Dave HeaverloFebruary 4, 2010
Heaverlo, normally a blithe spirit, who shaves his head and wears rubber noses, was disconsolate.
That sentence, which would make a great first line in a short story, perhaps one about a circus employee with suicidal ideations, was a part of the April 22, 1980, sports page of Washington’s Ellensberg Daily Record. Dave Heaverlo, a native of Ellensberg, dominated the sports page of his hometown paper that day, showing up not only in the recap of the Mariners game he had lost the night before (and which presumably caused the temporary moratorium on the brandishing of rubber noses) but also in a feature story titled “Dave Heaverlo: Glad to Be Out of Oakland” and in a large photograph in which his notoriously clean-shaven dome is being rubbed by an unidentified teammate.
When I was a kid, Dave Heaverlo definitely barged deeper into my consciousness than a journeyman reliever for distant second division teams otherwise might have, mostly due to his last name, which for reasons I can no longer fully access always made me laugh. “Heave” is kind of a funny word already. People heaved up their breakfast sometimes. Grizzled hurlers with spare-tire midriffs heaved easily sluggable meatballs toward the plate. And then you add the “her low” to heave, and, well, I don’t know. I guess you had to be there. My brother would probably understand. In other words, Dave Heaverlo is one of the select Cardboard Gods, an ineffable inside joke between me and my brother and possibly shared, though I can’t say this with any certainty, with other kids who found him in packs of cards and laughed.
I never knew he shaved his head, because he always wore a cap in cards, and I wasn’t observant enough to notice that, as in this 1977 card, the total absence of hair (besides eyebrows and the cop mustache) below the cap suggested that some information on the back of the card (“Nickname is ‘Kojak’”) was not there because Heaverlo enjoyed solving gritty New York City crimes while sucking on lollipops.
Oh, how I want to pause for a while and talk about Telly Savalas. There was no better decade than the 1970s! When else in the history of humankind could such a man, with a pear-shaped body, sloping shoulders, and liver-spotted, child-frightening head, become a famed sex symbol? But there is no time. I’m already running late for work and want to say a couple more things about Heaverlo.
First, the shaved head. The 1970s were renowned in baseball history for various grooming innovations, most notably for the first appearances of mustaches on major league diamonds since before Ty Cobb started gashing guys’ shins with his sharpened cleats, and for the Afros that began bulging out from under caps, but in both of those cases baseball was trailing behind trends in the wider culture. When Heaverlo shaved off all his hair, no one else was really doing it, except Telly Savalas. Heaverlo deserves some credit for that, I think.
I wonder if his iconoclastic tendencies hurt his career. In the edition of the Ellensberg paper quoted above, it is reported that in the spring Heaverlo “wouldn’t let his hair grow out until [A’s owner Charlie] Finley traded him.” The 1970s came full cycle in that situation, as it was Finley who played a huge part in the hair explosion earlier in the decade, when he encouraged players to grow facial hair (first doing it to coax a bearded, attention-seeking Reggie Jackson into losing the beard, then backing the encouragement with monetary rewards when the mustaches proved to be good for publicity). Heaverlo’s bald-man-alone stance did get him out of Oakland, but in the following season, according to another Heaverlo-heavy edition of the Ellensberg Daily Record, he was having trouble finding a team to employ him. This seems odd given Heaverlo’s decent stats and reputation for being able to pitch often and tirelessly. Maybe his head-shaving ways had gotten him a reputation as a troublemaker. I don’t know. But it seems odd to me that a guy who could still get outs had to struggle to find work. He did make a few appearances that season, with Oakland, of all teams, so maybe there wasn’t any attempt to steer clear of him. But his ERA in ’81 was below 2, and after that season he was restricted to the minors for a couple years and then out of organized ball altogether. I don’t know why, but it seems that major league teams, or big businesses in general, don’t really like the wearers of rubber noses. And now I’m a little disconsolate, too, and late for work besides, me and my conventional hair and humorless nose.