Tipping and ripping the cap

A belated tip of the cap to this year’s Baseball Hall of Fame inductees. I know the NFL and NBA Halls had their 2010 inductions more recently, and an eventual nodding of the helmets to the former may follow. It’s just that a recent conversation prompted this post.

In this era of free agency, the need for players to don one team’s cap over another when their plaque is created seems to be something of a relic, especially when a player has left an indelible mark on multiple teams. Even if the bulk of his career or prime numbers rest mainly with one team, should that team be solely associated with that player when he gave another some great years? Conversely, if, say, a contract or personal quarrel leaves bad blood between a player and the team where his HOF numbers were earned, should that player have the right to select some team where he had less impact?

Admittedly, most inductees do lean to one team or another in terms of career dominance, and Wikipedia, under the "Players with multiple teams" heading, does have a nice explanation of how the team is picked (basically, the HOF decides, with the player’s opinion merely considered). They also refer to some of the same players I discuss below. Further, in some of my arguments, I’m not saying a World Championship or MVP award should decide what cap a player wears; I simply think it could influence the decision to not make a choice.

To start, I’m thinking of stars like Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson. Both were dominant with World Championship Oakland teams in the first half of the 1970s, but then helped World Championship Yankee teams in the second half of the 70s. When it came to Hall of Fame affiliation, I like what Catfish did: no logo on his cap. It would have been hard to argue with him or the powers that be if he went in representing Oakland, but he did enough for two teams that he should not have had to choose. I wish others made, or could make, the same choice. As for Reggie, well, his most memorable feat involved those three consecutive pitches that he blasted for home runs in the 1977 World Series, but his overall numbers suggest that he shouldn’t be wearing the NY cap he chose.

Carlton Fisk’s choice resembles Jackson’s in that he played more time in Chicago, but picked Boston, where he famously coaxed that homer in the 1975 playoffs. Then again, how about Gary Carter? Here’s a case where a player selected the Expos team where he put up his biggest numbers, but his impact on the World Champion Mets and his years in New York certainly were not trivial. And then there is Wade Boggs, who had bigger numbers and a longer part of his career with one team, but won a championship and put up good numbers with another. His preference, though, was to pick a third team’s cap. I think the Catfish cap-less model would have best suited these players.

Let’s consider that other Hall of Famer from the Expos, the player who started the argument for me, and is from this class of 2010: I just picture Andre Dawson in a Cubs uniform, and understand that it is their cap he wanted to wear. He played nearly twice as much time with the Expos, but, well, maybe he isn’t the best example, because neither team won with him. Dave Winfield’s numbers are more evenly split among two teams, although they lean slightly against the team he chose. As for the post season, well, he won a World Series, but with a third team. Forget about the World Series here; no cap again seems like it would have been a good choice for both.

How about Dennis Eckersley? Played for a bunch of different teams and had different successful roles with them. Rickey Henderson? More success in Oakland than anywhere else, but 25 years, 9 teams, and World Series wins on 2 of them. These two seem like they should be cap-less. Frank Robinson? So high on the home run list before the steroid era, but perhaps more famous for earning an MVP award on teams in both leagues. It seems like his plaque merits some special dual-team cap or none at all.

In the steroid era, if consideration is given to folks like Clemens, Bonds, McGwire, and Palmiero, what caps would they don? All had success with more than one team. If it can be decided that they were clean with one team, and…oh, let's just forget about this crew…

Obviously, I’ve focused on players I’ve seen. Babe Ruth, though, made a name for himself as a Red Sox pitcher before he built his house on 161st St. But folks such as Ruth, Dizzy Dean, Lefty Grove, and Hank Greenberg really slant heavily toward one team in terms of numbers and/or championships. I could not make an argument for them donning any but the cap they are wearing, but could endorse their foregoing one.

Then there is the separate argument for certain managers—very good players with one or two teams, and very good managers with another team or two (Joe Torre, Lou Piniella). I like the idea of players who make large contributions to the game being enshrined, even if their career as a player or manager alone doesn't merit HOF inclusion. And, I like them going in without a lid.

Some related questions that come to mind on this topic follow. If many inductees from one team are already in Cooperstown, are, say, Winfield and Carter’s choices an honor to their selected team? Is the text on the plaque, which cites each team for which the inductee played, sufficient recognition of their service to these teams? When someone like Cal Ripken comes along, could/should his singular association with the Orioles be rewarded or acknowledged somehow?

What do you think? Should a player go in wearing a team-logo cap or go in without such affiliation?

Either way, again, congrats to those that made it.


