Thursday, May 12, 2016

Hell Bent For Leather

I apoligize in advance for the different fonts and text sizes. I have tried to change it but it doesn't work when I do...

Ah, the leather sweatband.  A controversial topic for us baseball cap enthusiasts. Preferred by the traditionalist but derided by the casual wearer. Over the course of the last twenty-five years, leather sweatbands in baseball caps have become a rarity and have all but disappeared. However, there are still a few places were leather sweatbands can be found today.


One place where leather sweatbands can still be found is on the field of Major League Baseball. No way! Really? Yes, it's true. MLB umpires can still get leather sweatbands on their caps.





Although leather sweatbands on MLB and MiLB players caps were last seen in 1988 (with some caps possibly lingering into 1989), they have continued to be seen inside non-retail versions of umpire caps.


The leather style has also changed. The sweatbands had been the exact same kind seen inside of on-field caps since the 70s, but by the early 2000s the leather began being covered by some sort of paint or stain. Then in 2006 it changed to what it is today; a black-colored thicker cut of leather with no "reed" on it, as those older types of sweatbands with reeds are simply no longer being manufactured. A 2006 umpire cap I have worn by umpire Tim Timmons features the newer black leather, so the change must have happened around that time. This leather also has a much stronger leather smell. Another peculiar trait of these umpire caps is that they lack the "Authentic Collection" tag and the "Batterman" logo on the back is embroidered flat like pre-2007 on-field caps. This may be to indicate that they are not for retail.




I was able to personally contact a highly-respected veteran major league umpire and I asked him about why umpires still use leather sweatbands. I will not reveal their name out of respect for their privacy. He said:


"When a home plate umpire takes his mask off, the (leather) hat band helps keep the hat on without moving it or falling over the face (where the umpire couldn't see)." 


He also had something else interesting to say. Basically, when New Era took over the MLB contract in 1994, they tried to do away with leather once and for all.


"Out first hats delivered by New Era were sent back with a letter explaining this (that they preferred leather). New Era sent a letter back saying that "no one in the Commissioner's Office wears hats with leather bands." I sent a return letter saying,"the last time I checked, no one in the Commissioner's Office wears a hat.""


New Era may have attempted to do away with leather bands again in more recent years. I have been unable to find an MLB umpire cap with a leather sweatband from between 2009 and 2011. I am unsure of when exactly they came back, but it must have been sometime between 2012 and 2014, because the one that I own has the current tags but a holographic MLB undervisor sticker with Commissioner Bud Selig's signature on it.


A source at New Era (that will also remain anonymous) had this to say:


"We have done and still do leather sweats (sic) on Umpire caps for the MLB on a limited and special order basis. The sweat (sic) has changed a bit but we still offer it for Umpires only."


The evolution of MLB Umpire caps with leather sweatbands over the past 25 years:




















New Era Heritage Series



New Era's recent "1934 Heritage Series" also uses leather sweatbands as well as on some of their "19Twenty" line more commonly seen in Japan. This leather is different from the umpire caps, however. It looks more like the pre-WWII era leather but it is actually a hybrid of a leather and cloth band. The thin leather is backed with foam and gauze like a cloth band.




Ebbets Field Flannels


EFF used leather sweatbands regularly until fifteen years or so ago when they changed over to cloth bands full-time. However, they brought back leather a couple of years ago for their 8-Panel Ballcap line. These caps use a thin cut of black leather with the Ebbets Field Flannels logo embossed on it. If interested, check out www.ebbets.com to check out their current selection of 8-Panel caps. Be sure to read the descritions because not all of them have leather sweatbands.




Ideal Cap Co.


Ideal Cap Co. and it's predecessor Cooperstown Ballcap Co. have always and still continue to carry the torch for leather sweatbands. Owner Willy Arlt told me:


"(We use) 2 different forms: unfinished, cut directly from hides and finished with a rolled bead around the bottom like the ones found in men's wear.  We used to use a  soft finish on them at CBC, but they wore pretty quickly so now they are more glazed for better wear at the expense of the sensuality."



This Ideal Cap Co. cap shows the export-only Cooperstown Ballcap Co. label.
Photo courtesy of Louis Griffel.

You can check out Ideal Cap Co.'s selection at www.idealcapco.com


So there you have it. Long live leather!!!


My thanks to Andy Sorber for all his help and assistance with gathering info for this post.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Mystery of the San Francisco Giants Pillbox

It has been well documented that many teams wore "pillbox caps" at some point during the 1976 season and the Pittsburgh Pirates ended up wearing them for ten seasons after that point.

