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Off the Top of My Head: A Sportsfan’s Life in Ballcaps

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[Editor’s Note: Paul is on his annual August break from site (although he’s still writing his weekly Bulletin column and may pop up here on the blog occasionally). Deputy editor Phil Hecken is in charge from now through the end of the month.]

A good Tuesday morning, readers. I hope your week has gotten off to a good start!

Once again, we’ve hit a lull in uniform news (although that should change today, when the Suns are expected to unveil a new uni), but I’ve got another fun article for you from original UW card carrying member Dan Skantar today. I’m sure many of our readers are cap collectors — a category into which Dan squarely fits, although his collection has grown smaller over the years, as he’ll explain below. I myself probably have over 200 caps, about 90% of which I have purchased, and there isn’t a cap I own that I haven’t worn at least a few times. So, I wouldn’t say I’m a collector so much as I’m an aggregator. And with two exceptions, I tend not to spend a lot on my caps. In fact, the most expensive cap I ever purchased was the original green fitted Uni Watch cap from Ebbets Field Flannels. Dan has his own cap story, which I’m pleased to have him impart to you all. Here’s Dan:

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Off the Top of My Head: A Sports Fan’s Life in Ballcaps
By Dan Skantar

We Uni Watchers love our ballcaps. We wear our favorite teams’ colors with pride. We accumulate caps as fashion statements, souvenirs, and perhaps just because we couldn’t resist the clearance rack. Whether kept neatly organized or loosely tossed onto a closet shelf, our hats say something about us as fans.

My own stash once numbered close to 200 hats before I made the conscious decision to put a lid on the lids. Only 60 remain today, stored in a laundry basket. That is, when not on my head or strewn randomly around the house. Once every summer I take a headwear inventory, wash them as needed and discard one or two beyond hope. This year for the first time I asked myself why do I have all these hats?

I had never stopped to really think about any of my hats. Some are more than 20 years old. Each one has a story from a vacation, a business trip, a ballgame or irresistible urge. The common denominator is that I bought them to wear, not to collect. To me they are like my sock drawer. An assortment.

My hat story is of a guy who roots faithfully for his two favorite teams, who has been around a little and has a hat or six to show for those experiences.

The beginning: A Pirate cap

I’m 63 and have worn a ballcap pretty much everywhere since my twenties. There’s no vanity involved; I have a full head of (graying) hair. I just feel comfortable wearing one, even to church.

Being a Pittsburgh kid, I had a black Pirates cap at age four and a couple of replacements up through my teens. The first ballcap I actually wanted was the Pirates’ old gold crown/black visor model that debuted with Three Rivers Stadium in July 1970. (Unlike today’s carefully plotted rebrand rollouts, you couldn’t find the new style cap in stores until the following spring.)

In high school I didn’t wear caps much at all. Christmas 1976, my freshman year of college, wakened a sleeping mad hatter when I received a striped, mesh-backed cap emblazoned “Pitt Panthers”. Those trucker style caps made by AJD started the hat craze in the late 1970s. I wore that cap to Pitt football games for six years until the snaps broke. At this point I was inclined to limit my fanwear to the teams I followed regularly, so I added Steelers and Pirates cap in the same style. AJD caps kept your head cool, but the polyester faded quickly, and one good rain ruined the cardboard visor forever.

When I started working, a new cap was a guilty pleasure. In those days before specialty stores and online sales, the best place to find out-of-town MLB ballcaps was Three Rivers Stadium on gamedays.

Concession stands stocked a nice variety of twill caps as well as plastic batting practice helmets. That’s how I ended up with helmets for the Cardinals and Padres (rain protection), although I recall my yellow Pirates BP helmet was a giveaway.

On business trips, I’d bring home ballcaps and pennants as souvenirs. From Ohio through the Carolinas to Louisiana, to Tennessee and Texas, I’d hunt for hats. Hello, UNC, NC State, Wake, Duke, Clemson, and South Carolina. Geaux Tigers. Go Bucks. Go Vols. Hook ‘em Horns. If a ballgame fit into the schedule, I’d work it in. Heads up, Winston-Salem Spirits and Boston Red Sox.

Sometimes my burgeoning hat obsession was problematic. Like the time I had to sprint through the New Orleans airport to catch a flight home because I had lingered too long in the LSU team store in Baton Rouge.

In the 80s, other brands such as The Game and Sports Specialties had pushed AJD aside. Styles changed. Fitted hats. Navy peaks. Authentics. Corduroys. New Era seduced millions of fans like me with their splendid Minor League Baseball collection, which led me to the Chattanooga Lookouts, Buffalo Bisons, Charleston RiverDogs and Carolina Mudcats, among others.

My buddies and I made many a baseball road trip in the 80s and 90s. “Away” cities were fertile capping grounds. If we were lucky, we’d catch a cap day (Angels, White Sox, Tigers). On one such excursion to Detroit, we discovered a fantastic hole-in-the-wall next to Tiger Stadium called The Designated Hatter. Hat heaven, I tell you. No subsequent trip to Motown was complete without dropping coin at The Hatter. My pals still talk about the afternoon our friend Kirk and I battled to a $91 tie buying hats there.

