplayer told the Bergen Record last year that he was distracted by deGrom’s cascading hair.
“You can’t not look at it,” he said. “It’s everywhere. It bothers me when I’m trying to pick up the ball out of his hand. All I see is hair.”
I asked Overton if there was a strategic element to his own hairdo.
“No, I actually don’t think about that,” he said. “I just think it looks good under a hat.”
Touche. That’s probably the same motivation Oscar Gamble had when he unveiled his world-class afro in the 1970s, a song as old as time. Overton said he used to wear his hair short until a couple of years ago, when he promised his Class AA teammates he’d grow it out until the next spring training. And kept his word.
“My wife actually really liked it, and she wouldn’t let me cut it,” he said. “That’s the reason it’s as long as it is now.”
Curtis’s affinity for long hair goes back much farther. His father tells the story of the time he was walking young Zac, age 2 or 3, through the grocery store. A woman stopped him and said, “Sir, your daughter is so beautiful.”
Said Curtis: “He dropped everything and took me straight to the barber shop and got my head shaved. But I’ve always had long hair. One year, I didn’t have long hair – I cut it for baseball, my junior year in college. It was by far the worst year of baseball I had. I kind of leverage that now.”
Gamel watched with empathy the other day when newly acquired outfield prospect Clint Frazier showed up in Yankees camp with a striking mop of curly red hair, but was required to cut it before the first workout. Gamel has been there, done that.
“I did that for seven years, so I’m completely aware of that situation,” said Gamel, acquired by Seattle in a trade with the Yankees last August. “This is the first year I’ve ever really been able to (grow his hair out), so I figured, why not? I get to let my hair down a little bit. No pun, I guess.”
Unlike the Yankees and some other teams, the Mariners under this regime put a premium on individuality, which to my Berkeley-immersed sensibility is a good thing. It might even put them head and shoulders above the competition (pun, I guess).
“They’re open to anything,” Curtis said. “Just be yourself. Whether you have long hair, short hair, no hair, it really doesn’t matter. It’s cool.”
That doesn’t mean Servais is necessarily a fan of the Fabio look, mind you. But he’s a fan of self-expression and creating a nurturing environment.
“I think you guys have heard me say it enough: Be who you are,” Servais said. “That doesn’t mean there won’t be some ribbing and stuff to tighten it up a little bit. But it’s society. Things have changed. I’m not about wearing the uniform the same way. If you’re going to preach, ‘Be who you are and let your personality come out,’ you have to let it go.”
So enjoy this capillary bonanza while you can. Who knows? By next spring, the shaggy look might be out and buzz cuts back in.
Hair today, gone tomorrow.