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USA Today Article On Baseball Caps


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I didn't see any mention of this, so here it is:


Baseball cap has endured generations as the all-American hat

Updated 7/26/2006 2:41 AM ET

By Steve DiMeglio, USA TODAY

Twelve-year-old Elliot Rambo has nearly 30 baseball caps in his Pittsburgh bedroom. His preferred cap, one he wears almost every day, is a Pirates model that features signatures of former Pittsburgh pitchers John "Candy Man" Candelaria and Dave Giusti.

"I play better when I wear the hat or any baseball hat," Rambo says. "They just, like, make me, I guess. I never leave home without wearing one."

That habit started when Rambo was 5, the first year he played baseball. Since then, through T-ball and Little League, no matter what team he played for, Rambo kept the cap.

"I've saved them all, and I'll keep them forever," he says. "Sometimes I look at the hats and remember a hit I got wearing it or when I pitched a good game. I think that's pretty cool."

If the USA has a national hat, it surely is the baseball cap.

You would be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn't worn one ? forward, backward, sideways or inside out ? on occasion.

Tennis players and golfers wear them, and football players put them on standing on the sidelines.

Umpires and ushers wear them. As do truck drivers, Boy Scouts, letter carriers and soldiers.

The Dalai Lama donned a Washington Nationals cap during a visit to the nation's capital. Penny Marshall, Ron Howard, Spike Lee and Steven Spielberg don't direct a movie without one.

Lee, a rabid sports fan, fueled the cap's rise from sports accessory to fashion cap, says John DeWaal, vice president of global marketing for Buffalo-based New Era.

In 1996, Lee asked the company to design a New York Yankees cap in red, an unofficial color. Lee was seen wearing the cap at the World Series that year, and demand for caps of all colors shot up. According to DeWaal, more than 60% of New Era's sales of more than 20 million caps a year go to non-athletes.

Hats have become big hits with females, too. New Era started a specific line of hats for women in 2005, adding more patterns and colors. About 15% of New Era's licensed headwear is sold to females.

To celebrate the 140-year history of the baseball cap, New Era, the largest sports-licensed headwear company in the world, turned a 53-foot trailer into an onboard interactive studio that is touring the country this summer.

"The baseball cap is an iconic symbol in baseball and fashion," DeWaal says. "People have an affinity for baseball, and part of that relationship is the baseball cap. We want to celebrate what the baseball cap has meant to the country, to the world. It's a fascinating history."

New Era's semi displays the 22 steps it takes to make the "59Fifty-style" baseball hat that all major leaguers wear. There also are displays of older hats from the company's Cooperstown and Negro League collections. Caps representing the nations that played in the inaugural World Baseball Classic are there, too.

Like Rambo, MLB players have had their own quirks and peculiarities with baseball hats. Maintaining a Cal State-Fullerton tradition he had in college, Nationals closer Chad Cordero flattens the bill of his hat in defiance of most every known baseball style. Teammates joke that Cordero irons the bill every day. Cordero yanks the cap so far down that it folds over the tops of his ears, with the bill touching his eyebrows.

"People don't see my face during a game," Cordero says. "I can go almost anywhere without being recognized. I think I'd look weird wearing it like all the other guys. People just don't get how I can see or how I can do it. It works for me."

To each his own

In 1849, the New York Knickerbockers wore baseball's first uniform, which included a hat made of straw. In 1860, the Brooklyn Excelsiors wore the ancestor of the modern, rounded-top baseball cap, and by 1900, the "Brooklyn-style" cap, with a long visor and a button on top, became popular.

The modern baseball caps arrived in the 1940s, when latex rubber replaced buckram (coarse cotton) as the stiffening material inside the visor.

By 1954, New Era, which has been making caps for 85 years and has a 70-year relationship with MLB, was producing a uniform hat for each baseball team, and today, the company provides about 2,000 per team a season.

For fans, hats come in hundreds of styles, including plaid, argyle and camouflage. There are more than 200 styles of Yankees caps, nearly 200 choices for the Dodgers, 175 for the Red Sox.

