Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Page 2 [Print without images]

Wednesday, July 13, 2005
Updated: July 15, 11:57 AM ET
MLB midseason fashion report

By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2

Forget about bragging rights, league pride, or home-field advantage for the World Series. If Major League Baseball really wants to increase interest in the All-Star Game, it should just do what it did a few nights ago in Detroit: Use the game to showcase a new uniform innovation.

In case you missed it, Uni Watch is referring to the new batting helmets that were worn during the game. The new lids featured a molded crown, side vents, back vents, and slightly elongated earholes. And for good measure, they slapped the All-Star Game logo on the back (a bit of logo creep that Uni Watch is willing to forgive, since the new helmets, rather surprisingly, didn't feature the MLB logo). Think of it as the baseball version of the Riddell Revolution.

Although a few players stuck with their regular helmets -- sometimes for rather obvious reasons -- Uni Watch estimates that about 85 percent of the players gave the new design a test drive.

Interestingly, there was no advance promotion for the new helmets (not that Uni Watch was aware of, at least), and all the MLB and Rawlings bigwigs were still in transit from Detroit as Uni Watch's deadline arrived, so the full story behind the new design -- including whether it will be used for regular-season games -- will have to wait. But it's worth noting that this type of helmet isn't exactly new: There's an inexpensive Rawlings version that's been floating around the mlb.com site for a while now, and Wilson makes something fairly similar.

But if these features become permanent additions at the big-league level, they'd definitely stake out new ground in the design gap between MLB helmets and caps. Most fans don't realize this, but when Pirates GM Branch Rickey introduced helmets in 1953, he envisioned them replacing caps altogether: He coated the fiberglass lids with wool flocking to simulate the look of a cloth cap and had his players wear them in the field -- even pitchers. That experiment was short-lived, as players went back to wearing caps in the field and helmets were relegated to the batter's box (occasional exceptions like Dick Allen and John Olerud notwithstanding). But the flocked helmet, with its fuzzy, matte finish, became something of a Pirates trademark for a while, and occasionally showed up outside of Pittsburgh too.

The notion of helmets simulating caps was shattered for good with the development of earflaps, which debuted in 1964 and probably looked as weird back then as the All-Star helmets do now. But at least earflaps are functional -- the features on display at the All-Star Game seem more like a transparent attempt to look edgy. Uni Watch can live with the extra vents (although, seriously, how much extra ventilation do you need for something that's only worn for a few minutes at a time?), but the molded shape looks totally bogus. And before some GM gets any bright ideas, let's get a preemptive restraining order to make sure nobody uses the new shape as an excuse to do something like this.

Head(wear) Games
Lots of other baseball headwear issues to address this time around. Let's start with July 4, when players wore an American flag cap patch on Independence Day. Nothing new about that -- it's been going on since 2002 -- but there were some interesting exceptions. Roy Oswalt, for example, went flag-less -- what's up with that? "Just an oversight, not a political statement," an Astros spokesman assured Uni Watch.

More puzzling was the situation with Baltimore's Miguel Tejada. He had a normal cap flag early in the game, as seen in this shot from the fourth inning. But as several Uni Watch readers noted, by the eighth inning he was wearing an upside-down flag. Innocent mistake, political statement, or "SOS" commentary on the Orioles' sinking fortunes?

"We didn't get the flag patches until that morning," explained Orioles PR director Bill Stetka. "They had to be ironed on, and we had to do it in a hurry, and I guess the glue didn't quite take, at least in a few cases. Miguel said that from putting his sunglasses on top of the hat, and taking the sunglasses on and off, the flag inadvertently got dislodged and turned around." Hmm, sounds a bit sketchy to Uni Watch, but Stetka's a standup guy, so let's give him the benefit of the doubt here.

This flag flap recalls last season's Keith Foulke imbroglio. And by coincidence, Foulke is at the center of another cap-centric story line, this one brought to Uni Watch's attention by reader Bryan Cockrell, who writes in with the following:

"While watching the Red Sox play the Blue Jays on July 2nd, I noticed that Keith Foulke had removed the button from the top of his cap, which is one of the first things I do when buy a new cap myself. For the rest of the game I checked every close-up of every other player they showed and couldn't see anyone else who'd removed the button."

