Call him the “Unfrozen Caveman.” Call him “The Hippy.” Call him the “Mountain Man.” Call him whatever you like, but no nickname can entirely capture the untamed image that Johnny Damon has created by not cutting his hair for nearly a year and not shaving his face since the latter stages of 2003. Damon’s “biblical” appearance has become such a sidebar of attention that it motivated ESPN.com to come up with an all-time, all-hair team featuring some of the longest and most unusual hairdos in the game’s history. ESPN included some worthy candidates on its list, including Oscar Gamble and Ross Grimsley (owner of the white-man afro, as ESPN puts it), but somehow left off the man who sported baseball’s longest hair during the frenetic decade of the 1970s.
Until Damon and Pittsburgh’s Craig Wilson, whose flowing blond locks aren’t far behind Damon in length but haven’t received nearly the attention, no one had longer hair than former major league catcher Dave Duncan, now the pitching coach for the St. Louis Cardinals. Based on how he looks today, with short hair and a clean shave every day, you might not have recognized the wild-looking Duncan during the latter stages of a journeyman career that saw him play for the Oakland A’s, Cleveland Indians, and Baltimore Orioles from 1964 to 1976. In his formative years with Oakland, Duncan still featured a close-cropped hairdo, as did most players of the 1960s. (There were two primary reasons for the short-hair preference of that era. Most teams had unwritten policies that outlawed the wearing of long hair, along with mustaches and beards. Also, a number of players served in the military reserves during the Vietnam War, necessitating that they maintain their hair in the brush-cut look.) That all started to change in 1972, when Reggie Jackson showed up to spring training with a fully-grown mustache, eventually prompting owner Charlie Finley to offer $300 bonuses to each A’s player who followed suit. Duncan complied with the owner’s “request” and then pushed the trend two steps further by growing a beard and letting his blond hair grow out. By the end of the ’72 season, Duncan sported both a full beard and lengthening hair that stretched beyond the collar of his neck, making him look like an extra during the filming of Deliverance.
The following spring, the A’s traded Duncan, not because of his new mountain man appearance, but because of a salary dispute that saw the catcher engage in a spring training holdout while asking the penurious Finley for more money. The spring training trade landed Duncan in Cleveland, allowing him to bring the long-hair look to the Midwest. Duncan shaved off his blonde mustache and beard but continued to let his hair lengthen, well beyond the lower reaches of his helmet and cap, to the point that his tresses draped onto his shoulders. Whenever Duncan ran, his long mane of hair flapped as if stirred by a stiff breeze, creating a memorable impression for those who had become used to major league players who looked more like soldiers than flower children.
Sometimes derided with catcalls of “Goldilocks” and “Prince Valiant,” Duncan drew raised eyebrows from many in the baseball establishment. Some critics used Duncan’s unusual hair style as an excuse for questioning his smarts and hustle, portraying him like a caricature of Cheech and Chong proportions. Yet, those close to Duncan realized that such characterizations were all stereotype and little truth. “With that long hair, he looked kind of goofy as a player,” said former slick-fielding shortstop Eddie Brinkman, who coached with Duncan during a stint with the Chicago White Sox. “But once you get to know him, you realize he’s one of the kindest, smartest men you’ll ever meet.” Few would question Duncan’s baseball intelligence, given his success as a pitching guru with the Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners, White Sox, A’s, and Cardinals. He’s sometimes criticized for being too blunt with young pitchers, but his triumphs with veteran hurlers and the overall success of his pitching staffs remain his hallmark.
