NEW YORK -- On Opening Day of his first season as principal owner of the New York Yankees, George Steinbrenner surveyed his players as they lined up along the first base line during introductions.
Taking an envelope from his jacket pocket, he jotted down a series of numbers. After the game, he gave the envelope to Ralph Houk, the manager, and instructed him to tell the players belonging to those numbers to get their hair cut. Houk, who would leave at the end of the season, would have no part of it and tossed the envelope into the trash.
Four years later, during the 1977 season, Thurman Munson, angry with Steinbrenner, defied club rules and grew a beard during a road trip. The reticent Munson bristled as the beard attracted more and more attention and questions and gave the owner an excuse to criticize manager Billy Martin for supposedly losing control of his players.
Wishing to add no more fuel to the Steinbrenner fire that would consume Martin, Munson eventually shaved in a motel room in Syracuse, where the team was playing an exhibition game.
The Steinbrenner influence lives.
Don Mattingly, the team's best player, senior player and captain, was removed from the Yankees' lineup last night because he refused to cut his hair.
He would not play again, manager Stump Merrill told him, until he cut his hair. He would be fined $250, Merrill also told him, for not cutting it yesterday and an additional $100 a day until he did.
"I'm overwhelmed by the pettiness of it," Mattingly told reporters after he sat out the game. He also revealed that two months ago he asked to be traded, and repeated the request yesterday.
Merrill also talked to reporters, explaining what he said was his decision but one that obviously came from general manager Gene Michael, who wasn't around to discuss it. As he spoke, Merrill sat at his desk, his head bowed. He appeared to be embarrassed and uncomfortable talking about the matter, but he spoke the company line.
"If someone from management tells you you need a haircut, you get a haircut," Merrill said.
Not necessarily so, said the Major League Baseball Players Association, whose lawyers Mattingly plans to consult.
"Even I might be able to defend this one, and I'm not a lawyer," said former Orioles shortstop Mark Belanger, a union official. "It's so silly. It's like a power trip."
Merrill noted that players sign an agreement at the beginning of spring training regarding club rules. "For whatever reason, he chose not to adhere to it," the manager said of Mattingly. "We can't have that."
But, Belanger countered, the form players sign simply says they have read the rules. Then, he added, "It comes down to the club saying something like, 'You should shave every other day so you'll look good,' and the player saying, 'I don't want to because my face breaks out.' "
The Yankees' rules prohibit long hair, but they don't say what's too long. Mattingly took note of that fact, saying: "I don't know how much to get it cut. I had it cut two weeks ago, but I guess it's not good enough."
Merrill initially talked to Mattingly about his hair two weeks ago. "I didn't handle it as well as I could," Merrill said. "He expressed concern about it, and I gave him some time to think about it."
Mattingly said he had told Merrill he didn't really want to have it cut. "I thought there would be a point where they'd start taking money from me," Mattingly said. "I didn't mind that."
But yesterday became a deadline, and the two men had a brief conversation before the game that went something like this:
Mattingly: Am I in the lineup?
Merrill: Are you going to get your hair cut?
Merrill: Well, you're not in the lineup.
"I was pretty much backed into a corner," Mattingly told reporters, speaking softly. "Cut it in an hour or don't play. I felt painted into a corner. I felt challenged. I'm kind of confused and surprised by everything that happened today. I'm a little upset."
Merrill didn't appear to be any happier than his first baseman. "It's a situation you're not proud to be in, but you're in it and you have to address it," he said. "If you have rules, you have to abide by them. Otherwise, why have them?"
But without a definition, long hair appears to be in the eye of the beholder.
"I don't consider my hair long," Mattingly said. "To me, long hair is down my back, touching my collar. I don't feel my hair is messy. I feel I'm neat, not a sloppy type person."
Mattingly's hair, which as he spoke was wet and not as full as it is when dry, was curling at the end and barely touching the top of his T-shirt. The way he spoke he seemed to be resigned to cutting his hair.
When asked what he would do, he said: "Whatever I have to do to get back in the lineup; whatever I have to do to stay on the field the rest of the year, to show people I can still play and keep my value. I'll come to play tomorrow.
"If I have to get my hair cut a little . . . I don't know. I like it the way it is. That's why I kept it. Today I made a decision. Tomorrow I'll have to make one."