Thursday, May 2, 2013

May 2- Oakland Athletics



It’s kind of crazy to think that I’ve been in hot pursuit of this hat for the last three years, but I finally got it. This, in my opinion, is one of the two Holy Grails of Philadelphia/Kansas City/Oakland Athletics caps. It was first brought to my attention almost a decade ago by my friend Jason Cobb (@MrCobbyCobb), an avid collector of sports memorabilia like myself. At the time I wasn’t as into collecting New Era Caps as I’ve become over the last few years. I’ve always been a big of the product, but for some reason I always felt that New Era Caps looked weird on my head so I never really actively pursued it as a hobby; even though deep down I’ve always wanted to buy them.

Back in 2010 when the collection started I had a skimpy beard growth. I could have easily gotten into full “player” status like it is today, but back in those days I was sporting a Mohawk and felt that a bushy beard made me look more like a crystal meth dealer, so I decided against it. When the summer of 2011 came around I kissed the Mohawk goodbye and began actively growing out my hair into the shaggy mess that it is today, much like Athletics players of the 1960s and 1970s like my dad used to watch as he was growing up. This was also the point in time when I was dared to grow my beard out like Brian Wilson for Halloween, and since I never really liked the early stages of my hair growing out I decided to finally show off the New Era collection I had been building. I don’t know what it was, but New Era Caps have never looked better on me than when I look like a hobo. From there, the rest is history as they say.

My original collection consisted primarily of one hat per team; however, the only exception I intended on making was for the Athletics because they’ve been my team for the last 26 years. Anytime I saw a cap from their past I made an effort to scoop it up, including Minor League caps from my youth up through today’s affiliates. This white cap; however, had always eluded me month-after-month, to the point where I had given up hope on it for a solid seven months at the end of the 2012 season through February of this year. In fact, the one person I need to thank the most for reviving my interest in it is my fellow right field bleacher chum Omar Gonzalez (@OmarInTheOF). During a daily perusing of Facebook I came across a post by Majestic Athletic (@MajesticOnField), the suppliers of everything and anything MLB apparel related. If I remember correctly they were asking a question about what uniform from their team’s history would we mostly want to wear. I merely liked the post while Omar commented on it citing the old sleeveless jerseys from the 1970s paired with the white manager/coaches cap. At the moment when I saw that my lust for the cap was reborn.

It would take me another month of daily monitoring through my go to hat Web sites before I had a hit. On March 28, three days before the start of the 2013 season, my quest finally came to an end. One of my favorite sites, MickeyPlace.com, had completely overhauled their display pages and apparently restocked most of their inventory. My eyes lit up and my mouth frothed at its beauty. Yes, I realize I’m talking about a hat here, but there’s no reason to judge me. Anyway, I had been to the actual store in Cooperstown, New York this last August with my friend Dave Kaufman (@TheKaufmanShow) and picked up a score of hats at the time, but didn’t see any sign of this cap. I had always just assumed it wasn’t one they would ever carry. Perhaps this helps better explain my jubilance. There was; however, a bit of hesitation on my part. Mickey’s Place isn’t like Lids or Hat Club, and by that I mean they don’t have a discount card or program set up to aid hat collectors like myself. Every now-and-then they would run 20% off deals; the last of which had come in December of 2012. Being the patient buyer that I am I sat and waited… and waited… and waited for two weeks. Come to think of it, I really didn’t wait that long. That’s right, two weeks into the season Mickey’s Place sent me an email for a 20% off sale which I promptly took advantage of. I texted my girlfriend Angie Kinderman (@sconnieangie) and had it, my 1957 Chicago Cubs and 1940-1955 St. Louis Cardinals hats shipped to her place so that they would arrive the same time I did to her place in Florida. Also, shipping from New York to Florida takes way less time. But alas! After so many years of waiting and shady go-betweens, it’s resting snug on my shaggy dome.

This hat was introduced in 1968, the first year the Athletics took the field in Oakland, and was worn by every manager and coach from then until the end of the 1981 season. What’s most interesting about the hat that I bought is the label of it being a 1982 Athletics manager cap; however, I have yet to come across a photo beyond 1981 of anyone in a coaching role wearing it. I had to consult Paul Lukas’s Web site UniWatch.com and a slew of Topps baseball cards to confirm a few of the bits in pieces of history. But even at that Lukas still has the A’s only wearing this hat through the 1970s, but I’ll get to that later. Longtime A’s owner Charlie Finley originally came up with the concept of having the managers and coaches wear a different cap than the players; one of many innovations Finley brought to the game including the idea of the designated hitter. Obviously in the case of the DH his ideas weren’t all winners. This particular style was worn from 1971-1977, then it was  forgotten for a few years until making a resurgence in 1980-1981, but only for a handful of games. Like the uniforms of today the hat had to match the uniform.

