Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.
TV URBAN LEGEND: Don Mattingly’s sideburns plot on The Simpsons was not actually a reference to a real life incident that happened with the Yankees benching Mattingly over the length of his hair.
In August of 1991, Yankee star first baseman Don Mattingly famously sat a game due to a controversy involving the length of his hair. The Yankees had rather draconian rules in place for how long players’s hair could be, and manager Stump Merrill came to four Yankees and told them they had to cut their hair or they would be benched for a game on August 15. Catcher Matt Nokes did so and so he played. Mattingly refused, and instead sat that game.
He then played the next game with his long hair still on (and received a standing ovation from the fans at Yankee Stadium). He then cut his hair the next day and actually auctioned off the clippings for charity. Mattingly’s main concern was the time frame that they gave him. He later recalled:
“My biggest issue that day was ‘If you don’t get your haircut today, you don’t play,’ and I was at the ballpark. Well, don’t tell me two days ago. If you tell me today, ‘If you don’t have it cut by tomorrow, you won’t play,’ I would have got it cut.”
The next year, Mattingly was one of a group of star baseball players who appeared in a third season episode of “The Simpsons” called “Homer at the Bat,” where Mister Burns brings in a group of professional ringers once the plant’s softball team makes the playoffs. One by one, the players come down with various maladies that leave them off the team (all except the one player who played Homer Simpson’s position, Darryl Strawberry). I just wrote a TV Legend today about how one of the players was not happy about the story that they wrote for him, so the writers changed it.
For Mattingly, he was kicked off of the team after Mister Burns insisted that he cut down his sideburns, even after Mattingly shaved the side of his head, Burns still saw them there.
It’s a funny bit and it appeared a clear cut reference to the incident back in 1991. However, that shockingly is somehow not the case!
Jon Vitti, the producer of the episode, explained to the Associated Press back in 1992, “That script was written and ready to record in July [of 1991]. It was pure coincidence. When those things happened, the first thing we thought was, `Hey, this is great,`Then we thought, `No, it isn`t great. No one is going to believe those things were written before they happened.`”
Mattingly also told Jim Caple, “The weird thing is, everyone thought they wrote it in later but they didn’t.”
I mean, the Yankees’ long hair policy WAS in existence before the famous incident, but it still seems so hard to believe. But since Mattingly really has no reason to lie about it, I’m willing to go with the legend as…
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.