Most of Duncan’s baseball cards don’t do his “Mod Squad” head of hair full justice, but his 1975 Topps card (No. 238 in the set) probably offers the most emblematic view of his blond bombshell appearance. Duncan is also featured in an intriguing 1977 Topps card (No. 338) wearing the air-brushed colors of those awful White Sox throwback uniforms, yet he never actually played for Chicago, instead drawing his release just before the start of the 1977 season and prompting him to call it quits. By the time of Duncan’s retirement, a number of other players had also “let down their hair,” as baseball’s conservative approach toward grooming quickly crumbled and gave way to a more liberal hygiene. And perhaps we’re headed toward that same trend again, at a time when almost every fashion statement is allowed on the field, from goatees to earrings to tattoos. Yes, let the hair flow freely.
All-Hair All The Time
ESPN presented its own All-Hair Team, so why can’t I? Let’s give it a try, position-by-position:
Catcher: Dave Duncan (backed up by Ted “Simba” Simmons and curly-haired Rick Sweet)
First Base: Don Mattingly (long hair prompted a fine and a benching)
Second Base: Pete Rose (enough said there)
Shortstop: Teddy Martinez (a full but well-manicured beard)
Third Base: Buddy Bell (flowing blond locks)
Left Field: Craig Wilson (a Duncan-Bell look-alike)
Center Field: Johnny Damon (backed up by Jose Cardenal and his mini-Gamble afro)
Right Field: Reggie Jackson (first mustache since Wally Schang in 1914)
Backup Outfielder: Tarzan Joe Wallis (Mountain Man III, pre-Damon, post-Duncan)
Designated Hitter: Oscar Gamble (the largest afro this side of Darnell Hillman)
Starting Pitcher: Randy Johnson (mullet madness)
Starting Pitcher: Don Sutton (as Skip Caray once said, hair like cotton candy)
Starting Pitcher: Ross Grimsley (afro aside, he allegedly didn’t wash his hair or bathe regularly)
Starting Pitcher: Mudcat Grant (somehow made mutton chops look good)
LH Reliever: Stan Wall (hair almost as long as Duncan’s)
LH Reliever: Al Hrabosky (king of the Fu Manchus)
RH Reliever: Rod Beck (his long, ragged hair epitomized the wild and wooly look)
RH Reliever: Rollie Fingers (from handlebar mustache to Hair Club For Men)
Major League Morsels
The Kenny Lofton Era has started poorly in the Bronx, so much so that the Yankees are already shopping their free agent acquisition, who has already made a visit to the disabled list with a strained quad (the most fashionable injury of the last 15 years). A combination of factors have pushed Lofton to the trade block, in particular the play of backup outfielder Bubba Crosby (who deserves a spot on the 25-man roster), Lofton’s chronic complaints about his roles with the team, and Joe Torre’s unwillingness to remove Bernie Williams from center field on a fulltime basis. Two contending teams may be interested in Lofton: the Phillies, who are unhappy with the development of center fielder Marlon Byrd as a leadoff man, and the White Sox, who also need help in center field and at the tablesetting spots in the batting order… A recent game between the Cubs and Reds offers further evidence that the umpires simply won’t enforce the hit-by-pitch rule as dictated by the Official Baseball Rules. In the sixth inning of a game at Wrigley Field, Cubs starter Matt Clement hit Cincinnati’s Wily Mo Pena in the arm with a pitch. Pena made absolutely no effort to move out of the way of the pitch, not even a flinch or a customary turn of the back. According to Rule 6:08 (b), “the batter becomes a runner and is entitled to first base without liability to be put out when… he is touched by a pitched ball which he is not attempting to hit UNLESS the batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball.” Therefore, by the written official rules, the home plate umpire should have called a ball “if he [the hitter] makes no attempt to avoid being touched” and ordered Pena to remain in the box, since he made no effort at eluding the pitch… Speaking of the Cubs, they are deeply concerned by the defensive shortcomings shown by new catcher Michael Barrett during the early weeks of the season. Although Barrett has hit well, he has had alarming trouble with the basic elements of catching, such as handling pitches from a starting staff with overpowering stuff and locating pop-ups behind the plate. Barrett’s defensive play has been so poor that the Cubs might be willing to admit they made a mistake in handing him the catching job and begin stepping up efforts to acquire a more accomplished catcher. A perfect fit would be the Mets’ Vance