Another interesting facet of this time period is a story I picked up on a few years ago and may be one of the biggest reasons why Finley decided to have the hat made. Back in 1967, the Athletics’ final year in Kansas City, Finley had all ready had his team rocking white shoes, because let’s face it, the A’s are kind of badass like that. That season also marked one of the most questionable of rivalry moves in sports history. Back in the old Philadelphia Athletics days their biggest rival was actually the Washington Senators. The Athletics only played the New York Giants in the World Series and there has never really been any known bitterness toward the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox; however, with the Senators there was, but I’ll go into greater detail in a post down the road. Even though the A’s had moved out of Philly at the end of the 1954 season this did not necessarily mean that old habits died hard. This is baseball after all. Senators general manager George Selkirk hated the white shoes the A’s had been wearing and as a sign of rebellion he had his players wear white socks and white caps on the road in Kansas City as well as during both ends of a doubleheader back in DC and again in Kansas City for another doubleheader. I kid you not, this actually made headlines in the Washington Post.

Now, back to brass tax. As cool as this style was back in the day, I just can’t see Bob Melvin sporting something like this in the dugout, and it really makes me question why a guy like Dick Williams did back in the 70s. Williams and Melvin both had/have a lot of respect for their players, and as much as one would think a change in a uniform accessory would mean much I have to disagree. Williams and Melvin are both managers who defend their players and get the best out of them. In their eyes everyone is equal, down to the coaching staff. A difference in appearance my cause a rift amongst the team. I realize this seems a bit absurd, but you’re also forgetting that baseball players are incredibly superstitious, like myself. Any change in the game plan could spell doom, just like the Senators found out back in the 60s. One of the other reasons why Selkirk opted for the white hats was to serve as a “slumpbuster” of sorts for his constantly losing ball club. It didn’t help. If there’s anything that I’ve learned over time that seems to remain consistent it’s that only the A’s can be successful in making extreme uniform changes.

The numbers were an easy choice; however, I did screw up on one of them. By that I mean I added one extra number by accident, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

#23- From 1971-1973 Dick Williams was THE premier manager in the Majors, and for those three wonderful years he was the skipper for the Athletics in Oakland. During his tenure he amassed a record of 288-190 and won back-to-back World Series in 1972 and 1973. He would have been the manager in 1974 had it not been for Finley’s cheapness when it comes to talent. His shrewdness led to Reggie Jackson moving on to the Baltimore Orioles and Jim “Catfish” Hunter to the New York Yankees. Williams was intolerant of this and tendered his resignation, if you will, and signed on to manage the team’s divisional rival, the California Angels, at the tail end of the 1974 season. Williams was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame as manager in 2008 and is actually the only known member of the Hall of Fame to be a registered sex offender. This is an unfortunate, sad truth. I won’t go into much detail, you’ll have to look it up yourself to see how bogus it is.

#5- Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio never looked better in an Athletics uniform. When I wrote his number on my cap I did it without clearly thinking. By that I mean I totally spaced out. I had no intention of adding it on because of the fact that the white cap that he wore was not the same as the one that Williams, the next name and I are wearing. But, since I’m on the subject, here’s how DiMaggio became a member of the A’s.

As I mentioned above the A’s had moved to Oakland at the end of the 1967 season. For a while Finley had been hounding DiMaggio to join the front office, but DiMaggio originally wanted no part of it. Finely knew the name along would be a draw ever though the position Finley wanted to hire him for was Executive Vice President and consultant. Consultant meaning hitting coach. The main reason DiMaggio agreed was…

1.The A’s were close enough to his home in San Francisco.

2. The biggest reason: DiMaggio needed two more full years in baseball to receive the maximum pension. It was a win-win for him.

From 1968-1970 he wore the white cap, shoes and uniform. Classy.

#1- From 1980-1982 the Athletics hired Billy Martin as their skipper in between his second and third stint as manager of the Yankees. E went 215-218 in his three year stint and gave Martin and extra excuse to vent some anger-related issues brought on after his second firing by George Steinbrenner. His best year with the A’s (1981), was stymied by the Yankees in the American League Championship Series as the A’s were swept three games to none. 1981 was an interesting year that was shortened by the fourth players strike since 1972 and divided the season up into two halves, ushering in the first unintentional American League Division Series as the winners of each half of the season squared off against one another to see who would be playing in the ALCS. The Athletics won the first half while the Kansas City Royals won the second half, which then led to a three games to none sweep of the Royals.

The hat now serves as a reminder of the early years in Athletics baseball in Oakland and how a team can go from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. The A's owned the early part of the 1970s, becoming the first, and only West Coast dynasty. After that, the team faded into obscurity for a short period of time before developing more of their draft picks before sending them away. It's a cycle I've never particularly been a fan of, but one I've grown accustomed to. While the current owner and general manager work almost identically to the Finley era, I suppose this is truly what Athletics baseball is all about. The players will give their all year-after-year and a manager will eventually become tired of the system and opt out. I can only hope that the BoMel era is here to stay.

4 comments:

  1. This was the first A's hat my dad ever got when he was a kid, and you still see him get a little twinkle in his eyes whenever he sees this hat or the short sleeve jerseys. Pretty rare I get to see him like that. Nice post :-)

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  2. Great article. I've also been looking for this hat. Can't seem to find one but I'm glad a collector like your self has this.

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