Mid-twentieth century men wore their hair short with some type of hair dressing. A tube of Brylcreem or a bottle of Vitalis could be found in medicine cabinets all over America. Those who wanted a real “clean” look opted for the crew, butch or flattop cuts. These extra-short styles often required a thick pomade–oddly pinkish in color–known as “Butch Wax” to make the short hair in front stand up. I know this first hand due to childhood trauma resulting from forced crew and flattop cuts in an era of increasingly longer hair styles.
The well chronicled emergence of the counter-culture in the late 1960s sparked a revolution in personal appearance with men sporting long, undressed hair, beards and mustaches. This movement toward the “Age of Aquarius” didn’t sit well with my parents and it certainly didn’t jive with the hidebound traditions of baseball.
Players were expected to be clean shaven with short-cropped hair. 1970 baseball cards started to show players with lengthening sideburns which served as a harbinger of the “hairy” poses we are familiar with as the ‘70s progressed. However even after the zeitgeist overtook baseball in the ‘70s–starting with the hirsute “-Swingin’ Oakland A’s–some teams, like the Cincinnati Reds, remained adamant when it came to “old school” grooming. A vestige of this school of thought still remains with the Yankees prohibition of facial hair.
But the “far out” and “groovy” new looks on display during the ’67 “summer of love” in San Francisco or at “Woodstock” in ’69 were nowhere to be seen in baseball card photos at this time. It was still “squaresville” as far as Topps was concerned. The players’ boycott of Topps in ’68, expansion in ’69 and many trades led to the use of older photos and many bare-headed shots. As a result, decidedly “un-cool” hair styles would greet the “tie-dyed” clad kid when he laid down some “bread” for a “stash” of wax packs.
Here’s a look at some “squares” you can really “dig.”
This ’68 Pete Richert shows off a great flattop. It appears that Pete was wearing cap before the photo was taken which resulted in a slightly “mussed” look. There had to be some Butch Wax in use since the hair still stands up in front. Pete would be a valuable lefty out of the Orioles bullpen during their ’69-’71 run as AL and World Series (’70) champs.
“Fat Jack” Fisher shares a similarly disheveled flattop look in his ’68 photo. The “level headed” look came in handy for Jack, since he could find barbers in all the cities he ventured to in his journeymen career who could “top him off and wax him up.” He served up Ted Williams’ final home run in ’60 and Roger Maris’ 60th homer in ’61.
Eddie Fisher’s ’68 card bares a striking resemblance to my high school baseball coach who we knick-named “Bristle Bob.” Eddie floated his “knuckler” for 15 seasons.
Another well-traveled hurler with Butch Wax in his locker was Stan Williams. The ’68 and ’69 cards show the freshly barbered hurler in all his “buzz cut” glory.
Perhaps this classic flattop in ‘68 kept Tony LaRussa’s head cool, allowing his brain to absorb all the nuisances of baseball in preparation for his Hall-of-Fame managerial career.
This ’68 Astros had a pair of “close cropped” relievers in Fred Gladding and Dave Giusti. Fred pieced together a decent career with Houston and Detroit. Giusti would go on to be a “palm ball” tossing bullpen ace for the Pirates.
In this ’67 Danny Cater shows off an impressive flattop. He was second in the AL in batting in ’68-“The Year of the Pitcher”- hitting .290 behind Yaz’s .301.
Hall-of-Famer to be Jim Bunning shows his adherence to the conservative baseball culture with this flattop in ’69, foreshadowing the conservative positions he would espouse as a two-term US Senator from Kentucky.
This ’70 card shows Jim Bouton’s foil in Ball Four, Fred Talbot, with his signature “waxed up” flattop. The conservative southerner took exception to the “mod perm” style worn by Pilots catcher Merritt Ranew in a memorable exchange in Ball Four.
Lou Piniella styles this “sweet,” “bristle cut” on a ’70 Topps Super.
“Tough-as-nails,” ex-Marine Hank Bauer has a “military ready” cut in this “sweaty” ’69 manager card.
Although he grew some sideburn during his time with the short-lived Pilots, Wayne Comer’s ’69 card still has a nice “burr” cut from his days as Senators property.
Phil Roof displays a really “high and tight roof” in this ’70 card. Alas, Phil would take his well-barbered noggin to Milwaukee.
The Yankees only got Charlie Smith and his “crew cut” in exchange for Roger Maris.
1969 World Series hero Al Weis is as “square” as it gets in this ’68 card.
Chuck Cottier’s look in ’69 would have made “Sergeant Carter” proud.
It’s time to stop “waxing nostalgic” and cut this “follicle farce” short. But no late ‘60s “short hair styles in sports” retrospective could be complete without showing the quintessential “flat-topped” athlete: Johnny U.!
8 thoughts on “Butch Wax”
My butch haircut (through age 8 or 9) did not require any ointment — it was too short for that.
I remember Butch Wax! Good substitute for caulking, too.
I’m sure his masculine persona was a plus when, a few years later, Hank Bauer (by then managing the Orioles) appeared in an ad for a hair spray pitched to men.
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The times they were a changin.
I was a 16 year old teen with long hair in 1971 when my dad took me to to a Texas barbershop. He told the barber a short princeton then corrected himself and ordered a crewcut with a flat bumper. when we left the barbershop I had a H&T flattop crewcut landing strip and butchwaxed. In ten days or so the haircut was again cut fresh. Living at my dads house in Texas he was very strict on my haircut. Lucky Tiger Control wax was in the bathroom. Beyond cleancut….
I remember the first time Mom gave me a quarter and let me walk up to the barbershop on my own. Finally, I thought, no more flattop and an end to kids with more permissive parents calling me “Frankenstein.” At last, a chance to choose my own tonsorial destiny.
Barber: “How do you want your hair cut, young man?”
Me: “That one!” ( I was so excited I could only point to the sophisticated collegiate head on the style poster)
Barber: (chuckling evilly) “Sorry, your mom already called.”
Yep: flattop…and butch wax.