Wilson, who could be had for some extra outfield help (which the Cubs don’t have unless they can convince the Mets of David Kelton’s value as an outfielder) or a spare pitching prospect (which they do have). An excellent all-around defender, Wilson might be capable of 15-20 home runs if given the chance to play every day. Other possibilities are the expensive Jason Kendall, who’s off to a blazing start with the Pirates, or Anaheim’s defensive stalwart Bengie Molina, who’s been demoted to secondary status behind his brother, Jose… Other than the Twins’ trade for Shannon Stewart, there might not have been a better mid-season pickup in 2003 than the Reds’ acquisition of infielder D’Angelo Jimenez. The White Sox had grown tired of Jimenez for several reasons, including his attitude, baserunning, and defensive play, all of which led to the Sox designating the switch-hitter for assignment. The Reds then swooped in and acquired Jimenez for practically nothing—giving up only a minor league relief pitcher—and they couldn’t be happier about it. Jimenez has ended the Reds’ revolving door at second base while giving them a patient leadoff man who can hit for a decent average, draw walks, and hit with occasional power. The Reds also seem to be satisfied with Jimenez’ defense, which had been cause for criticism in both Chicago and San Diego. At least two teams are probably kicking themselves for failing to pick up Jimenez when he became available; both the Dodgers and Yankees need major help at second base. Of course, the Yankees still had Alfonso Soriano at the time of Jimenez’ switch from the American to the National League, but they still could have used Jimenez as a much-needed boost to their dilapidated bench and then promoted him to starter status in 2004.
Horton Hears The Hurrahs
During our first full-hour installment of this year’s Hall of Fame Hour (as heard every Thursday at noon eastern on MLB Radio.com), I had the pleasure of interviewing former Detroit Tigers slugger Willie Horton, who is now the team’s special assistant to the president and a roving minor league instructor. He was a favored player of mine, despite the fact that he never played for two of “my” teams (the Yankees or Pirates). One of the most popular Tigers of the sixties and seventies, Horton made news earlier this month when the Michigan legislature declared that October 18 would be officially recognized as “Willie Horton Day” throughout the state. It’s certainly a deserving honor for the longtime outfielder-DH, who not only made seven American League All-Star teams during his career, but has also continually involved himself in numerous charitable and humanitarian acts throughout the Detroit area. He has worked with such organizations as the United Way, Meals On Wheels, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
Horton’s community activism stretches all the way back to his playing days—specifically to 1967. That season, Horton achieved legitimate hero status when he left Tiger Stadium immediately after a game and traversed directly into the streets of Detroit during the city’s brutal racial riots in an effort to quell some of the violence. Still in full Tiger uniform, Horton climbed aboard a truck to speak to a gathering crowd of insurgents. Horton obviously couldn’t stop the riots by himself, but he did succeed in quieting some of the angry demonstrators, especially when he engaged them in calming one-on-one conversations. It was the kind of brave, civic-minded action that I can’t imagine coming from many of today’s major leaguers, given their general reluctance to “mingle” with the common folks even under more pleasant circumstances, both at the games and in other public locales.
Horton’s bravery under fire in 1967 probably didn’t surprise too many of his Tiger teammates, who had come to respect the quiet, rock-solid left fielder for his understated leadership abilities and unwavering professional approach to his work. Horton was one of just a few black players on the Tigers of ’67 and ’68 (along with backup outfielders Gates Brown and Lenny Green, starting pitcher Earl Wilson, and relievers Les Cain and John Wyatt) and the team’s only full-fledged African-American star. His status as the team’s most prominent minority made him extremely popular with black fans throughout Detroit, helping to attract a number of African-American visitors in creating a diverse crowd at Tiger Stadium. Curiously, white and black fans intermingled without incident at the old ballpark, in contrast to the anger and violence that bubbled between the races in the city streets.