Family members rarely buy me hats because they know I’m fussy. That didn’t stop my brother-in-law Charlie from punking me in 2003 with a Notre Dame cap to remind me that the Irish had beaten Pitt near my birthday. So thoughtful.

As the years rolled on, my travels waned, and I became less inclined to buy caps. I didn’t replace the ones that wore out. I donated so many to a homeless shelter. Today if I buy a new cover, it is probably something off the sale rack, like my Rams hat that I got for $4 the day before the last Super Bowl.

As I look over my hats today, two things are clear to me. One is that I prefer simple, unstructured twill caps. They are stylish, functional, tuck in a jacket pocket and can shrug off Pittsburgh’s many rainy days. Twins and 47 are my favorite brands.

The second fact is that I own more hats for the two teams whose games I attend regularly — Pitt and the Pirates — than I do for the ones I follow on radio or TV (Penguins and Steelers). I guess that’s no surprise.

Here’s a look at some of my hats.

The Oldies. Original Pittsburgh Maulers (1984 Lucky Stripe by AJD) and Pitt Panthers authentic baseball cap (circa 1988, ProLine). That Maulers cap outlasted the woebegone USFL franchise. I attended all nine Maulers’ home games. Pitt abandoned the bright blue and gold in 1997 but reinstated them a few years ago. These are my only two “display” hats, never worn outside.

Pitt Panthers. I’m a lifelong fan and 40-year season ticket holder for football and basketball. A Pitt cap is my “default” headwear on most days. I prefer the darker royal to Pitt’s current electric blue. But knowing Pitt, they will change colors again before next Thursday.

Pirates. It surprised me how few Bucco caps I own, considering that I’ve seen the Pirates play more than 1800 times. I could use one that reads “Hodgepodge of Nothingness”.

The other locals. Steelers and Penguins flanked by three caps for Carnegie Mellon, my alma mater. The Tartan “Scottie” dog is an underrated logo.

Road trip hats. Phillies, Giants, Providence, Orioles, Portland Sea Dogs, Paw Sox and Red Sox came from their respective ballparks. These logos are favorites of mine. The New England triplet (Bosox, Paw Sox and Portland Sea Dogs) are from vacations with my wife Susan, who is a Boston native.

No doubt there are Uni Watchers with far more extensive and organized hat collections than mine. As I said earlier, I buy them to wear. This essay allowed me to reflect on my journey as a fan, and it brought back a lot of great memories. Maybe your hats tell a similar story.

Dan Skantar is a free-lance writer living in Pittsburgh with his wife and cats.

• • • • •

Thanks, Dan! Fun and interesting cap story. I’m sure many of you have your own — love to hear some of them in the comments, especially if you’re one of those hard-core collectors who won’t even wear many of the caps they buy. Or even if you’re not. Do you have a favorite cap? Do your caps tell a story? Fire away below!

ITEM! The Best ‘Field of Dreams’ Throwbacks, American League Edition

Paul here. Last week on Bulletin, I picked the best Field of Dreams throwback for each National League team. This week I’ve done the same for the American League. Just like last week, this wasn’t just a matter of picking any old throwback uni — I specifically tried to pick designs that seem FOD-appropriate, which turned out to be a really fun exercise.

My Premium Subscribers can access the article here. If you haven’t yet subscribed, you can do that here (you’ll need a Facebook account in order to pay). Don’t have or want a Facebook account? Email me for workaround info. Thanks!

Speaking of Bulletin: My annual Uni Watch NFL Season Preview will be published there exactly two weeks from today, Sept. 6, and I don’t mind saying it’s shaping up as a doozy — well over 5,000 words and counting! The NHL and NBA Season Previews will follow in October, so there’s lots of good stuff in the Bulletin hopper!

Uni Tweet of the Day

Seems like forever ago…can you name all the uni manufacturers shown below?

And finally...

…that’s it for this morning. Big thanks to Dan for sharing his livelong devotion to collecting caps and the backstories therein!

There should be lots of post-morning content today, including Collector’s Corner and also the Suns are expected to introduce a new “Classic” edition today. All signs point to this purple throwback being the newest Classic/Throwback to be introduced this season (the team wore those from 1992-2000). I have a few personal things to attend to today, but I should be able to cover the new uni unveiling at some point.

Today’s Ticker should go live around 9:30, and I’ll post that link here once it does.

Everyone have a good Tuesday and I’ll catch you later.

Peace,

PH

Comments (18)

    I had to curb my burgeoning hat collection a few years back. I can’t wear them at work (unprofessional and don’t pair well with suits, though with the pandemic, scrub caps became a thing for head protection), and never at church (I was raised to understand “Sunday best” means exactly that, and athletic hats don’t pair with suits), but a combination of thinning hair and excision of skin cancer from the top of my more-exposed scalp has brought more hat wearing back whenever I am outside. But I don’t think I have bought a hat in years, as the prices have gotten a little ridiculous. I pared it down to an assortment from my favorite teams and the alma mater plus some choice throwbacks, enough to keep on a single rack in the corner of my room.

