Twenty years ago today, Barack Obama was about to start his first semester lecturing at the University of Chicago, the New York Giants were still celebrating their second Super Bowl title, and the nation's multiplexes braced for the impending release of Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man. Halcyon days! Also, one of the dumber moments during a particularly depressing era in Yankees history happened: Don Mattingly got suspended.
Yes, twenty years ago today, Yankees manager Stump Merrill benched Donnie Baseball because his hair had grown too long. A George Steinbrenner edict, but one that created a fiasco that led to Merrill's firing. You don't challenge Don Mattingly, particularly for something so stupid, particularly when the Yankees were already ten games under .500 and Merrill was in serious trouble. Earlier this year, our own Joe DeLessio talked to Mattingly biographer Mike Shalin about the incident.
I think [Mattingly] was insulted by the way it was done. He makes it pretty clear that had Stump come to him and said, "Get a haircut by Friday, please, and let's not make this a big deal," I don't think it would have been a big deal. I think he would have cut his hair. But the fact that they basically came to him before the game and said, "Cut your hair before the game or you're not playing," kind of drew a line in the sand, and Mattingly was a prideful guy. He viewed himself as somebody who never caused a problem. In other words, it's almost like, you've got three kids, and one of them is really, really well behaved. And he gets blamed for stuff the two kids who aren't did. That would obviously affect the good kid, if you want to say it that way.
The incident further destroyed Merrill's credibility; within two weeks of the suspension, players were openly revolting, and he was fired at the end of the season. (Buck Showalter replaced him, and Joe Torre replaced him, and then all sorts of things happened.)
The two most amusing aspects of the suspension? One, the famous episode of The Simpsons in which Mr. Burns screams at Mattingly to "trim those sideburns," which came out only six months later and was in fact unrelated to the Merrill incident.
And second: All this fuss was over a curly mullet.