Boston's cap button is hard to discern, because it's the same color as the rest of the cap (as opposed to the contrast-color cap buttons that some teams wear). But Uni Watch dutifully checked the game video, and while it's hard to be sure, it does indeed appear that Foulke's cap is button-free.

Unfortunately, Foulke went on the DL and had arthroscopic knee surgery right after that, so he's not available to comment on this crucial bit of cap arcana. But Uni Watch is frankly more interested in Bryan Cockrell and his obsessive button-removal ritual -- what's that all about?

"About 13 years ago, I hit the top of my head against the floor while wearing my old Red Sox cap, which sent a searing pain directly into a concentrated spot on the top of my head, right under that button," he explains. "So I took a pair of pliers and mashed the button a few times and it came off. Ever since, I've always removed it right from the start. I still use pliers -- the top part is just a cloth-covered metal cap and comes off the easiest. Under that is a small metal disc with a thumbtack-like piece 'riveted' into it from the inside of the cap. You have to mash the disc several times with the pliers, but eventually the last two pieces separate and can be removed. There's a slight gap in the top of the cap afterwards, where the cloth panels meet, but after a little stretching or just normal wear it disappears -- the button doesn't seem to serve any purpose other than appearance."

Yowza! As button-abuse rituals go, that ranks right up there with Mets skipper George Bamberger's repeatedly wearing a wad of bubble gum on his cap button in 1982 and '83 (and if anyone has a photo of that supremely peculiar phenomenon, please contact Uni Watch pronto).

All of which brings up a few questions that have been knocking around Uni Watch's cap-adorned head for years. To wit: Does the cap button have a special name? Is it merely ornamental, as Cockrell has concluded? If so, is it a vestigial remnant from a time when caps had a functional button?

"There's no special name for it," says Crystal Howard, PR queen at cap manufacturer New Era. "And it's always been just a finished embellishment on the cap -- it was never a functional button. Actually, when we've had celebrities design caps for us, some of them have wanted to omit the button, and also the eyelets, but we've decided that those are all key components of how our caps look, so they'll always be there."

And speaking of cap buttons, several readers have been asking about the corresponding button-ish dot that appears on batting helmets. For some teams, the helmet dot matches the color of the cap button. A few other teams have no helmet dot, even though their cap has a contrast-colored button. But that inconsistency is nothing compared to all the teams that wear a white helmet dot even though their cap button isn't white white, a group that includes the Reds, Indians, Yankees, Braves, Nationals, Marlins, Cardinals, Pirates, Diamondbacks, Orioles, Rays, Jays, Mariners, Royals, Twins, Rangers, A's, Padres, Rockies, Angels, White Sox and Red Sox. The Dodgers have a white dot too, which matches their white cap button, although it's not clear if this is by design or coincidence. Either way, there's isn't much rhyme or reason to this uni element -- what gives?

For the answer, we turn to Uni Watch's go-to guy for helmet questions, Rawlings marketing manager Dan Cullinane.

"The dots on the helmets had been a trademark of the ABC company," he says, referring to MLB's original helmet maker, which Rawlings acquired two years ago. "In recent years, ABC had only used white dots. I believe this was for uniformity in inventory sold to non-MLB teams -- colleges, high schools, and so on. We've followed this practice since acquiring the company. We do supply certain teams with colored dots if they are requested to match their caps, but all helmets will start with a white dot when they're manufactured."

"Certain teams"? Why isn't every team matching its helmet dot to its cap button? Memo to equipment managers: This is not quantum physics -- just see what color's on the top of the cap and have Rawlings match it on the top of the helmet, already.

Meanwhile, in still another headwear development, what was Daniel Cabrera doing with "KENY" inscribed on his cap last week? Uni Watch initially thought this might be a misspelled show of support for embattled camera enthusiast Kenny Rogers, or that maybe Cabrera's pen had run out of ink while he was writing a salute to the entire nation of Kenya. But the ever-helpful Bill Stetka says Cabrera was just sending a birthday shout-out to his brother in the Dominican Republic.

