Thursday, October 6, 2016

Minoring in Taco Bell

Not to toot my own horn, but I do consider myself to be the foremost expert on the history of the "bell panel" baseball cap started by the San Diego Padres, typically known as the "Taco Bell" cap. If you read my previous blogs you will notice that the shape of the front panel of the cap resembles a bell when looked at straight-on. The reason for that is because the Padres celebrate the California missions. The missions all had bells at the top of the buildings and well, so did the Padres players by donning these caps. It all makes sense.

I noticed that several minor league teams in the 70s and 80s also wore bell panel caps. Only two of them were actual Padres affiliates. Why use a bell panel when you're not a Padres affiliate? It makes no sense to me. Many have never noticed that the shape is a bell, they probably just liked the look. That's why when the Rays wear their 70s "Fauxback" uniforms that are 70s Padres rip-offs, it bothers me.

Anyway, here are the minor league teams that have worn these caps at one time or another. From what I can tell, most wore these for only one or two seasons. Unfortunately, finding minor league photos is a challenge, especially in color...

First, we will start with the Padres affiliates...

1978 Reno Silver Sox
The Reno franchise wore Taco Bells the longest, starting in 1978.  I'm assuming the uniforms are brown and gold. Tim Flannery is pictured.

1983 Reno Padres
By the early 80s, the Reno franchise had changed its name to that of the parent club. This photo is from 1983. I am unsure if they continued to wear this cap the following season. By 1985 they had switched to a brown cap with an orange logo. They continued to wear recycled early 80s Padres pullover jerseys through the 1986 season.

1983 Las Vegas Stars
1983 was the inaugural season for the Las Vegas Franchise. They wore the Taco Bell cap only that season. In 1984 they switched to a solid orange cap.

2016 El Paso Chihuahuas
The current Padres triple-A team did a 70s "Fauxback" game.

Now the non-Padres affiliates...

1978/79 Spokane Indians (Mariners affiliate)
One of these popped up for sale on eBay a couple of years ago. Unfortunately I was outbid.

1982 Tucson Toros (Astros affiliate)

1982 Buffalo Bisons (Pirates affiliate)
The logo is identical to the Pirates "P" only with the added segments to make a "B".

1984 Salinas Spurs (Mariners affiliate)
The second California League team and second Mariners affiliate to wear this type of cap. I assume the cap is blue and gold like the parent team.

2017 Bowling Green Hot Rods
Taking a cue from their parent team, The Tampa Bay Rays, the Hot Rods wore a "Fauxback" cap in 2017.

Are there any I missed? If so please email me.

-Thanks to Andy Sorber for additional info.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

An Open Letter to New Era

Dear New Era Cap Company,

I first fell in love with New Era on-field baseball caps in 1995. I was nine years-old and had recently learned how to play baseball. My parents were not into sports to say the least, so my younger brother and I learned about sports from the kids down the street and to us, baseball was our favorite. I can't remember exactly where, and what adult in my life purchased it for me, but I remember picking out my first authentic "Diamond Collection" on-field cap. It was a Chicago Cubs "Road" cap, the one with the red visor. Size 6 7/8. I remember being absolutely thrilled that I now owned one of the exact same caps that MLB stars wore on the field of play. I wore it for years until I could no longer squeeze it onto my head.

Over the course of the rest of my childhood and into my twenties I continued to collect New Era on-field caps. New caps, vintage caps, actual game used players' caps and everything in between. Now, at thirty years of age, I have amassed a collection of roughly five-hundred New Era on-field caps ranging from the 1950s to the present.

My warm feelings for New Era reached a peak in 2010, when New Era kindly fixed some vintage caps for me. I was told it wasn't a big deal and they were happy to help. Suddenly, a New Era exec that I had befriended called me. In a condescending tone, he told me that they can't repair caps anymore and they were apparently upset that I blogged about it (I was NOT the first one). When people that read my blog and contacted New Era to ask about repairs, they were told not to listen to "some guy from California that blogged about it." That same exec then followed up with a personal letter to me, repeating what he said in our phone conversation. I had his personal direct phone number and I tried to talk to him about it and to apologize if I did something that got him in trouble. He never answered my calls again. Although my feelings were hurt, I continued to support New Era and their product.

