Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Totally Awesome 80s Caps

I was born in the mid 1980s, but while growing up in the 1990s I lived in an era of "80s backlash". Anything from the 80s was considered extremely "uncool". I hated everything about the 80s; the images, the music, the fashion, ect. but for some reason I loved and still love 80s baseball caps and uniforms. This was the last decade of the wild and outlandishly colorful uniforms. When I was around the age of ten a local Blockbuster video store had various video cassette tapes of highlights from past World Series games. I rented "Highlights of the 1984 World Series" and fell in love with the Padres "taco bell" caps despite the fact that the Padres got creamed by the Tigers. A couple of years later Blockbuster got rid of all of those tapes and I was lucky enough to buy that very tape.

Slowly but surely the colorful uniforms and caps began to disappear around 1983 when designs from the 70s (my favorite decade for caps and uniforms) began to fall out of stlye, and by the early 90s they were all gone. By 1987, many infamous caps disappeared such as the Pirates "pillbox", The A's "kelley green", the Giants orange visor, the Brewers yellow front panel road cap, the Mariners "pitchfork", and even the brightly colored Astros caps. The 80s saw the return of the Indians "Chief Wahoo" to their caps, and three teams currently wear the same cap designs that they switched to in the 80s; the A's, the Braves (which is identical to their 60s design), and the Twins (which has begun to fall out of favor to the logo that it replaced). Also of note, St. Patrick's Day uniforms made their debut during the 1981 spring training, first worn by the Philadelphia Phillies.

In the cap industry, private labeling finally came to an end (Wilson was the last company), and Sports Specialties, Inc. became New Era's last new competitor, quickly becoming New Era's only competitor for on-field caps by the end of the decade when Roman switched to "throwbacks" (old style reproductions) only. Also at the end of the decade was the leather sweatband's disappearance from on-field caps. The last year I believe (feel free to prove otherwise) was 1987. New Era continued to use leather bands in home plate umpire caps until recent years (not sure when they stopped, or did they?). In vogue were nylon caps; a few teams such as the Indians and Blue Jays used them, and then some teams used nylon on just the front panels (on caps made by New Era). Also, on-field baseball caps began to greatly rise in popularity with the debut of the "Diamond Collection" which made on-field caps more widely available in retail.

Let's take a look at some 80s caps from my personal collection.

The Angels used this style for the entire decade. Seen here with an original Diamond Collection tag.

The A's circa 1985 - 1987.

The Blue Jays debuted their first road cap in 1989. This is a nylon cap.

A "royal blue" Braves road cap.

Brewers road cap circa 1983 to 1984 with a nylon front panel.

A Cubs cap made by Sports Specialties.

The Giants cap with what I call the "fat" logo brings back memories of early childhood. Anyone remember the 1989 World Series and the quake? I slept through it on my grandmother's lap (I live in the Bay Area, and I was a three-year-old)!

This Mariners design was born and died in the 80s.

The Padres used this design for the last half of the 80s, to see the earlier "taco bell" design just look through my previous posts on it.

The original Phillies St. Patrick's Day cap. Why a bell? The Liberty Bell in Philadelphia of course. They should have embroidered a crack!

The Rangers had a good thing going with this cap including the last years of Nolan Ryan's great career.

I always liked this White Sox style from the late 80s. Now if I could only find one in my size...

What is your favorite cap from the 80s?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Collectors Corner: Steven August

Name / Age / Occupation: Steven August /45 / Entrepreneur

When did you first start collecting pro-model baseball caps? 1975

How have you acquired your caps? I purchased many when I was younger, KM Pro used to sell them in the Sporting News. When they went out of business Roman Pro started doing the same. I used to wait for the UPS truck to come and deliver that little brown box with my next new cap in it. I also used to visit Gerry Cosby's in New York City, they had a very large selection as Pro caps were not as popular and easy to get in the 70's.

What do you consider to be your “holy grail/grails”? I have a McAuliffe 1962 Mets cap worn by Jay Hook (who won the first Mets game ever)...pretty cool cap. I also own a few Mets "Pillbox caps" from 1976 which are classic.

What is your favorite cap manufacturer? Without question KM Pro.

What about baseball caps appeals to you? Something about the history and nostalgia behind them. I do believe the best caps made in both quality and simplicity of design were the caps from the 1960's - 70's.

What was your first pro-model baseball cap? NY Mets - KM Pro

What is your favorite cap of all time? Definitely the Mets

What is your favorite baseball team? Mets, then Brooklyn Dodgers.

