The State of the Cap

There’s an interesting profile about the New Era hat makers in the New York Times today. It’s a business that has, more and more, catered to an audience outside of baseball purists, including fashion taste-makers. Despite the overall trend towards flashy fashion caps, as tirelessly documented on the Strictly Fitteds blog, the recession has caused New Era to return to its core business of selling fans official MLB hats.

hat chart mlb

The article is a good enough reason to think about baseball caps for a minute or two. We might start with the players themselves, who get a brief mention in the article, describing a visit to MLB clubhouses by a New Era dude:

Each year, Dave Aichinger from New Era visits every clubhouse in the majors to make sure the players have enough caps. These days, the biggest issue for the players is the height of the crown. Younger players like a lower crown while older players prefer a higher one.

Some players pull out the white gauze that absorbs sweat on the inside of the cap. Other players want their hats to have a starched look. Some players consider it bad luck when extra decals are added to commemorate anniversaries.

“It’s all about tradition and superstition,” Aichinger said.

Each team has a credit through M.L.B. to buy caps. The Boston Red Sox, one of the more superstitious teams, rarely change a thing, while the Pittsburgh Pirates issue new caps almost every month, Aichinger said. Roger Clemens used to change his caps several times a game to stay dry, while Orel Hershiser used to paint the underside of his visor black to help him focus.

The players have enormous influence on the marketplace, whether it’s a well-worn cap made famous by John Wetteland or the caps with earflaps that became popular after the Philadelphia Phillies and the Tampa Bay Rays wore them in last year’s World Series.

There are many more strata of baseball caps in the stands, without the rigors of MLB standards.

You’ll often see those soiled, decrepit caps that seem welded onto the head of a given fan, even if it’s a cheaply made promo cap given out at a mid-season game in 1988. “Why don’t you wear that bad boy into the shower every once in a while,” a nearby fellow fan wants to whisper. There must be a story there. Maybe it was a great game, or a game attended with someone special. It’s a cap with a story, whatever that might be.

Others wear the pristine “dad cap” that looks like it’s been kept in a glass case at home. I call it a dad cap because it’s worn the way my dad wears his baseball caps: high and tight, looming over the brow like a general. (Omar Vizquel wears a dad cap.)

Dad cap.

Dad cap.

Caps are also a simple way for fans to declare their favor for one of a team’s logo iterations over another, via the retro cap. If you still like the Rangers’ blocky T from the Nolan Ryan era, go for it. Never much cared for the new Blue Jays modern artwork? Fire up that Kelly Gruber white panel number and live it like it’s 1990. With a baseball cap, unlike a jersey or a jacket or even a t-shirt, kicking it retro is possible without being overbearing. It’s a simple statement, the cap, in complicated times.

Then there’s the New Era era cap, with all manner of gyrations and patters and logo sizes apparently, according to the above article, ushered in by Spike Lee’s 1996 request for a red Yankees cap. Call it a complicated statement in complicated times, with a post-modern commentary on tribalism and the sanctity of symbols. Is a Yankees hat still a Yankees hat if it’s red? Or is it something else entirely? Is an American flag still an American flag if it’s upside down, or on fire? Not every fashion capper considers these ponderous questions, but it’s not a stretch to suggest that even a few color changes can change the visual landscape of fandom, like a user-driven Wikipedia of symbology.

yankees hat red

I’ve experienced the downside of this fashion cap era myself, as I’m guessing you have too if you’ve spent any time in an away city. On several occasions I’ve seen folks around with an Astros cap on. “Hey, Astros,” I’ve said awkwardly, throwing out the double thumbs up.  But the Astros-cap-wearer gives me a funny look: “Oh, sorry man, I just like the hat.” Punch to the gut. I’ve committed this minor sin myself in the past, sure, but since those incidents I’ve stuck with the cap of the team I actually support, as I don’t want to take an unwitting fan on that grueling emotional roller coaster.

I’m guessing that a fan’s cap of choice typically correlates to the manner in which that fan conducts the rest of his or her life. A frat boy sleeping on a pile of dirty socks every night is more likely to sport the stinky chapeau, whereas a lawyer from the suburbs keeps his cap on a hook at night, next to his leather suspenders. Not rocket science. The fashion caps blur the lines a little more. I’ve even had the notion to buy one, but I’ve stopped short, feeling that I couldn’t “pull it off,” that my daily wardrobe couldn’t support a super-flashy head piece.

My personal cap rotation consists of one up-to-date New Era Astros cap, chewed to smithereens by my dog and sliced around the edges for a looser fit, and one adjustable mesh-back (the fancy mesh, not the trucker hat) with the Astros logo from the 80s and still the finest cap design the Astros have ever worn. So I cover all of my bases, you could say, with the authentic modern and the sporty slightly alternative retro. The former is a little severe (the Astros cap being black with orange logo) for daily wear, so I tend to use the retro logo when casually around town.