Throwback to the Future
Uni Watch usually prefers to stay focused on what players are wearing, not on the licensed product that fans buy. But reader Chris Uhle has identified a very odd merchandising trend, which we'll let him explain in his own words:

"Recently a lot of throwbacks have been made with a current player's name on an old uniform. But Major League Baseball is going one step further, putting retired players' names on jerseys from before their time with a club. For example, there's a 1970s Dennis Eckersley A's throwback , as well as an Eckersley Cubs jersey from 1978, despite the fact he wasn't a Cub until 1984 and didn't join the A's until 1987. And there's a Nolan Ryan 1984 Rangers jersey, when he didn't play there until '89. There's also the 1981 Ryne Sandberg Phillies jersey, which, to be fair, he would have worn, but it's still a little weird considering he had a total of six at-bats as a Phillie.

"Then there's the group that makes no sense: retired players who have throwbacks from after they were already retired, such as the 1985 Joe Morgan Reds jersey (Morgan retired in 1984 as an Athletic, and had not played for the Reds since 1979). And finally, perhaps the most random of these, uh, 'turn-ahead-the-clock throwbacks': a 1975 Bob Feller Indians jersey -- despite the fact that Feller had in fact retired nearly 20 years earlier, in 1956."

Uni Watch is as confused by this product line as Uhle is. Who's buying this stuff? If anyone has any insights, you know where to send them.

Uni News Ticker
More All-Star Game observations: Surprising to see that the Yankees players were wearing Majestic sleeve logos, a telltale sign that they used off-the-rack pro shop jerseys instead of the logo-less ones that the team usually wears. Meanwhile, someone literally neglected to dot the "i" on Joe Nathan's jersey, but fortunately fellow Twin Johan Santana didn't have that problem (with thanks to eagle-eyed Joe Hilseberg). ... Add the Diamondbacks to the list of MLB teams that have played a game in their batting practice jerseys, and the first to do it for three days straight. They wore the BP duds on July 2, 3 and 4 (woof!). It was outfielder Luis Gonzalez's idea, "just [to] kind of switch something up," he said. ... The Brewers held an unusual T-shirt giveaway promotion on July 1: Every fan got to choose between a shirt with the team's old ball-in-glove logo or one with the current logo, creating a sort of mass focus group. In a heartening display of democracy in action, the old logo won rather handily, but it's not clear yet if the team will officially bring it back. ... Sad sight during Old-Timer's Day at Yankee Stadium last weekend: One legendary player after another wearing his pants at or near the ankles, and not a genuine pair of stirrups to be found. ... Logo Creep Alert: When the Twins wore military caps to salute the armed forces on July 3, New Era snuck its logo onto the left side of all the caps. This marks the second time this year the milliner has piggy-backed its logo onto a team's military promotion (the other time was on April 20, when the Padres wore their camouflage unis with olive caps). ... The Mets and Pirates broke out the Negro League unis July 9, with the Bucs dressing up as the Pittsburgh Crawfords (dig the raised cadet collars and button-flap pants pockets!) and the Mets, rather underwhelmingly, as the New York Cubans. The Twins and Royals did likewise a day later, honoring the St. Paul Gophers and K.C. Monarchs, respectively. Kudos to all four teams for getting every single player to wear high-cuffed pants (usually the fly in the throwback ointment), such a laudable accomplishment that Uni Watch doesn't mind that they occasionally went a bit overboard with the roomy fit. ... The very persistent Clinton Yates has been bugging Uni Watch about a mid-1990s College World Series game featuring Florida State against Miami. As Yates tells it, after a rain delay in the fourth inning, both teams emerged with different uniforms than they'd originally been wearing, with one team going from pinstripes to non-striped and vice-versa for the other team. In Yates's words, "I have to know what happened. We all need to know." Well, he's half-right. Anyone?

Follow-Ups
Last column's overview of the Tour de France drew lots of reaction, much of it focusing on Uni Watch's assertion that Lance Armstrong is no longer wearing "that weird helmet." As virtually every computer-equipped cycling fan on the planet found time to point out, the chapeau in question is actually an aerodynamic helmet that all the cyclists wear during the Tour's time-trial stages. And sure enough, Armstrong himself was wearing the elongated headgear just the other day. A red-faced Uni Watch pleads no contest.

Meanwhile, Larry Amrose and Tim Frederick point out that no discussion of cycling attire would be complete without a mention of the recently retired Mario "The Lion King" Cippolini, who routinely incurred fines by wearing outlandish time-trial outfits. Amrose also adds the following: "Team Saeco -- which has since spun off its coffee-machine division as cosponsor of the Lampre-Caffitta team instead -- had some issues with the federation (UCI) approving their lightweight Cannondale bike. So they picked a stage of the Giro d'Italia in 2004 and wore prison stripes as a 'Legalize My Cannondale' protest -- and paid the fine from the organizers for wearing incorrect uniforms."