On the field, Horton’s presence loomed just as large as his civic and social involvement. He was one of the most feared hitters of his era, in part because of a sturdy five-foot, 11-inch, 225-pound frame of compact muscle, achieved at a time when few players lifted weights and perhaps none used steroids or other performance-enhancing, body-building type supplements. Pound for pound, no one appeared stronger than the robust Horton, whose thick wrists and forearms made him a Bunyanesque figure. A seven-time All-Star during his career, Horton typically hit 25 to 35 home runs a year and put up slugging percentages bordering the .500 neighborhood in an era when pitchers enjoyed most of the “enhancements” that the game provided (an expanding strike zone along with the ingression of larger, full-figured stadiums in Anaheim, Oakland, and Kansas City). Horton’s performance during the famed “Year of the Pitcher” in 1968 remains one of his landmarks; he hit 36 home runs and slugged .543 in a year where most hitters flailed away at far below their normal levels of production. He then hit .304 and scored six runs in the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, but it was one of his fielding plays that really turned the Tiger tide during the Series. Never known as a particularly nimble fielder, Horton aggressively charged a ground single to left and then air-launched a one-hop throw to catcher Bill Freehan, who tagged out Lou Brock to stymie a potential Cardinal rally in the fifth inning of Game Five. The Tigers went on to win the potential elimination game, then claimed the next two matchups to take the Series.
Horton remained the Tigers’ everyday left fielder until 1972, when injuries and a slumping bat restricted Horton to 108 games and led to a time-sharing arrangement with the lefty-swinging Gates Brown. Manager Billy Martin lost so much confidence in Horton that he began to play a catcher, the relatively immobile Duke Sims, in the outfield during the American League Championship Series, squeezing Willie out of starts in the fourth and fifth games. (Horton, by the way, says that Martin’s insistence on using Sims in the outfield during the playoffs cost the Tigers the pennant that year. Sims went only 1-for-6 in the final two games and committed an error in the decisive fifth game, which the Tigers lost to the A’s, 2-1. In the meantime, Horton appeared only as a pinch-hitter in those two games, delivering one hit in two at-bats.) Plagued by a series of injuries, Horton lost the left-field job completely within three years, as the organization decided to capitalize on the relatively new designated hitter rule, which had been put into place in 1973. Horton made a smooth transition to the DH role in 1975, but slumped considerably the following summer. He remained in the role until the early days of the 1977 season, when the over-the-hill Tigers decided to expedite a youth movement by trading Horton to the Texas Rangers for pitcher Steve Foucault, a hefty right-hander who had enjoyed a mixed bag of success but would last only two more seasons in the major leagues.
Legendary for his superstitions, Horton then bounced from team to team, enjoying varying levels of prosperity as a DH with the Rangers, Cleveland Indians, Oakland A’s, Toronto Blue Jays, and Seattle Mariners, while also earning the Comeback Player of the Year Award after his career had been given up for dead. His newfound status as a journeyman prompted a new superstition to be added to his repertoire of rituals, this one involving his equipment. According to the Horton legend, whenever he changed teams he allegedly refused a newly issued helmet from his acquiring team, instead painting the colors and logo of the new team onto his existing headware. I asked Horton if this was true; he confirmed it during the interview while displaying the pride of a skilled painter. True to form, Horton still owns the battered helmet, which appropriately features the old logo and colors of the Mariners—his last major league team.
Although it’s been nearly a quarter-century since he wore a batting helmet in anger, Horton remains active in the game today. As one of several former Tiger stars in the team’s front office, Horton is trying to turn around a major league team that became a laughingstock in 2003. As part of his assistance to team president Dave Dombrowski, Horton travels throughout the club’s minor league system and counsels the franchise’s young hitters. And for those who might be interested, he plans to make at least one trip to central New York this summer, in order to visit the Tigers’ minor league affiliate in Oneonta, located just 22 miles from Cooperstown.