    August has been always a great month for catching up with some very entertaining stories. Thanks Dan for the insight. Phil you have done outstanding work stepping into Paul’s shoes.

    I used to love wearing caps, but I am an example of what “one size fits all” became “one size fits most.” No telling how many caps I’d have if they hadn’t all become too small. Fun story. Keep them coming, everyone.

    Love the hat story! So many memories for all my hats over the years! One that always stuck out was when my grandma bought be an official fitted brown Padres hat back in ‘89. When my grandpa found out it cost $19.99, he told her to take it back. I’m not sure what happened after that, but I got to keep the hat. :)

    I wear a hat every day of my life, but it’s always the same one. My hat collection is pretty much entirely retired hats that are no longer fit for wear, but the interesting (?) thing about that is that it covers every day since March 1997. That’s when I bought my first Bar hat from The Game in high school. I bought four other Bars before The Game lost their Ohio State license. Now I’m on version 2.0 of a Block O. Aside from those, I have six others: a Cincinnati Reds, a Boston Red Sox, and two Columbus Clippers throwbacks, all from ’47; a Nebraska Bar that I wore every day in 1995; and a royal blue hat with my initial, part of a set I bought my family last Christmas with hopes of perhaps doing a family portrait, although those hopes were dashed when my son threw up on his.

    Speaking of, maybe the single most significant gift I’ve ever seen was when my son was born (three years ago yesterday, happy birthday Andrew!). My wife got him an infant-sized block O hat to match mine. He looks better in his than I do in mine.

    Why are the Dolphins wearing Wilson/Staff. I thought that brand was only used for golf equipment. Was it meant as some kind of cross promotion to sell golf clubs?

    Call me a collector: Over half my 200+ hats have been worn once. As luck would have it, some of my favorites are old mesh-backed snapbacks, which offer no shade to my bald head. Protection comes in the form of a folded bandana, co-ordinated by color, tucked inside.

    It’s funny, hat collection is a real thing, or perhaps the urge. Honestly, I rarely put one on for any period of time (at the beach almost exclusively), but I own a whole crapload of them. I tend to stick to teams I am a fan of or my alma mater, but I often see one for a team I have no opinion about, and think, “that’s cool, I should buy that!” Then, my brain says, “hey doofus, you are not a fan or have any connection to that team, so that’s silly” and I move on. The worst is when I see a really unique or personally desirable design for a team I hate. I want it, but can’t bring myself to buy it or put it on. Recently was in Ann Arbor with my in-laws and saw a really great retro UM had, but I just can’t wear that. So strange.

    I’m up to at least 300 hats, maybe even 400. I have a core group of maybe 30 I wear regularly, the rest are special occasion or just collectors. I have a hat for each MLB team hanging in my basement, most of which are 5950s. I prefer the unstructured ’47s or similar. Wish there were more days in the year to wear them all.

    Great article!

    And I say that without any expectations of getting that Maulers cap when you’re done with it… ;)

    I recently gave two Maulers painters caps to my de facto little brother who is twice the football fan I will ever be.

    Watched the Joe Montana Bio Series on Peacock over the weekend. Interesting note that I’d not heard before. His wife packed his Super Bowl XIX jersey in his suitcase to “give him confidence” when he played in Super Bowl XXIII (pre putting Super Bowl patches on the participants’ jerseys). Montana said you could see the difference in the sleeve stripes as his proof.

    link

    Fun read, we’ll done! I wear a hat almost all the time (unless I’m in bed or in the shower) and most of mine are the same cotton twill, curved brim, “dad hat” style as yours, so I really like your collection. As a Bostonian, though, your Red Sox hat really tweaks my detail oriented sensibilities. While the team was founded in 1901, Fenway Park didn’t open for play until 1912. The way it’s presented on the hat makes it seem like they’re saying Fenway opened in 1901…
    I know they shouldn’t, but little things like that always drive me nuts!

    PS: I’m extremely particular about the way my hats look and how they fit. (I’m sorry to anyone who reads this and becomes as obsessive as me.) My general aesthetic preference is for minimalist design. I usually seek out hats that have only one small team logo on the front, without too many ancillary embellishments other than perhaps the team’s secondary logo on the back. In fact, the hat that I’ve worn most often over the past year is just plain white with no logo at all. Where I get really crazy, though, is how I inspect a hat’s construction before I buy it. When I choose a hat to buy, I’ll go through all 10 or 15 on the rack looking for the one where the logo is most perfectly centered on the front. Then, I’ll look at how the brim is attached. I’ll count the seams on both sides, looking for one where the brim is perfectly centered on the front of the hat. If I don’t find one where the logo and brim are both where they’re supposed to be, I won’t buy the hat, no matter how much I like the design.

    Thanks for sharing, Dan!

    I’m also a frequent hat wearer. I have somewhere around 50, in all kinds of styles and colors. I enjoy searching eBay and other sites to find something unusual. My favorite in my collection is probably this Johnny Bench RC Cola hat:
    link

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