Back on the baseball front, Uni Watch's query regarding minor-league teams that honor their parent clubs' retired numbers produced some interesting responses:

• From Karl Crow: "I think the Red Sox also make their retired numbers inactive throughout their farm system." True enough, except for the Class A Greenville Bombers, who currently have players wearing Nos. 1 (retired by the BoSox for Bobby Doerr) and 8 (Carl Yastrzemski). Why? "Because this is our first year as a Red Sox affiliate -- we used to be with the Mets," explains Bombers GM Rich Mozingo. "Plus we physically moved the team from Columbia to Greenville. We didn't have time to order new uniforms -- we're using literally the same garments as last year, including the jerseys with those two numbers. I'm sure we'll have new uniforms next season, and we'll address the retired numbers then." (This is also why the Charleston Riverdogs -- who switched affiliations from the Devil Rays to the Yankees this season -- are the lone Yanks farm club not to honor the organization's retirees.)

• From Cleveland Indians equipment manager Jeff Sipos: "The Indians respect retired numbers throughout our minor-league system. They are: 3 (Earl Averill), 5 (Lou Boudreau), 14 (Larry Doby), 18 (Mel Harder), 19 (Bob Feller), 21 (Bob Lemon) and 42 (Jackie Robinson). Also not used throughout the system, although not officially retired, is number 31 in honor of Steve Olin, a homegrown product who died in the boating accident of 1993. I have mandated the nonuse of 31 in our system, and from AA Akron down to our Dominican Republic teams it is respected, along with the organizational directive on the officially retired numbers. And, though it has slipped through the cracks a few times, our AAA club at Buffalo has been very cooperative in keeping Oly's number off the field, as well as the others and the few they also have retired."

• From Brian Huggins: "I was the minor-league equipment coordinator for the Kansas City Royals from 1990-1996. When I was hired in 1990, I stopped ordering three numbers -- 10 for Dick Howser, 20 for Frank White, and 5 for George Brett -- in expectation that they would be retired in the near future. All three numbers were retired and are not used in the minor-league system."

• From Alan Chewning: "Holman stadium in Nashua, N.H., is home to the Nashua Pride [part of the independent Atlantic League]. From 1946-1949, it was home to the Class B Nashua Dodgers. During this time, the Nashua Dodgers broke the minor-league color barrier, and there are three retired numbers, for Don Newcombe (36), Roy Campanella (39) and Jackie Robinson (42). Here's the kicker: The retired numbers are not for the organization but for the stadium. So no team in Nashua has retired any jerseys, but Holman Stadium has retired three."

Speaking of retired numbers, with the Astros now having retired No. 24 for Jimmy Wynn, Jason Lane has switched from wearing 24 to 16. And Ed Cooney provides a subtle twist on the topic of a number being retired while someone else is wearing it:

"The Red Sox retired Bobby Doerr's No. 1 on May 21, 1988, when John McNamara was still managing the team. Johnny Mac was still wearing No. 1 at the time, so he switched to No. 2 -- this may be unique, in that it was a manager who had to give up his number, not a player. Of course, McNamara only wore No. 2 for about a month, because he was fired during the All-Star break."

Finally, on the subject of Korean pitcher Park Myung-hwan, who incurred the wrath of league bigwigs by wearing a frozen cabbage leaf under his cap to keep his head cool, it turns out that this practice has a much more storied pedigree than Uni Watch realized. "My dad used to tell me that all the major league ballplayers wore cabbage leafs under their hats to help beat the heat," says Jim Conwell, to which Paul Kincaid adds, "The story I've heard is that Babe Ruth did it. On hot days, he'd soak cabbage leaves in ice water and then put them in his hat." And according to this news account, several Reds players wore cabbage leaves as recently as 1999.

And then there's Bud Selig, who's clearly wearing something on his noggin -- but Uni Watch is pretty sure it isn't cabbage.

Paul Lukas once had a football coach who routinely referred to anyone who committed a false start penalty as "Cabbage-Head." Archives of his early "Uni Watch" columns are available here and here. Got feedback for him, or want to be added to his mailing list? Contact him here.