Single page view By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2

Sometime between now and the end of the season -- maybe when the rosters expand in September, or maybe just when David Wells gets injured in his next bar fight -- the Red Sox probably will call up Abe Alvarez, a pitcher currently in Triple-A. And then a lot of people will discover what Uni Watch has been following for some time: Alvarez wears his cap seriously askew. If straight ahead is the equivalent of 12 o'clock, then Alvarez's chapeau registers roughly a quarter past 10.

There's nothing new about this -- Alvarez did it during his earlier minor-league stops in Portland and Lowell, and during his one-game cup of coffee with the BoSox last year. In fact, he has been doing it since Little League because he's legally blind in his left eye and turning his cap to one side gives him a slightly clearer view.

Alvarez, in other words, has a pretty good reason for the crooked-cap routine (plus, as reader Andrew Totten recently documented, he wears really great stirrups). The same can't be said, however, for all the other big-leaguers currently wearing their caps to the side -- think of them as Crew Askew. In roughly descending order of off-centeredness, they include C.C. Sabathia, Juan Pierre, Brandon Phillips, Luis Rivas, Derrick Turnbow, Matt Lawton, Torii Hunter, Ian Snell, Jesus Colome, Mike Cameron, and Dontrelle Willis (but not Coco Crisp, who used to go off-center but not anymore, or Shawn Chacon, who's the rare player to have turned his cap both to the right and to the left but got scared straight upon joining the Yankees last month).

It probably won't surprise you to learn that Uni Watch takes a dim view of this look. And some of you are no doubt preparing to launch all the obvious rejoinders, so let's get those out of the way: Hip-hop blah-blah younger generation blah it's a black thing blah-blah-blah lighten up already blah-blah personal expression blah.

Right. But the hip-hop thing is a red herring -- lots of ballplayers listen to heavy metal or country, but you don't see them wearing eyeliner or cowboy hats (not yet, anyway). More to the point, Uni Watch's opposition to Crew Askew has nothing to do with racial, generational or subcultural demographics. And contrary to what you might think, Uni Watch won't be tossing around phrases like "respect for the game" or "bad influence." No, Uni Watch is opposed to the off-center cap for one reason and one reason only: because it looks so totally stupid. That applies equally to hip-hoppers who imitate ballplayers, ballplayers who imitate hip-hoppers, white guys who imitate black guys, old-school white guys who imitate grouchy old cranks, dolls that imitate comic strip characters and pretty much everyone else.

There's no MLB-wide rule regarding cap alignment, although some teams have set their own standards. ESPN's Peter Gammons reported last year, for example, that the Blue Jays told Orlando Hudson to keep his cap centered (which perhaps explains why Hudson is also one of the rare players to wear a double-flap helmet). Other teams, however, take a more laissez-faire approach. "We have no club policy on it," says Indians equipment manager Jeff Sipos, whose team has featured a disproportionate number of Crew Askew members. "There have been a few letters complaining about it in the local paper, but I think the complaints only surface when the fans are dissatisfied with performance. A high batting average or lots of wins certainly negates any bad image in the fans' eyes."

Continued...


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