I am curious to know what caps you keep in your stable, and under what circumstances you wear which one?

Eric: “I wear the standard blue dodger cap with relative frequency. I need a new one though.”

11 Responses to “The State of the Cap”

  • I sport a Rogue Spirits cap, Che style. Appropriately enough, I wear it when in the vegetable garden, toiling over beans, radishes, and tomatoes. B. wears a dingy, bright orange North Face cap when repairing/rebuilding parts of our house. Sorry, no true baseball caps in our house. This is basketball country anyway, bro.

  • I have observed “The State of the Cap” throughout 14 major league and 5 minor league games this year. I hate the “Fashion Hat.” There are no redeeming qualities. Lame. I am quite open to most other hats. Currently, I rock the New Era Minnesota Twins patriotic holiday hat, navy blue with the Stars & Stripes within the logo. I do this because there are few things that I love more than baseball and America. The few things… well, just one… my wife. Also, I have the New Era Rochester RedWings hat, the AAA Twins affiliate. I appreciate this hat, as it allows me to take my love for the Twinkies to another level.

  • I once sported a throwback Expos hat that I thought had some serious flava’. Unfortunately, I have a rather large head and tend to buy my hats too small. As such, I’m a diehard fan of the flexfit, especially those flexfit hats designed specifically for middle-of-the-road division three baseball teams when they go to Florida to start the season off with a significantly below .500 record.

  • I once purchased a new New Era cap made out of polyester and not wool. I regret this decision because no matter what I do it fits like a “dad cap”. So from now on I stick to the hats made by Twins Enterprise because they offer an instant comfortable fit. I currently wear “The Franchise” Tampa Bay Rays hat.

  • My lid of choice is a Yanks giveaway cap that my dad got at a game in ’81. The front gauze is removed to chill out the dad-cap profile somewhat. The thing is so old, it’s practically like t-shirt material, but I love it.

  • Good article.

    I for one, am a hard-core purist. I hate paisley-tinged caps, or the logo of the team supersized ond moved off-center, or what have you. I have only 2 caps I rarely wear. A grungy Durham Bulls hat I got 12 years ago and lined with sweat stains. And a Yankee hat I have no idea how I got. but it’s old, small and grungy.

  • I love the practical nature of the cap choices: the fit, the flexibility. And there are the sentimental qualities, the mysterious origins, the mistakes and the old standbys (even a non-baseball cap wearer, rare in these parts). Every hat’s got a story, or embodies some quality or viewpoint that is a story in itself.

    Also, a lot of fashion hat bashing going on. I can understand the viewpoint, but for my part I am in favor of the fashion hats, if only because they push around our ideas about the sanctity of symbols.

    Thanks for checking in with your caps of choice.

  • I think it’s also fair to consider the baseball cap as applied beyond baseball teams.

    Although, as noted in the post, I normally wear a 7 1/2 Dodger Cap, I do rotate in two others:

    A wool, navy blue thing from Ebbets Field Flannels with the mysterious letters LSS written embroidered on the crown.

    And a black, fitted Los Angeles Kings cap with the old General Motors logo:

    What do you folks think about the baseball cap as a way of reppin’ non-baseball teams?

  • There are different levels of fashion hats, some that take the subtle rout and some that take the outlandish route. I’m ok with subtle. I wear the green RedSox hat I’ve had for 7 years now, interchange it with my # 9 hat
    I bought right after Teddy Ballgame died. Both have nice sweat rings and have a comfort level unmatched.

    The lids I don’t like and never will wear myself, the ones with the absolutely flat bill (like many modern players, I’ll pick out Joba Chamberlain as my model for this trend). This makes you look stupid IMO. Disrespectful too.

    Good article.

  • excelent article. me myself have collected hats since middle school. the first fitted i bought was a all black dc nationals cap. my dog go to it and i was very upset lol. i earned my money to buy it and to this day i still get one with every check. im a lids vip member and most recently bought the nyy innagural season cap. it will be a collectors item and am very happy i bought it.

    fashion wise i will wear any “c” logo cap for my first name or “d” for my last. i also rock caps of cities i like. detroit home, angels, white sox, atlanta braves, and corpus christi hooks are all in my recent purchase list. wearing it the dad cap way flat bill, maybe slightly bent is the best way to wear em. 🙂

    ugliest cap is the oakland a’s hat. green and yellow. horrible. best lookin on field cap right now is the pirates white outlined logo. the normal P logo just outlined in white makes it look really crisp.

    once again. great article

  • now i have 5 caps. a black and baby blue boston red sox. a black and white ny yankees. an all red la angels cap. also a brown and white la dodgers. and the cleveland indians on-the-field cap. all with a flat bill. i like wearing new era caps with flat bills. bent is for working outside.

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