Aside from the teams we know that wore them for sure (Pirates, Mets, Cardinals, & Phillies, then possibly Expos and Yankees) there were other teams that no one knows for sure if the team wore them or not: White Sox, Red Sox, Cubs, Padres, & Giants. Sometimes it's hard to tell if the cap is game worn or team issued when they show up online somewhere. Sports Specialties made pillbox snapback fan caps available for all teams during the 80s, so you could imagine what it would have been like if your favorite team opted to wear them. New Era even made fitted cap versions of all teams as well (from what I can tell). Now, the Giants pillbox that I had seen in an eBay auction a few years back used the 1977 to 1982 logo. However, I had heard that the Giants had supposedly worn them in 1976, but the logo doesn't match the logo they used that year. Upon further research, I came across this photo of Jack Clark.


This was a publicity photo, and the year on the back of this print says 1980. I still can't find any evidence that the Giants actually wore these in a game, BUT Jack is in full uniform and that is definitely Candlestick Park and it looks like folks are starting to arrive to a game. This is the ONLY picture I can find of a Giants pillbox right now. Any thoughts?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

1986 San Jose "Bad News" Bees

The coming 2016 baseball season marks the 30th anniversary of one of the most notorious teams in all of professional baseball, not to mention my hometown team the year of my birth; the 1986 San Jose "Bad News" Bees. The Bees were one of the last independent teams in minor league baseball, but did have a partnership with the Seibu Lions of Japan. As the second incarnation of the Bees (the original Bees existed from 1962 to 1976), the team existed from 1983 to 1987. The franchise failed to be profitable and operated on a shoe-string budget. Aside from several young Japanese players, the rest of the players were disgraced former major leaguers, the majority of which were blacklisted from the big leagues for substance abuse. During the season, many players lived in nearby flophouses and even on mattresses inside stadium's clubhouse. Known as the "Rebels Cave", it featured a refrigerator, beer signs, broken bleacher seats for guests, and a painting made by one of the players of a green-faced Charles Manson as a "conversation piece". The team went 65-77 in the California League during the season under General Manager Harry Steve, who managed the team simply because no one else would. The 1986 team was immortalized by a sensational multi-page write-up in an issue of Rolling Stone Magazine. In it, the team was portrayed in a less-than-flattering manner, described as lowlifes that spent their meager paychecks on drugs, booze, and prostitutes. Author Neal Karlen later regretted vilifying them. The 1986 Bees were also covered by several major newspapers across the country and internationally in newspapers such as the London Times.

The 1986 San Jose Bees cap. 1986 was the only season their cap had gold eyelets.

If you look closely at San Jose Municipal Stadium today, you'll find a few reminders of the Bees, including one of the 1986 "Bad News" Bees. On the back of a door on the stadium bowl is a painted "Bad News Bees" sign, autographed by the team. Unfortunately, this side of the door is usually not visible and the signatures have faded away. The tale of the Bad News is also fading away, but that's not surprising given the family-friendly atmosphere of San Jose Giants games (the Giants franchise moved to San Jose  from Freasonin 1988).



General Manage Harry Steve had to manage the team because no one else would.

Perhaps the team's most notable player was the tragic Steve Howe. A great pitcher, Howe had been the National League Rookie of the Year in 1980, a World Series Champion with Los Angeles 1981, and an All-Star in 1982. After being suspended multiple times for alcohol and cocaine abuse, Howe ended up with the Bees in 1986, going 3-2 with a 1.47 ERA. By the following year Howe would find himself back in the big leagues and seemed to have his life together. He became a Born-Again Christian and published an autobiography in 1989. Howe played in the majors until 1996 and retired in 1997 after a stint in independent ball. Howe lived in Arizona after baseball and worked as a self-employed framing contractor. Howe died in 2006 after rolling his pickup truck in the Coachella desert. An autopsy revealed that he had methamphetamine in his system.


The San Jose Giants have announced that they will do one Bees-themed game this upcoming season, but the only detail revealed is that they're honoring George Brett (the only hall of famer to play in San Jose thus far) rather than the 1986 team.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

How Many Is Too Many?

For the vast majority of the history of baseball, most teams wore just one type of cap per season. In the mid-19th century, "Road/Away" game caps began to appear. Then "alternate' caps and "spring training/batting practice" caps. In the 90s came patches on the caps of players in the All-Star game and on the caps of teams in the World Series, which gave birth to patches on caps for the post-season in general. Since then, we've seen patches on caps for multiple reasons, most notably retiring Yankees players and an American flag patch on 9/11.