  1. Catfish Hunter’s innovative solution notwithstanding, assigning a cap with a team logo to each newly enshrined Hall of Famer is a longstanding tradition, and like most baseball traditions, it’s probably here to stay. Nonetheless, I wish you every success lobbying for a hatless Hall. You have at least a lifetime’s work ahead of you.

    I don’t run the Hall (all in all a good thing), but if I did, my rule for assigning HoF hats would be: the player wears the hat of the first team for which his performance suggested he had Cooperstown on his travel itinerary. Not necessarily the team for which he played longest or played best, not necessarily the team for which he passed Hall-worthy milestones, and not necessarily the team for which he won championships. In some cases, the cap I would choose for the player is different from the one pictured on his Cooperstown plaque.

    For most of the players you mention, it would be the player’s first team, since most future Hall of Famers show their promise right from the start. Hunter, Jackson, and Henderson: all I would enshrine as members of Oakland; Fisk, Boggs, and Clemens (if ever): Boston; Carter: Montreal; Winfield: San Diego; and so on.

    While there must be others, in applying my rule, I can think of only five players for which the cap would bear the logo of a team other than the player’s first:
    1) Lou Brock (Cardinals). The Cubs clearly did not recognize Brock’s potential. More than 45 years later, even string theory cannot explain Chicago’s trade of the 25 year-old Brock to St. Louis.
    2) Nolan Ryan (Angels). I think the Mets recognized Ryan’s talent, but after five seasons in NY, Nolan was a disappointing 9 games under .500, and the Mets seemed all too happy to get an aging Jim Fregosi in exchange. Interestingly, Ryan chose to be enshrined as a member of his last team, the Texas Rangers. One could argue that the Rangers were the third -- perhaps even the fourth -- most important team to Ryan’s legacy.
    3) Steve Carlton (Phillies). As a member of the Cardinals, Carlton had some very good years (20 wins in ’71), but the trade to Philadelphia for Rick Wise was not, as I recall, viewed as one-sided in the Phils’ favor. It was in Philly that Carlton became “Lefty.”
    4) Dennis Eckersley (Oakland). As you mention, Eckersley was good, even very good, as a starter with Cleveland, Boston, and the Cubs, but nothing close to a Hall of Famer. The Eck was not great until he got to Oakland and metamorphosed into one of the most reliable closers ever.
    5) Rich “Goose” Gossage (Yankees). Goose was Eck 10 years earlier: good with the White Sox and very good for one season with Pittsburgh, but few would have whispered Cooperstown based on those early years. He emerged as an effective and feared reliever only after signing with the Yankees.

    Applying any rule can lead to unintended consequences. Applying my rule leaves me uneasy with two cap assignments:
    1) Frank Robinson. My rule says Cincinnati Reds; my eyes (and heart) say Baltimore Orioles, but this is no doubt in large part due to my having come to baseball consciousness in 1ate 1966, the year Robinson won the triple crown in Baltimore. Robinson chose to be enshrined as an Oriole.
    2) Babe Ruth. Ruth not only pitched like a Hall of Famer in Boston, but hit like one. Sometimes lost in the discussion is the fact that in his last two seasons with the Sox, Ruth played more than 180 games in the field while pitching less than in previous years. However, the phrase “Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer, Babe Ruth,” although not factually incorrect, strikes the ear as somewhat awkward, even borderline ungrammatical. Perhaps George Herman best supports your argument for all hats to be off.

    Let’s reconvene this discussion in about 8 or 10 years when Jim Thome gets voted in.


  2. Thanks, B.

    Your association of Frank Robinson in an Orioles uniform resonates with me: One of the last edits I made to my post was wiping out the following sentence, which I did to manage length and not out of worry about it actually watering down my position: “Further, I will weaken my argument by noting trivial things like, say, a baseball card may create my slanted association of a player and team.” Cards from when I first started collecting feature Hank Aaron on the Brewers, Willie Mays on the Mets, Frank Robinson on the Angels, etc, so, yes, we can’t always go back to what we remember when rationalizing this.

    Your solution would keep the vast majority of players under the same cap, but the ones it moves around make me wince a bit.

    Just like we will have to see about Thome, it will be interesting to see how your theory shakes out for the caps chosen for Mike Piazza, Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay, Jim Edmonds, Johnny Damon (admittedly not all of these are shoe-ins, but some have been discussed on the Baseball Reference site as at least decent candidates). I think, though, it will be difficult to differentiate when some of these players were just “very good”, and when they became “HOF worthy”. With players these days eligible for free agency after 5 seasons (you know, after they’ve been a starter for a few seasons, and are reaching their prime), and with some teams better able to secure their prospects than others, this issue should only get cloudier.