By this time it was  2011, and New Era began to make some changes that bothered me. Being a long-time fan of minor league baseball, I purchased a cap at a minor league game and noticed the texture of the polyester fabric was odd, and that the cap was rigid and did not fit like normal. It even smelled different. Every cap in the team store was just like it. I didn't think much of it until a short time later. I decided to flip back the tags that are attached to the sweatbands. It said "Made in China". I was shocked that New Era was now making on-field caps in China, when "Made In USA" had been one of New Era's favorite things to advertise. I learned that New Era had shuttered two of their three USA manufacturing plants. I was disappointed, but I later came to learn that there were ways to get minor league caps USA made through certain sources. I continued to support New Era and their product.

Over the next couple of years, I noticed that Chinese-made MLB on-field caps in retail stores alongside USA made ones, with both being sold as the exact same product and at the exact same price. This was especially prominent during the 2014 World Series. As long as USA made caps were available, I continued to support New Era and their product.

Last year, I noticed that Vietnamese, Bangladeshi, and Chinese-made MLB on-field caps in retail stores alongside USA made ones, with all being sold as the exact same product and at the exact same price. As long as USA made caps were available, I continued to support New Era and their product.

This year, USA made caps began to say they were made "with imported materials" on the label. As long as they were USA made, I continued to support New Era and their product.

Now, New Era has decided to include their "flag" logo on the side of MLB on-field caps, starting with the 2016 postseason. This has now broken down the wall between MLB on-field caps, custom "hip hop/rap" caps, college caps, and minor league caps. They are now all on the same level. To me, MLB on-field caps are no longer on a higher pedestal. There are also reports of New Era deleting comments and banning anyone that has made negative comments about the flag logo on MLB on-field caps on social media. I will NOT continue to support New Era and their product. I'm done. This is the straw that broke the camels' back.

The other big factor for me is the "imported materials". I have long been a strong supporter of USA manufacturing. You see, companies prefer to have fabric made overseas not just because it's cheaper, but because regulations are looser. In many countries, companies are allowed to get away with workers being exposed to toxic dyes, not to mention polyester is a petroleum product so I'm sure many workers are exposed to oil and other pollutants while making the fabric. Polluted water used to make various fabrics is then dumped into water systems that pollute the environment. Call me a hippie, but this is not something that I personally can't support. You need to consider the human toll it takes to make the cap you are buying. The only positive is that an American worker stitched it together,

New Era, a family run business, has now officially chosen profit over people. They used to be different. They were personable, and they cared deeply for their loyal customers. Not anymore. After more than twenty years of being a loyal customer, I will not longer be buying any new New Era products,

Paul Carr

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Mysterious Padres Taco Bell Cap Surfaces

A couple of weeks ago, I got a message from a friend and fellow collector saying that he had found an odd Padres cap that he had never seen before. This is the cap.

The caps with this style had come from a long-gone sporting goods store in Buffalo, NY (coincidentally, the home of New Era) and the elderly woman that co-owned the store sold off the deadstock that had been sitting around to someone else, who then sold some of it to my friend. Immediately we believed that this cap was made to go with the recently unveiled 1985 Padres prototype jersey, which is owned by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and was displayed at the 2016 MLB All-Star Game FanFest in San Diego.

Looks like a match, right? Turns out to be not so. I reached out to some folks in the know via Twitter, and one person that had seen the original 1985 prototype designs said "Totally different-cap that went with the Fanfest jersey was brown with a yellow interlocking italic "SD".

So there you have it. A rep at New Era could not find anything in their records about it (big surprise). Another knowledgeable person that was contacted about this cap said "It was made for a reason." This leads me to a theory...

The Padres made a few minor changes to their uniforms in 1984. They changed from pullover to button-up jerseys, slimmed down their cap logo, and then changed from sans-a-belt to belts on their pants in the postseason. Could they have been planning a more drastic change? The colors of this cap do match the lettering of the 1984 home jersey. Perhaps it was an idea for a new home or road cap and they had some examples made? The interior tags on this cap date it to 1982-1984 (with the slim logo putting it at 1984). Also, remember that another odd Padres cap from this time also has surfaced; the cap with the yellow visor.

This cap also has the slim logo that started being used in 1984. It's pretty clear that the Padres were up to something. But hey, they could just be genuine F-ups that New Era offered to nearby sporting goods stores for a discount price. I guess we'll never know...

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 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

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.