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  • Hairs vs. Squares: The Mustache Gang, the Big Red Machine, and the Tumultuous Summer of '72 by Ed Gruver
  • Brian E. Campbell
Ed Gruver, Hairs vs. Squares: The Mustache Gang, the Big Red Machine, and the Tumultuous Summer of '72. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2016. 408 pp. $29.95 (cloth).

Journalist Ed Gruver's Hairs vs. Squares chronicles the 1972 Major League Baseball season. In doing so, he provides a window for exploring broader tensions in national culture and identity in the United States following the turbulent 1960s. Gruver shows how the media framed the 1972 World Series matchup between the Cincinnati Reds and Oakland Athletics as a contest between conservative midwestern values and emerging liberal politics on the West Coast. Citing how the media portrayed differences in style, dress, and appearance, Gruver's book shows that by studying the Reds/A's series, we can trace the origins of contemporary debates over culture in public discourse.

Each chapter moves the story forward chronologically, beginning with baseball's off-season in February and culminating in the Reds/A's series in November. Along the way, Gruver stops to comment on pivotal moments during the spring and summer months. He is at his best in this regard when describing the 1972 labor strike that occurred during the opening week of the season—the first of its kind in MLB history. Gruver rightly argues that while brief, the April strike "set the stage for future labor disputes in each of America's four major sports" (53). It would still be two years before MLB abolished the reserve clause, finally giving players the opportunity to negotiate contracts with other teams in free agency. But in 1972, players realized their labor power in an unprecedented way: Baseball owners would have to contend with a powerful players' union moving forward. The Cincinnati media responded to the labor strike with great animosity towards the ballplayers. Gruver explains that Reds owner Francis Dale—who also owned [End Page 188] the Cincinnati Enquirer—used his newspaper to undermine the players' strike and generate the sentiment among fans that greedy athletes were cheating hard-working, blue-collar fans out of their national pastime (63).

Throughout Hairs vs. Squares, Gruver suggests that differences in style and dress were central to media depictions of the Reds and A's. He writes that in an "era in which one's personal appearance was oft en a political statement, the free-spirited, long-haired, and mustachioed A's represented the California youth movement, campus protests at UCLA, and the counterculture" (3). The team's anti-establishment look and attitude "conjured up images of Berkeley students taking on the military-industrial complex," according to Gruver (301). In contrast, the Cincinnati Reds embodied the conservative history of baseball as the team of traditional values and midwestern sensibility. Conservative sportswriters in Cincinnati negatively referred to Oakland's ballplayers as "hippies and Yippies" in contrast to the home team's more straight-laced, traditional appearance (3). The World Series, then, became more than just a sporting event—it represented a drama played out in public discourse about differences in regional cultural identity.

Hairs vs. Squares also examines how baseball's demographics changed as Latino stars like Tony Pérez, César Gerónimo, and Dave Concepción emerged as key players for the Reds in 1972. Latino ballplayers made up 9 percent of major leaguers that year, and that number was estimated to rise to 11 percent by the end of 1973 (132). The 1972 season represented a turning point as Latinos changed the racial makeup of baseball in the U.S. for good. In chapter 12, Gruver elaborates on the Latino experience by profiling former Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Manny Sanguillén. Sanguillén was born in Panama and broke into professional baseball with the Columbus, Ohio, minor league team in the late 1960s. Sanguillén spoke little English when he first arrived in Columbus, but he soon met other Spanish-speaking players who helped him navigate life in the Midwest (261). Hairs vs. Squares reminds us that by 1972, Latino players were living and working in various midwestern cities, creating a network that...