Capping Off the Uniform
by Dave Murray
What makes a good cap? Like with jerseys, there is a Gray Flannel Rule for caps, a couple things I expect to see in quality headware:
1.) Tradition is important, like for jerseys. The best caps have been around for years, linking generations. It's a bit of a curse, because it prevents teams from following the trends of the minute. But it seems when teams who stick with their traditions look back at their histories, they're glad they did. Of course, in these days of alternate caps, teams can do both, having their cake and selling it in the team shop, too, so to speak.
2.) Letters are desired over a logo, particularly if they represent the home city. There are a couple notable exceptions, mainly linked to tradition. The White Sox, for example, have used S-O-X on their caps for most of their existence. And the Blue Jays had a nice logo, for a while.
In ways, caps are more important than the jersey in terms of establishing team identity. Relatively few people walk around in jerseys outside of a game, but lots of people wear caps. They're a more affordable link between the team and the fans. They're also a legitimate part of the major-league uniform we all can wear. When was the last time you saw someone walking around in a football helmet?
So with that in mind, here are my rankings of the best and worst caps. These are stacked in alphabetical order within a few groups. And remember, all things are relative. Even the worst baseball cap is better than most things in all other sports.
Atlanta Braves: The Braves went through cringeworthy caps until going retro with a look that uses the colors from their Milwaukee days as well as the 'A' they first used when arriving in Atlanta
Boston Red Sox: Just some slight, barely noticeable changes to the cap worn by Ted Williams. They should never change. I've purged the red-crowned caps from the 1970s from my memory.
Chicago Cubs (blue): Pure Cubbie, playful and traditional.
Cincinnati Reds (red): The classic cap with the wishbone 'C' should never be abandoned or even tinkered with after the reign of the Big Red Machine.
Note to Reds fans: He is referring to the solid red alternate caps that the Reds never wear. He references the regular home and road models later in the article. - macro
Detroit Tigers (home and road): I have no particular love for the Old English 'D,' but you have to respect a tradition that goes back 100 years. The orange 'D' on the road cap works with the gray uniforms.
Kansas City Royals (blue): I salute the Royals for sticking with this design. Like the entire Royals uniform, it's pretty bland, but you have to respect the tradition.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Few letters can be linked so effortlessly as the 'L' and 'A' in this classic cap.
New York Mets (blue): Like treasures passed down from one generation to another, the 1962 expansion Mets introduced a cap that included blue from the departed Dodgers and orange interlocking NY from the also-departed Giants.
The Other New York Team: Yes, they belong on this list. No, there's no way I'm going to say anything nice about them. Move along.
Pittsburgh Pirates (solid black): Just like Roberto Clemente wore.
San Francisco Giants: Just like Willie Mays wore. That seems like a copout, especially back-to-back with the Pirates, but I think players like that form an identity for the team, especially when carried for decades. Both the Pirates and Giants have tinkered over the years but had the sense to return home.
Washington Nationals (solid red and blue versions): Well done! Using the old Senators' "pretzel" cap was a stroke of genius, restoring tradition and a fine-looking cap. I still would like to see some kind of homage to the Expos, maybe the pretzel on a tri-panel cap for an alternate.
The Very Good
Anaheim Angels: If the team still lists Anaheim as it's home town, this is a worthy cap, especially with the little halo atop the 'A.' I've long yearned for the return of the complete halo on the crown from back in the early days, which would automatically make the cap a classic.
Baltimore Orioles (black and the black with orange visor): The Orioles caps stand out because there's nothing like them. A detailed Oriole stretches across the front. It's neat, it's different, I like it. The orange-visored version gets a slight nod, but they are both solid caps. A rare exception to the Gray Flannel test.
Chicago Cubs (red visor): There's nothing wrong with this cap, but the solid-blue version looks better and is more traditional.
Chicago White Sox: I have a black tie with the Sox logo on it. One day I wore it to work, and someone said 'Why are you wearing a tie that says 'Sex' all over it?" Looking at it closely, part of the Old English 'S' cuts down through the 'O' and makes it look like an 'e' if you aren't looking closely. I've never worn the tie again, and really it's my only beef with the logo. I liked the block letters on Sox caps in the 1960s, but they sure wouldn't look good on the current uniform. If they would amend the logo to space out the letters and avoid this problem, the cap would be a classic.
Colorado Rockies (solid black): A nice, respectable cap, neat lettering, easy to read from a distance. This cap is on its way to being a classic.
Florida Marlins: I like the Marlins, and I like that they were able to combine a graphic element and the letter in a neat way. I thought the team's original teal versions were very South Florida. But I always thought the black version just looked better.
Houston Astros (black): The Astros have had a star on their cap -- albeit with an 'H' -- since the name change. The 'H' was dropped, but a star remains, making this a Texas tradition. I didn't like this version at first, preferring the "star in motion" it replaced. But this is one design that has grown on me.
Houston Astros ("brick"): This is one alternate cap that looks good, possibly better than the main cap.
New York Mets (blue visor, black crown): I prefer the traditional, solid-blue version, but this cap looks good, especially with the solid-white uniforms. Raised dark blue letters are outlined in orange and can be a little dark.
