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On This Date in Sports February 21, 1986: The Mustache

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Rather than shave his trademark handlebar mustache to play for the Cincinnati Reds, Rollie Fingers decides to retire. Released by the Milwaukee Brewers following the 1985 season, Fingers was offered a deal to play for the Reds on the condition he adheres to the team’s policy that did not allow any facial hair. Rollie Fingers, who was the first reliever with 300 saves, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992.


Rollie Fingers was born on August 25, 1946. Fingers was the son of a minor leaguer who played in the St. Louis Cardinals and roomed with Stan Musial. The elder Fingers worked in a steel mill after failing to reach the majors. After his family moved to California, Rollie Fingers got the attention of scouts for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who offered him a $20, 000 signing bonus. However, fearful of being stuck in the minors, due to the Dodgers’ excellent pitching staff, so Fingers took less money and signed with Kansas City Athletics in 1964. 


Rollie Fingers would spend four seasons in the minors, with his career nearly derailed when he was struck in the face by a baseball. After making his debut with the Oakland Athletics in 1968, Fingers' first full season in the majors was in 1969. In each of his first three seasons in the majors, Fingers was a spot starter, making most of his appearances out of the bullpen as the closer role was just becoming redefined as the save became an official stat in 1969. Rollie Fingers' final start was in 1971 as he would become one of baseball’s first-generation closers. 

 In 1972, several members of the Oakland Athletics began growing facial hair after Owner Charlie O. Finley offered a $300 bonus for players who grew a mustache. Rollie Fingers took this offer to the next level, as he grew an old-fashioned waxed handlebar mustache. The A’s took on the nickname Finley Mustache Brigade, as the team had a promotion, giving any fan that had a mustache free entry into the ballpark. The “Mustache Gang” became the best team in baseball, winning the World Series in 1972, the first championship for the Athletics since they played in Philadelphia in 1930. They would repeat as World Series Champions the next two years, with Rollie Fingers winning the World Series MVP in 1974.  


The Athletics would win the American League West five straight years from 1971-1975. As baseball began to move towards Free Agency in 1976, Charlie O. Finley started to take apart his team, knowing that he did not have the money to pay his stars players. Among the players, he attempted to move was Rollie Fingers, who was sold to the Boston Red Sox with Joe Rudi, before commissioner Bowie Kuhn voided the deal in the best interest of baseball. 

Following the season, Rollie Fingers would sign to play with the San Diego Padres. By now, he was the best-known reliever in baseball, as his handlebar mustache made him one of the most recognizable All-Stars. With the Padres, Fingers remained a star, but the team struggled and traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals following the 1980 season. A few days later, Fingers was traded again to the Milwaukee Brewers. 


With the Brewers, Rollie Fingers had his finest season in 1981, saving 28 games with an ERA of 1.04 in a strike-shortened season. With the Brewers winning the division title in the second half, while Fingers won both the Cy Young and American League MVP. The Brewers would go even further in 1982, winning the American League Pennant as Rollie Fingers became the first to save 300 games. However, Fingers' body began to fail him as he was unable to pitch in the World Series as the Brewers lost to the Cardinals in seven games and missed the entire 1983 season following back surgery. 

Rollie Fingers pitched well in 1984 but struggled in 1985 as he ended the season with a career-worst 5.04 ERA, leading the Brewers to cut ties with him following the season. The following winter saw no offers for the legendary reliever with the handlebar mustache. The one team that offered a deal was the Cincinnati Reds at the request of Manager Peter Rose. At the time, the Reds had a strict policy against facial hair. Meaning that Fingers would have to shave the mustache that he had come to trademark to continue his career. Stating that he was not going to shave it off just to play baseball, Rollie Fingers announced his retirement. 


In total, Rollie Fingers finished his 17-year career with a record of 114-118, posting a 2.90 ERA with 341 career saves, which was the all-time record until being surpassed by Jeff Reardon in 1992. A seven-time All-Star, Fingers had his #34 by both the Oakland Athletics and Milwaukee Brewers. 


Today the Cincinnati Reds facial hair policy is long gone, as their mascot Mr. Red sports a handlebar mustache. In 2015 when they hosted the All-Star Game, a handlebar mustache was part of the logo, as glass handlebar mustaches with all 30-team logos were placed throughout the city. Rollie Fingers still makes public appearances and still has his famous mustache, which was voted the greatest mustache the history of baseball.