 1995 Atlanta Braves cap with World Series patch.


In the last decade we've begun to see "theme" caps. Caps that may differ in design and/or color from the regular on-field cap for a specific team. Most prominently is the "Stars and Stripes" collection worn on the 4th of July and camouflage caps worn on Memorial Day. Teams have also done green caps environmental causes and pink caps for Mother's Day and breast cancer awareness. "Turn Back The Clock Caps" are another story...

2014 Chicago White Sox Mothers Day Cap

Minor league teams have just begun to catch on to this trend. Minor league teams have never done patches on caps very often. Usually they're done if a team is hosting an All-Star game that season or if the team had won a championship the previous season. Minor League teams have been doing theme jerseys for a while now, but some teams have decided to go all-out with matching caps. In fact, my local San Jose Giants wore a total of FIVE different theme caps this past season (they already have four different on-field caps) to go along with corresponding jerseys. They have been doing this for the past three seasons. They wore even more special jerseys but paired them with one of the four on-field caps the team regularly uses. Some teams may just do one, and some teams don't do any at all.

2015 San Jose Giants Caps (on-field bottom row, theme caps top row): Batting practice/alternate, home, road/alternate, alternate. Memorial Day, "Relay For Life" Cancer Charity, 4th of July, Breast Cancer Awareness, Italian Heritage Night)

Common Minor League Theme Caps:

"Turn Back The Clock" - Common in MLB but not MiLB, However, some teams still do it.
"What Could Have Been" - Team wears a prototype uniform or a different name that was being considered before the team's first season
"Memorial Day Camo" - Identical to MLB
"4th of July Stars And Stripes" - Identical to MLB
"Cancer Charity/Awareness" - Typically a purple cap
"Breast Cancer Awareness" - Typically a pink cap
"Heritage Night" - celebrates an ethnic group, usually Irish or Italian

The questions now are... How much is too much? Should every cause or celebration get its own cap? Should teams stick with a couple of regular caps, or the more the merrier? Personally I enjoy many of these caps, much to the dismay of my bank account...

Thursday, September 24, 2015

1979 Santa Clara Padres Cap

Long before the city of Santa Clara, California was home to Levi's Stadium and the San Francisco 49ers of the NFL, the city's only other professional sports team in modern history was the Santa Clara Padres, a co-op team in the single-A California League. Their lone season was in 1979, where they were supposed to play their home games at Washington Park, which was built in 1935 and featured a wooden 1,000-seat grandstand. However, the team had issues with the park and played many home games at San Jose Municipal Stadium instead, which they had to share with the San Jose Missions. The team featured players from the Mariners, A's, Angels, Padres, and Cardinals organizations.Three future major leaguers played for the team; John Hobbs, Ron Tingley, and the one-and-only Joe Maddon.
 
Santa Clara Padres Cap: Gold logo identical to the USC Trojans, maroon crown, kelley green button and visor. It was also a mesh snap-back. The colors were meant to be a tribute to the many Portuguese, Italian, and Mexican families that call Santa Clara home.

After a disastrous 47-93 season under manager Joe Volpi and the lowest attendance in the league, the team moved north of San Francisco to the Sonoma County town of Rohnert Park where they became the Redwood Pioneers for the next five seasons. They then became the Palm Springs Angels, and since 1994 are now the Lake Elsinore Storm.

Washington Park still stands today and is used today by local youth leagues as well as hosting games for the local "vintage" league that plays by 1860s rules. I watched a vintage game there myself in 2013.
 
Note: I do not personally own a Santa Clara Padres cap, although I wish I did. The photo was sent to me by someone that owns one.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Pre-Order the Katz Cap

Ebbets Field Flannels now has the Kansas City Katz cap available for pre-order via their website HERE!!!
As you can see, the logo looks 100% identical to the original cap. They did a fantastic job. I visited the Ebbets Field Flannels store/factory in Seattle on Monday, August 10th and got a tour of the place from owner Jerry Cohen. He's a great guy. Order your Katz cap today!

P.S. I still plan on posting more on the blog but life keeps getting in the way. Please be patient and I'll get more stuff going eventually!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Ebbets Field Flannels to Reproduce "Katz" Cap

The Katz cap mentioned in the post below will be reproduced by Ebbets Field Flannels. I had sent the cap along with others to the EFF headquarters to be documented for their archives.

This was confirmed by EFF via their Facebook page on July 24th. They posted a picture of my Katz cap along with the caption "Kansas City Katz amateur team cap sent to us by our good friend Paul Carr. Soon to be available from EFF!".

EFF head honcho Jerry Cohen told me the caps will be available in the next couple of months with their next "rotation" of caps. Stay posted here for an update on when they'll be available as well as ebbets.com and the Ebbets Field Flannels Facebook page.

I have more posts in the works!