Do you wear any of your vintage caps, or do you keep them on display, on a shelf, or in a box, ect.? Both, I do wear some of my classics that I have been lucky enough to get in my size.

Wool Caps or Polyester Caps? Wool

Leather Sweatbands or Cloth Sweatbands? Nothing like a classic leather sweatband.

Anything else besides caps that you collect (sports or non-sports related)? I do collect some jerseys, both baseball and hockey.

Any hobbies or other interests? Love to workout and spend time with my wife and kids.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Company Profile: The KM Pro Company

 The history of the KM Pro Company goes back to 1896, when Tim McAuliffe Inc., a manufacturer of sporting goods was founded in Boston, Mass. McAuliffe supplied caps and uniforms to many sports teams, specifically baseball.

I provided a small photo essay about the KM Pro Cap Company for the "Strictly Fitted" website, which features some addition information not found here. Link: History of KM Pro

In a time when New Era was supplying caps to only a small number of teams, McAullife was king. McAullife caps weren't always manufactured by the company themselves. McAuliffe caps were often made under private label by companies such as Leslie and even New Era.

McAullife's embroidery was provided by the Roman Art Embroidery Company, also based in Boston. All teams until expansion in the 1960s used McAullife caps at one time or another.

Downsized by competition, the McAullife name was gone by the end of the 1960s. At that time, they became the KM Pro Company. KM caps are most easily recognized by their unique "zig-zag" backing pattern.

The KM Pro Cap Company Held it's ground into the early 1970s providing caps for three of the four 1969 expansion teams (the Expos, Padres, and Pilots (and then the Brewers)) and supplied several major teams as well, including the Boston Red Sox. However, their main competitor New Era finally knocked them out and the KM Pro Cap Company closed its doors at the end of 1976. Due to the major loss of business, the Roman Art Embroidery Company began manufacturing baseball caps in KM's place and the Roman Pro Cap Company was created. The first Roman caps were identical to KM caps but Roman switched to their own design by the 1980s. That decade, Roman began making reproductions of old-style caps by using their archive of McAullife and KM cap embroidery designs. The rest of the story of the Roman Pro Cap Company has already been covered here. Below is the inside of an example of an early Roman cap identical to a KM cap in every way except the label.

Here is an odd one: Collector Steven August has what appears to be a KM & New Era hybrid. It's a game-used New York Mets cap with a KM-style backing and visor, but with a New Era label. Compare the hybrid to the standard New Era on the right side.

Keep in mind that some teams would have game used caps refurbished instead of purchasing new ones, so it is possible to find KM Pro caps with New Era tags. McAullife Uniform Corp. also repaired caps in place of KM Pro.

Former KM Pro big wig Harold Aronson also started his own cap company after the fall of KM which was called "Devon Professional Cap". Devon caps were similar in construction to KM, with the same style crowns and visors. Devon was purchased by Twins Enterprises (now "'47 Brand") in the late 1980s.

BONUS FREEBIE!!! When new, KM caps came with an insert to help the caps maintain their shape. Make your own by printing out the scan of a real KM cap insert. Just print it out on some card stock paper, cut it out, and fold.

Update: A reader sent me a link to the Game Used Universe forums that prided me with some good info on KM Pro.

"KM pro was a joint venture ( for lack of a better term) between Tim McAuliffe and Jack Kaufman. Hence the K M. The hats were produced by Kaufman and sold thru McAuliffe. The embroidery on the hats was done by Roman Art who also did the chainstitch NIC- NIT on the McAuliffe jerseys. Roman Art also produced for McAuliffe/ Stall and Dean all of the patches that weren't MLB mandated. In the mid '70's the New Era owner David Koch purchased at a bankruptcy sale, all of the Kaufman cap manufacturing equipment possibly in an attempt to eliminate competition in that area."

"I used the term "joint venture" because I lacked a better description. The original McAuliffe Co. didn't mfr anything- jerseys hats ect were all done by someone else. Starting in the early '50's the jerseys were mfr'd by Stall and Dean. I don't know how far back the relationship with Kaufman goes back but they did the hats. In 1969 the McAuliffe "label" was taken over by Stall and Dean and they continued the relationship with Kaufman until the mid '70's when the Kaufman assets/equipment was bought by the New Era owner. All of my KM info came from Richard Stall, the former owner of Stall and Dean."

I have also heard that "KM" stood for Tim McAuliffe's wife, Kim.

A special thanks to Steven August and Ted Weisbrich for providing pictures of KM caps from their respective collections.