Foulke reluctantly packs away cap
NEW YORK -- The flag flap is over for Keith Foulke.
After a personal letter from commissioner Bud Selig, plus talks between the players' union and baseball management as the Fourth of July approached, Foulke reluctantly packed away his Boston cap that featured a patch of the American flag.
"I still think I should be able to wear it," the Red Sox reliever said this week at Yankee Stadium. "But I don't want to do anything that would cost the team."
Foulke was the only player in the majors with his own such hat. The son of a U.S. Air Force man, he wore it most of the season to show his support for the American troops in Iraq.
"It's not like I was trying to call attention to myself," he said. "I'm a patriotic person, and it's just a personal thing I wanted to do. It was only about an inch square, on the left side, and a lot of people didn't even notice it."
But the commissioner's office saw it. Soon after, Foulke said, he began getting letters from Bob Watson, vice president of on-field operations, saying the cap violated baseball's standard uniform code.
According to the sport's labor agreement, players cannot make individual changes to hats, jerseys and anything else they wear. The issue came up during the 2002 NL playoffs when San Francisco pitcher Jason Christiansen was told he could not continue writing Darryl Kile's number "57" on his cap in tribute to his late former teammate.
And in this case, the rule made Foulke's cap illegal.
"It's the definition of a uniform that we're going after," said Watson's assistant, Matt McKendry.
About two weeks after Foulke found out baseball planned to put "Spider-Man 2" ads on the bases -- "that really chapped me," he said -- he sent a letter to Selig explaining his position. The commissioner wrote back in a note dated June 3.
"I agree with and admire the patriotic sentiments expressed in your letter," Selig wrote. "While I cannot imagine anyone having an objection to our American flag on a player's hat, we feel it is crucial that we maintain this across-the-board policy.
"Unfortunately, if we allow one player to add the flag, our ability" to enforce the rule will be diminished, he added.
While baseball told Foulke that he could be fined or suspended, it did not threaten him with an immediate penalty or ever impose one. Yet it wanted a resolution before too long, so the union and management tried to find one.
Ultimately, this was the best option baseball presented to Foulke:
"That didn't sound very good to me," Foulke said. "It was only going to be for another eight or nine games, and then I couldn't even talk about it."
Still, Foulke understood Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein's thoughts on the matter.
"Theo didn't want the league to have bitter feelings toward the team because of me," he said.
On June 24 in a game against Minnesota at Fenway Park, Foulke wore his special hat one last time. He doesn't plan to put it on again, not wanting to risk raising any problems for the Red Sox.
This Sunday, though, Foulke will have an American flag on his cap -- so will all major leaguers as part of baseball's Fourth of July celebration.
"I think it's great that we do it on opening day and July Fourth and 9-11," Foulke said. "But soldiers are fighting and dying every day, and I think I should be allowed to honor them by wearing that hat."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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