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For Orioles, facial hair is growth industry Grooming of players takes on new meaning

THE BALTIMORE SUN

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Orioles relief pitcher Gregg Olson would like to look more like the Mad Hungarian, but his new beard has not had the desired effect. At this point, he would be lucky to pass for a slightly perturbed Czech.

Starter Mike Mussina had hoped that his new goatee would strike fear into the hearts of opposing hitters. Instead, his Leninesque growth has left him looking more like a member of the Socialist Workers Party than a baseball player.

Outfielder Brady Anderson arrived at spring training with his sideburns reaching well below the ear. It had nothing to do with his on-field persona. He just wanted to look like Elvis. Brady has always marched to the beat of a different barber, so why should this time be any different?

Welcome to the Hair Club. The arrival of bearded veteran Rick Sutcliffe forced the Orioles to relax their once-stuffy dress code to include all manner of facial hair, and the results have been, well, mixed. The club has been at or near the top of the American League East standings all year, but the fashion sense of some of its members has been questionable, at best.

Anderson, of course, is the exception. He went on last winter's Orioles cruise as an Elvis impersonator and came back a star. The sideburns became the talk of spring training and Anderson became the productive, full-time leadoff hitter this club has been looking for since Al Bumbry, whose last year as an Oriole was 1984.

No one honestly thinks the sideburns had anything to do with that, but baseball players are superstitious. Anderson and Olson have had tremendous success during the first months of the season, so this is no longer a trivial hirsute. Half of the team now is sporting some kind of growth.

Of course, it all started with Sutcliffe, whose trademark red beard was not allowed to become an issue when he was negotiating a contract with the Orioles last winter. Manager Johnny Oates, who owns a conservative mustache (and even wears it on special occasions), decided to end the beard ban rather than make an unfair exception for Sutcliffe.

"Before I even knew the Orioles had a hair rule, Johnny told me that it wasn't a problem," said Sutcliffe, who insists that it wouldn't have been a problem anyway. "There will come a time when I shave it, because I look younger without it. When I start looking as old as Mike Flanagan, then I'll definitely shave it."

The beard dates to the early 1980s, when Sutcliffe was with the Cleveland Indians. He started his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team whose dress code was so conservative that the backup catcher (a quiet type known as "Quaker" Oates) looked like a cutting-edge kind of guy.

"I grew the thing on a bet," Sutcliffe said. "Bert Blyleven bet me $100 that I couldn't grow a beard. All of the sudden, I had it, I won a few games and I kept it. Then, I went to the Cubs, and Harry Caray immediately dubbed me 'The Red Baron.'

"I shaved it once and people in Chicago actually cried. I couldn't believe it. But [actor] Mark Harmon and [agent] Barry Axelrod pointed out that they didn't cry because I shaved it, they cried because of the way I looked without it."

Oates figured it was time for a change. He is conservative in appearance, but he has better things to worry about than the personal grooming habits of his players. The club rules now allow beards, mustaches and sideburns, but players are expected to keep them neat and trimmed.

"I think you have to understand that things aren't quite the way they were in 1945," Oates said. "As long as it's not really far out, I can livewith it."

Sutcliffe may be the major player in the Orioles' outgrowth, but a couple of other prominent players have made facial hair the coming thing in the major leagues. Oakland Athletics first baseman Mark McGwire opened the season with a goatee and 17 home runs in six weeks. Chicago White Sox pitcher Jack McDowell wears a goatee and won his first seven decisions.

No wonder Mussina and Glenn Davis and Chris Hoiles and Sam Horn and Jose Mesa (and, for a few frightening days, Ben McDonald) soon tried to get a chin up on the rest of the league.

But facial hair is old hat in the bullpen. Relief great Al Hrabosky -- the erstwhile Mad Hungarian -- wore a Fu Manchu mustache that made him look meaner than an ear-high fastball.

The five relievers with 300 or more career saves all had some trademark facial hair. Rollie Fingers had the big handlebar mustache, and once turned down a contract with the staid Cincinnati Reds rather than shave it. Bruce Sutter had a bushy beard, and Jeff Reardon has one now. Lee Smith has been known to wear a goatee. Goose Gossage was scary enough to begin with, but his famous Fu Manchu just added to the intimidation factor.

Olson tried to grow a Fu Manchu last year -- with the manager's blessing. Oates encouraged him to change his appearance in an effort to be more intimidating on the mound, but was convinced by one of his coaches that it would be unfair to make an exception to the long-standing club rule against anything more than a well-kept, above-the-lip mustache.

"I might try again sometime," Olson said recently, "but things have been going pretty well with the beard. I'm not superstitious or anything, but . . . "

Oates doesn't mind the beard, but he doesn't think it makes Olson look any more formidable. The Fu Manchu is the most intimidating look for a relief pitcher. Hrabosky and Gossage made it the standard for pitchers who want to look menacing.

"A beard doesn't make you look mean," Oates said. "You've got to have the Fu Manchu for that. Take a Gossage or a Bryan Harvey. You look at those guys and the first thing you think is, 'Who are those guys mad at?' "

Todd Frohwirth has been feeling a little left out. He would like to grow something, but he is too fair-skinned to sprout anything significant.

"I thought I had a mustache in winter ball once and nobody noticed," he said. "That's sad, isn't it?"

Frohwirth, who overpowers hitters with his unorthodox submarine delivery, hasn't needed anything else to make him a successful relief pitcher, but he still would like to fit in with the other members of the Orioles bullpen. Mike Flanagan has a mustache. Storm Davis has a perpetual 5 o'clock shadow. Even Alan Mills, the newest Orioles reliever, has a Fu Manchu.

"I can't grow one," Frohwirth said, "but I've got a pimple on the left side of my nose. Maybe that intimidates the hitters. I hope so. You'll have to ask the other team."

Starting pitcher Bob Milacki is the only member of the starting rotation to remain clean-shaven, but he is happy to see his teammates enjoying their new growths.

"I think it's great," he said. "It breaks up the monotony in their faces."

There are limits to this grooming glasnost. Earrings have become commonplace in some baseball clubhouses, but that won't happen in Baltimore. Barry Bonds can have one in Pittsburgh. Ruben Sierra has one in Texas. Dave Parker wore one for years. But Curt Schilling was asked to put his away when he played for the Orioles, and that rule still stands.

"Everyone has his own personal taste," Oates said. "As long as myson is in the house, he won't wear an earring, and as long as I'm the manager, my players won't either."

But what happens if the Orioles sign Bonds as a free agent next winter?

"Then we may have to change that rule next year," Oates said. "I'm very flexible."

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