"You can't tell what team is on the hat until you see it up close," Yankees center fielder Johnny Damon says. "Have you seen the orange Red Sox hat? I saw so many different hats in Boston that it was confusing. When I joined the Yankees, I saw pink ones, green ones, red ones. Whatever floats your boat is fine with me."

For pitcher David Wells, that meant honoring his hero. On June 28, 1997, in the House That Ruth Built, Wells wore the Hat That Ruth Wore. Wells, a lifelong Ruth fan, took the mound wearing an authentic 1934 Babe Ruth hat, which Wells bought for $35,000. Manager Joe Torre made Wells take it off after the first inning because it didn't conform to uniform standards. Wells then blew a 3-0 lead as the Cleveland Indians won 12-8.

Oakland Athletics pitcher Barry Zito never takes the mound without writing a message on the bottom of the cap's bill. Among his favorites are "Stay Aggressive" and "FITZ," which stands for Fearless in the Zone.

"I've been doing that since I was a kid," Zito says. "They're just little reminders and help me focus sometimes."

A single hat worked for former closer John Wetteland. Before the 1996 World Series between the Yankees and Atlanta Braves, hats featuring Series logos were made. Trouble was, Wetteland, with the Yankees, refused to wear a new hat. The logo had to be stitched onto his hat, which had a few other markings ? a season's worth of assorted sweat stains and dirt.

"I get a hat in spring training, and I keep it," Wetteland said that year. "It has character ... if not smell."

Every year during his career, Wetteland would promise to give his hat to a kid in his neighborhood. In 1996, the Hall of Fame asked for the cap after the World Series, but Wetteland wouldn't back out on his deal with the kid. Sweat stains and all, Wetteland handed his hat over every year.

All shapes and sizes

Chicago White Sox infielder Alex Cintron, on the other hand, has no problem washing his hat. He has to. He says his hat size is 6, but the MLB caps don't come that small.

"So we need to get a 6¾ or 6⅞ and shrink it in a washing machine and dryer for a half-hour," he says with a laugh.

The White Sox equipment men do it. "You can ask them ? it's a pain," he says. "Every hat. All the time."

Teammate Jermaine Dye calls Cintron "Beetlejuice" after the Michael Keaton character who, in the movie with the same name, had his head shrunk.

"My hat would fit a 3- or 4-year-old kid," Cintron says.

Texas Rangers outfielder Kevin Mench can't say that. His baseball hat wouldn't fit 99% of the heads on earth. According to New Era, the largest caps in MLB history belong to Mench, San Diego Padres manager Bruce Bochy, and former commissioner Fay Vincent. All wore size 8-plus caps ? five to six sizes larger than the average 73/8.

"I still have to get my cap stretched out a little bit," Bochy says. "I don't know what it is. I don't know if my head is getting bigger or the caps are getting smaller. These days, with all of the steroid talk, I guess you got to be a little careful when you say your head is getting bigger."

As an infant, Mench's mother bought him a matching sweater and hat, but the hat wouldn't fit.

During rookie ball in 1999, he missed a few games because the team didn't have a batting helmet that fit him.

And during a rehab stint for Class AA Frisco (Texas) in 2003, the team didn't have a photo of Mench to show on the video board, so when he batted, the team used an image of Shrek, the famous green ogre with the huge, bald head. The nickname stuck.

Teammate Francisco Cordero used to tell people that the Rangers were going to make a Mench bobblehead doll, but there was only enough plastic in Texas to make three of them.

"What can I say, I have a really, really big head," Mench says. "It's huge. People make fun of it all the time, and that's fine with me. You should laugh in life. And you should see my helmet. It's even funnier."

Here is a link to the Flash photo gallery accompanying the article:


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That New Era trailer is pretty cool. I saw it at the All-Star Fanfest this year.

I'm saddened by the enormous variety of ridiculous patterns for team hats they make, though. I liked it better when "ridiculous" meant "the Expos hat that seems to be missing its propellor".

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