Minnesota Twins (TC on solid navy blue): The classic Twin Cities cap was restored a couple years ago and warmly welcomed.
Oakland Athletics (gold visor, green crown): This cap has existed long enough that it qualifies as a tradition, though the green has darkened from the bright 1970s. Having an 'A' instead of an 'O' has been in place since the days of Connie Mack, though there was some KC activity in the 1960s.
Oakland Athletics (green): A solid road cap, if there must be such things.
Philadelphia Phillies (red): I considered elevating this cap to the classic level. It's not far from it.
St. Louis Cardinals (alternate): Old-schoolers -- and I tend to be one -- will howl, but I like this alternate cap better than the traditional cap. The bird on the bat logo just looks cool.
Texas Rangers (blue): A fine cap and certainly better than the one they wore from birth through the Ryan era. There's a version with a white 'T' and another with a red 'T' that are so similar that having the second version is hard to justify.
Arizona Diamondbacks (purple with 'A'): I'm not keen on purple as a cap color, but I like the Diamondbacks 'A' logo, which has snake scales and a little tongue as part of the 'A.'
Cincinnati Reds (black visor, red crown): A team called the Reds should have solid-red caps, and that version seems to be banished to alternate land. But this version still looks good.
Milwaukee Brewers: The problem with this cap isn't what it is, it's what it isn't. The 'M' is OK and the wheat a nice touch. But the whole world (at least it seems like it) is screaming for the team to bring back the classic ball-in-glove logo.
New York Mets (black): It's not bad as far as alternate black caps go. There's no reason for it to exist, but that alone doesn't make it ugly.
Pittsburgh Pirates (yellow bill): An alternate they wear with the black jerseys. Had the traditional cap not been a classic, this would be a worthy cap. At least it's better than the stovepipes.
The Just OK
Arizona Diamondbacks (black with 'D'): The logo, a snake shaped into a 'D,' isn't bad, but caps are supposed to have the letter of the home city not team name. And I just don't think black works as a color for a team from Phoenix.
Colorado Rockies (solid purple and black crown, purple bill): There's no real reason for either of these to exist. The team should stick with the solid-black version.
Minnesota Twins ('M' on solid navy blue): Like the jerseys they came with, the 'M' caps just kind of lay there. Not good enough to be good and not bad enough to end up on the ugly list.
St. Louis Cardinals (red and blue): Tough call here, because the Cardinals uniforms are Hall of Fame material. But while the jerseys are amazing, the caps fall as flat as the team's performance in the 2004 World Series. I know those are tough letters to work into something interesting, and I also realize this has been the team's logo forever. But it just doesn't do much for me.
San Diego Padres (white and gold letters): The interlocking SD is all that remains from that first Padres team, surviving some of the strangest jerseys ever worn. These are plain but don't offend.
Seattle Mariners: Not a horrible cap by any means. But the compass atop the 'S' makes things a little too busy for my tastes.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays (all three versions): There are three large elements here, a 'T,' a 'B' and the ray, and it just looks too crowded. Some simplification is in order. Maybe have one with just the ray? I lump all three versions here because they differ only in color. But the shift is from black to dark green and really isn't that noticeable.
You'll notice a trend here. A lot of these caps have an element of black added in the past couple years and foisted on us to sell alternate caps.
Cincinnati Reds (red visor, black crown): Too dark, especially for a team called the Reds.
Cleveland Indians (solid blue and red visor): Opinions on this are going to rest on your opinion of Chief Wahoo. I've said he doesn't bother me, but I'm interviewed American Indians, and it really offends them. I haven't worn my Indians cap in a while because it makes me feel kind of funny, so I'm going to finally come down on the side that says it's time to retire Wahoo.
Cleveland Indians (a thing they claim is an 'I' logo): Based on the previous rant, my thinking is the Indians are trying to slowly distance themselves from Wahoo, and my guess is this will be the primary cap in a few years. But they can do better. I look at this logo and I see a 'G,' possibly a 'J,' maybe a 'T.' But unless they added to the alphabet Mrs. White taught me back in kindergarten, that is not an 'I.'
Kansas City Royals (black crown, blue bill): Another cap that exists just to have an alternate cap.
Oakland Athletics (black): Unlike the Mets' unnecessary black cap, this one actually is ugly. Dark lettering on a dark cap is a bad thing.
Minnesota Twins (TC with red crown): Not all retro things are cool. Some should be left on the scrap heap of history.
Philadelphia Phillies (blue bill, blue star in P): Just plain dumb. This screams, "We needed an alternate cap, and this was the best we could do."
Texas Rangers (black bill): Yet another design that exists just to have an alternate cap. The black bill doesn't work.
Toronto Blue Jays (black): Aside from being ugly, the logo is too darn big. This looks like a minor-league cap. And it's black. A team named Blue Jays needs to have blue as the dominant color in its uniform. The sad part is the Jays had excellent caps during their World Series run, with the solid-blue version getting the nod over the one with the white panel. And if they're going to have a letter on their cap, it needs to be a 'T' for Toronto instead of a 'J,' which I might add is only PART of the team name.
The Embarrassment to Humanity
Toronto Blue Jays (graphite): This is what happens when you turn your design completely over to the marketing types who apparently either don't know squat about baseball and its traditions or just don't give a damn.