Around the Horn In Six Hats (The Evolution of Baseball Caps)
The hat and baseball are connected like Ben and Jerry. One without the other doesn’t make sense. Nobody says, “Hey, while you’re at the grocery store can you pick me up some Ben’s?”
Ben needs Jerry. Ballplayers need caps.
It’s Evolution, Baby!
These days, wearing a baseball hat is common place. They are worn by most people and have become a part of everyday attire for quite a few baseball and non-baseball fans alike. But where did these hats come from and how did they evolve into the fashion statements that we adorn today?
The mid to late 19th century was a cornucopia of hats and hat styles. From deerstalkers (think Sherlock Holmes) to jockey caps, to pillbox caps (Civil War couture), to boaters and fedoras, the man or woman of the Industrial Revolution had plenty of head wear to choose from. And from these various styles developed the baseball hat that we know today.
Around The Horn
The place was Hoboken, New Jersey. It was June 19, 1846. The first officially recorded baseball game was being played between the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club and the New York Base Ball Club. The Knickerbockers lost 23 to 1. They also wore straw hats as they played, thusly triggering the love affair between baseball and hats, although their hats were probably better suited for a pleasant row around the pond.
Fourteen years later an amateur team named the Brooklyn Excelsiors donned the ancestor of the modern baseball cap. The “Brooklyn-style” hat had a rounded-top and a button at the peak. The Excelsiors were in the midst of a championship season in 1860 and that could be one reason the style caught on. Champions tend to set the trends. Who doesn’t want to follow a winner?
In 1901, the charter member of the newly founded American League, the Detroit Tigers, wore a cap with something new on it. What was that newfangled thing? A logo. The dark blue cap had a running orange tiger stitched on the front. It seems so simple and standard now, but in 1901 it was revolutionary.
Baseball hats in the 1920s and 1930s, well, grew. The bill, or visor, became longer in an attempt to further shade the players’ eyes from the sun. The visor also became firmer, allowing for the wearer to shape the bill to their comfort level. Probably the most iconic hat from this era, and possibly of all baseball history (although, Boston Red Sox‘ fans would surely disagree), is the New York Yankees‘ cap.
As the 30s came to a close the idea of bigger is better continued to sink its claws into American society. The baseball hat wasn’t exempt. Although the bill stayed the same length, the crown grew up. With the gain in altitude the front of the hat allowed for more advertising space. For the next sixty years, give or take a few, this hat style dominated the national game and worked its way into the closets of the American citizen.
Baseball hats have always been made of wool. You know the stuff, it’s itchy and hot. Then, in 2007, Major League Baseball decided, for the comfort of its players, to switch to a polyester blend. So long wool, hello breathability.
You’re Killing Me, Smalls!
Who knows what the baseball hat will evolve into? Possibly, instead of stitched logos, they will become digital, with different images attainable on a single hat. Maybe the bill will get longer, perhaps long enough to match Scotty Smalls’ hat from the Sandlot. Whatever direction the baseball cap takes it is a part of the fabric of our society and has become not just a tool of functionality, but a statement of fashion.
Embed from Getty Images