Baseball player Willie Upshaw, on August 12th, 1984, became the first African American baseball player to grow an actual moustache.
What isn’t known (maybe it was covered up?) is the sad fact that African American baseball players, since the Negro Leagues ended and baseball was integrated, weren’t allowed to grow their own moustaches, and had to wear false moustaches. Even when Reggie Jackson won the World Series with the Yankees in 1977, Mr. October was quoted after that legendary game, saying “It is a great honor. I just wish my real moustache was here to witness it.” Legends ranging from Andre Dawson to Dave Winfield to Ozzie Smith spent years dealing with maintaining false moustaches/sideburns. Ozzie Smith remembers, “We had to stock up on facial hair glue. We get hot and sweaty out there, and in addition to that, I do a lot of acrobatics to get the crowd excited. There were times when my false beard almost fell off. That would’ve broken my heart. I just never understood why we as black players weren’t allowed to grow our own facial hair…”
But back to that fateful day. The Toronto Blue Jays went into the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome to face the Minnesota Twins. In the bottom of the fourth, Twins slugger Gary Gaetti smacked a line-drive to first baseman Willie Upshaw. Upshaw dove into the ground, catching the ball, but his face dug into the ground about a foot. Most Blue Jays players were worried that what they thought was Upshaw’s fake moustache would have come right off. Upshaw jumped up and tagged Gaetti out at first. The crowd then saw Upshaw wipe the dirt off of his face, no moustache at all coming off.
Blue Jays staff were frantic. Would the law of Major League Baseball not allowing black players to grow their own facial hair, let alone a soul patch, be broken? First base coach Steve Hobbson ran up to Upshaw in a rage. “What are you doing? That’s not real, is it?”
Upshaw couldn’t lie anymore. “Yes”, he said, “It’s as real as my eyebrows.” Jaws dropped from both dugouts. Upshaw stood defiant and proud, announcing to those who could hear, “This is my moustache. This ain’t no glued on lip wig! You can all take it or leave it!” Fearful that his career might be over, Upshaw walked back to the Blue Jays dugout with his head down. Then, Hobbson grabbed Upshaw and stopped him. “Willie,” he said, “I am damn proud of you.”
Cheers erupted from the stands as Willie Upshaw became a hero to the African American race. Twins slugger Kirby Puckett approached Upshaw moments later, standing at his side. Puckett removed his own fake moustache and said, “This man is a hero”.
Hyperchuckle salutes the Unsung Heroes of Black History Month.