  3. And, in the first sentence of the last paragraph of my reply, I think it would have been preferable to write "caps chosen by"...

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  5. Remembering Mays as a Met and Aaron as a Brewer? Boy, were you ever born a few
    years late! Of course I can only remember Roger Maris as a Cardinal and Eddie
    Mathews as a Tiger.

    Of the current/recent players you mention in your comment, the surest Hall of Famer is
    Piazza, one of the best hitting catchers of all time. His numbers in LA are such that I
    would have no hesitation inducting him as a Dodger. Similarly, Damon (probably a
    marginal Hall candidate) put in six solid years in Kansas City before moving on. By the
    OBP + SLG criterion, Damon’s last two seasons in KC are as good as any he had in
    Boston or NY. If he goes, I say he does so as a KC Royal. Going forward, Cliff Lee will
    present the most interesting test case. His Cleveland years are very reminiscent of Steve
    Carlton's time in St. Louis. But in contrast to Carlton, who spent 15 years in Philly after
    leaving St. Louis, Lee has now sampled 3 teams in a season and a half since leaving
    Cleveland. Perhaps he has not yet played for the team he will represent in Cooperstown,
    if indeed that's where he's headed.

    As for Thome, I should learn not to trust my memory. When I impulsively added his
    name to my earlier comment, it was based on my recalling his having spent only 4 or 5
    years in Cleveland. In fact, he spent 12 years "by the lake," eight as an everyday player,
    and his numbers there are better than they have been anywhere he's played since. So if he
    goes in, I say he goes as a Cleveland Indian.


  6. Your comment about associating players with the teams on their 70s Topps cards resonated with me.

    And since I'm a trainspotter, here's the breakdown of the players/teams you mentioned:

    Hank Aaron, Brewers
    Aaron appeared as a Brewer on his regular 75 and 76 Topps cards. The airbrushing job on the 75 card, um, lacks nuance.

    Willie Mays, Mets
    His lone appearance as a Met on a regular Topps card was in 73. He also showed up on a 74 World Series highlight card.

    Frank Robinson, Angels
    OK, the record will show that Robby appeared as an Angel on his 73 and 74 cards. However, the 73 card has to rank as one of the worst airbrushing jobs to ever trouble a Topps set. It's an action photo of Robby swinging away in a Dodgers uni-- a small effort was made to erase the Dodgers logo from his chest, but otherwise, it's Dodger blue all the way. Epic fail, as the kids say...

  7. Well, BB, just to be clear, I did turn those cards over and read the back of them many, many times. So, yeah, I know I missed seeing some great ones play, but who hasn't? {This quote--true or not-- from Hall of Famer Joe Sewell says it all "You can talk about Willie Mays and Joe DiMaggio and all the other great centerfielders you want, but none of them, and I mean none of them, could carry Tris Speaker's glove."

    I can certainly see Piazza, Damon, and Thome entering the Hall as you think they should, but I think their contributions to some of the other teams for which they played make it quite debatable. Still, you know your stuff; you should write for Retrosheet...

    And, Sliced Tongue, when it comes to baseball cards, Namaste.

    George, thanks very much for the compliment and offer. I'll write you separately.

  8. Sewell may well be right about Speaker's defensive skills. I don't know the numbers, but Speaker is to outfield assists what Cy Young is to wins -- miles ahead of whoever is in second place. And as a result of his speed and ability to play shallow, I have read that Speaker is one of a small number of outfielders to have recorded an unassisted double play, and he did it more than once -- not only more than once in his career, but more than once in a season. And you and Sewell are both certainly correct in averring that we all suffer the limited perspective not having been around to see the baseball stars of the early 20th century.

    I didn't say I would vote for Damon for the Hall, at least not if he retires tomorrow. A few more years of productive play (say, getting to 3000 hits) will make his "marginal" candidacy a good bit stronger. Meanwhile, I see him at risk of being seated in the same liferaft as a number of top tier outfielders of the past 50 years, awaiting rescue by the veterans committee. Two such players, Al Oliver and Rocky Colavito, were recently profiled on the Baseball Past and Present website. I would consider them both approximate equals of Damon. Others in that boat and not dramatically inferior to Damon in my view are Dale Murphy, Roger Maris, Andy Van Slyke, Jimmy Wynn, and perhaps even the two famous fathers, Bobby Bonds and Ken Griffey, Sr.

    Thanks for a fun discussion.


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