James Hedberg

Whose Hat Is This?

October 17th, 2010 by

Desperately in need of a cap, and not being prone to reckless endorsements, I recently descended on downtown Montreal looking for a plain ol’ hat – something to shield my eyes from the setting sun while catching fly balls and keep my tawny locks dry in the rain while not claiming any particular association to a major league franchise or apparel conglomerate. After several laps around the Eaton Center, it became clear that most hats for sale in malls have a big name or logo splattered across the front, like Gap, or Yankees, or Nike for example.  Those that didn’t, could only be found in the more boutique vendors of Saint Catherine Street, with price tags approaching 50 dollars, a bit much for a hat that will most likely be left in the seat-back in front of me, or forgotten on a hook at a bar. And so, quickly running out of lunch time, I made one final stop at the home of the so-called Sports Experts. After staring at their wall of hats for several minutes, my hopes were dashed against that wall like a rowboat in a gale.

Defeated, I looked for the door. But then, I saw a small, glass enclosed display case, with little tokens from sports history laid out in careful order. There were autographed hockey pucks, collectible cards, and other memorabilia from recent years. In the corner, sat a slightly soiled, perhaps used, definitely neglected, white hat with a black brim and some unassuming stripes leading from the crown to the band. After locating a real Sports Expert capable of opening the display case for closer inspection (not an easy task by the way), it was evident that this hat was not the former headwear of a hall of famer, nor was it worn by a local celebrity during a charity event, but was merely just a dirty hat sitting in the corner. In response to my query, the Expert casually revealed, as if it would somehow dissuade my purchase, ‘It’s an umpire hat.’ Five dollars later, it was mine.

The hat in action

I wore the hat to our softball game later that day, and it worked perfectly, in every way a hat should: guarding my eyes from the oblique rays of light while providing a touch of authenticity for my softball uniform (It totally matched our jerseys). And yet, in response to several queries about the origins of the hat, I had little to offer regarding its heritage. I stuck with the Expert’s assessment of it as an Umpire’s hat, somewhat enjoying the ironic authority offered by such a accessory. Now, it should be noted that this hat bore the trademark of Major League Baseball (MLB) on its tags and rear band – making it an officially licensed product – meaning it should have a pedigree of sorts. As others questioned the meaning of my cap (just who or what was I endorsing by wearing this hat?), my confidence in the Expert’s description was slipping away.

After reviewing some footage from a major league game, it was obvious this was no umpire hat. The hats donned by the modern arbitrators of baseball games are black, with a big MLB logo on the front. So much for Mr. Sports Expert.

Now, it does so happen that the occasional referee calling the shots in a Canadian Football League (CFL) match might sport a similar hat. This seems to be an exception though, as most of their hats are black as well, not to mention that the hat in question has its roots in baseball, as the stitched in MLB logo would require. So, this can only be a coincidental correspondence. Still no answers.

The next clue came from a teammate on The Caterpillars. He recalled, in a feat of amazing visual information storage, a photo of the great Satchel Paige wearing a similar hat. True enough, a quick survey of Paige’s history does show him with a white cap with dark stripes. However, a more thorough inspection revealed some inconsistencies. Living in the era before color photography was common, the only photos of Paige wearing this hat are naturally black and white. But, colorizations of the image all seem to indicate that the trim on the hat was not black, but was in fact red. In all likelihood, the hat in the photo was the one shown below, from the 1940’s Kansas City Monarchs. And so, still no verifiable source.

Satchel Paige's Hat

Satchel Paige's hat was probably white with red trim

A thorough browse of the hat maker’s online store revealed no match. Neither did the official MLB hat store. Thus we turn to the archives. The 1908 Washington Senators, shown below, were not by any statistical assessment a noteworthy team – they placed seventh in the league that year with a .441 winning percentage. But, they did have nice hats. At least some of them.

1908 Washington Senators

The 1908 Washington Senators - check out those lids.

Wid ConroyHere’s a card featuring Wid Conroy from the following year, and by all reckoning, it looks like he’s got my hat. Of course, the bill’s a little shorter as they were back then, but the style appears the same. White hat – black stripes, nothing else.

Could this be the hat? I think rather than diving deeper into the mire, I will pause the investigation here and be content with this explanation. I’m happy wearing a Senators hat. My neighbor for many years, George Case, played for them, and had they not relocated to Minnesota in the 60’s, they very well could have been my team, as my birthplace is just across the across the Potomac from Washington DC.

If by some chance, you, the reader, knows more about this hat, do let me know. I’ll stick with the Senators story until otherwise informed.

Edit [October 22, 2011]
Another candidate has been found…

2 Comments

  1. ian
    Posted November 7, 2010 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    man, what a mystery! i looked through the caps at mlb.com thinking that maybe that was a repository of all officially licensed caps, but it’s pretty clear that’s not the case. anyway, here’s the closest one i found but it’s certainly not your cap.
    1917 white sox cap http://shop.mlb.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2208336&cp=717873.1671829.1168173

    ps how cool is this old st. louis browns cap?
    http://shop.mlb.com/product/index.jsp?productId=1902674&cp=717873.1671829.1168925

  2. james
    Posted November 7, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the sleuthing Ian. I hadn’t seen that WS one, and it’s oh-so close. It seems fair to think that mlb would have their whole catalog online. Maybe I’ll try to get in touch with Ken Burns and see if he knows anything.