The Nickname Game
It’s not particularly well known, but Willie Horton was once known as “Boozie”—and no, it had nothing to do with the imbibing of alcoholic beverages. Unlike many nicknames that are the creation of teammates or the media, Horton was given the moniker by his parents when he was still a baby. As a toddler, the mischievous Horton once gained access to an off-limits area of the kitchen and then went “on a spree with flour and lard containers,” as described by The Sporting News Baseball Register. Horton’s parents, in tribute to the boy’s impish manners, decided to call him Boozie. I’m still not exactly sure of the connection between the name “Boozie” and Horton’s “spree with flour and lard,” but that’s what the Baseball Register says, it’s their story, and I’m sticking to it.
Lou Berberet (Died on April 6 in Las Vegas, Nevada; age 74): Typifying the notion of a good-field, no-hit catcher, Berberet played seven seasons during a journeyman career in the 1950s. A veteran of the New York Yankees, Washington Senators, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Detroit Tigers, Berberet was involved in three trades during his career. In 1956, the Yankees traded him to the Senators as part of the deal that brought left-handed pitcher Mickey McDermott to the Bronx. Known for his sure hands behind the plate, Berberet played all 77 of his games in 1957 without an error. As a hitter, Berberet’s best year occurred in 1959, when the left-handed batter clubbed 13 home runs and drove in 44 runs.
Gene Karst (Died on April 6 in Ladue, Missouri; age 97): Karst was baseball’s first public relations official, taking on the role for the St. Louis Cardinals’ “Gashouse Gang” teams of the 1930s. After a stint with the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Karst was hired by Cardinals general manager Branch Rickey to write feature stories about such stars as Dizzy Dean, Frankie Frisch, Rogers Hornsby, and Joe “Ducky” Medwick. The stories often appeared in small-town newspapers that surrounded the St. Louis area. In addition, Karst promoted special events designed to increase the awareness and popularity of the Cardinals. Karst’s work in journalism and baseball eventually earned him induction to the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame in 2001.
William Eberly (Died on March 21 in Toledo, Ohio; age 82): Eberly served the minor league Toledo Mud Hens as their financial consultant for the last 40 years, capping off a baseball career that began after an encounter with Branch Rickey. In 1945, Eberly approached the Brooklyn Dodgers general manager, who was so impressed that he hired him to work as a general manager in the team’s farm system. Eberly’s career with the Dodgers included stops in five different states, eventually setting the stage for a move to the major leagues. In 1953, Eberly became ticket and business manager for the Milwaukee Braves and remained in that position until 1965, when the team relocated to Atlanta. His career at a crossroads, Eberly decided to leave baseball and return to his native Toledo, where he became a stockbroker. Eberly eventually returned to the game, joining the staff of the Mud Hens, the same team for which he had previously worked as a teenager.
And Another Thing
The Hall of Fame will host a special program entitled “Baseball in Asia” on Saturday, May 8, beginning at 1:30 p.m. in the Hall of Fame Library’s Bullpen Theater. The program will feature a roundtable of authorities on Asian baseball, including Robert Whiting, an expert on Sadaharu Oh; author and journalist Joe Reaves; journalist Marty Kuehnert; and professor Bill Kelly of Yale University. The program is the brainchild of baseball author George Gmelch, who will also serve as host and moderator. For more information on the program, which is free of charge to all Museum visitors, please call 607-547-0261.
Cooperstown Confidential author Bruce Markusen is host of the Hall of Fame Hour, which airs each Thursday at 12 noon Eastern time on MLB.com Radio. He is also the author of three books on baseball, including A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, which is available at Borders Books and at www.amazon.com. A fourth book, Ted Williams: A Biography (Greenwood Press), is scheduled for release in the fall of 2004. He has also written a young adult horror novel, Haunted House of the Vampire, which is scheduled for release this fall.