Baseball cap manufacturer New Era held an event at the MLB Fan Cave on Wednesday, May 29, to promote its Diamond Era collection of hats. But before they could talk about what's new, Erik Strohl of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown explained how we got here.
Strohl brought five historical caps to the Fan Cave that track the evolution of the baseball cap. The five hats represented more than 140 years worth of baseball -- and design -- history. And they highlighted how the baseball cap has gone from on-field equipment to off-field fashion statement.
"This is perhaps the most ubiquitous piece of clothing in American culture," Strohl said. "It's come from off the field and into almost every aspect of life."
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circa-1866, Baraboo Baseball Club
The Hall of Fame has about 750 caps in its collection, but "as far as we know, [this is] the oldest cap in existence," Strohl said. It was worn by players on the Baraboo Baseball Club of Baraboo, Wisconsin, sometime around 1866. "It looks a little bit like a jockey's cap would've looked, back in the day."
The hat has no maker's mark inside, so researchers believe it was made by a local Wisconsin manufacturer. "This is right after the Civil War, so baseball is really starting to explode at that point in terms of being an amateur sport. It's not too far from becoming a pro sport," Strohl said.
This cap was donated to the Hall of Fame in 1939 and had previously never been displayed outside of Cooperstown.
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1912, New York Highlanders
"This cap has a pretty cool story to it, and it's one of those that you don't know what you have until you get a chance to look at it a little bit more," Strohl said.
Before the Yankees were the Yankees, they were called the Highlanders. But even then there was a New York-Boston rivalry. And that's where the historical significance of this hat comes in.
This cap was donated to Cooperstown in 1990 by Paul Otis. Otis played four games for the Highlanders in 1912. When researchers began examining the cap, they found Otis' name written inside it. But under the leather headband they found another name: Cozy Dolan. Dolan played third base for the Highlanders in 1912 until he was sent down to the minors in June of that season. That means he was wearing this hat when he took the field on opening day 1912 when the Highlanders took on the Red Sox in Boston. It was the first game ever played at Fenway Park.
This cap is also an important link in the evolution of the baseball cap. It has six panel and stitching along the brim, both of which can still be found in hats today.
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1953, St. Louis Browns
This cap was worn by the St. Louis Browns in 1953, the year before the team moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles.
But more than a relic of a bygone team, this hat could very well be called the prototype of New Era's signature 59Fifty cap. It's a six-panel fitted wool cap with a leather headband, visor embroidery, and dark green coloring under the brim -- all elements that would become hallmarks of the 59Fifty when it debuted in 1954.
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1955, Brooklyn Dodgers
This cap was worn by Jackie Robinson in the 1955 World Series. The Brooklyn Dodgers defeated the Yankees to win its first world championship.
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2008, Team USA, World Baseball Classic
This cap is the newest one in the Cooperstown collection. It was worn by Team USA manager Joe Torre in the 2008 World Baseball Classic.
It's also representative of how caps are designed today. While it might look like the cap worn by Jackie Robinson in 1955, Torre's hat was made with player comfort in mind. It's made of performance polyester, rather than wool, with moisture wicking, and a black undervisor, rather than a gray one, to block out glare. These changes were made in 2007 to help keep players cool and their hats dry.
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