Requiem for the Ball Cap

I’m a cap guy. By my own estimation I’ve spent more of my life wearing a baseball cap than without. This is for two reasons.

One, my father was a farmer and had an extensive collection of ball caps given to him by any number of organizations. I took up that collector’s impulse early on. Two, the reason my father and I probably favored wearing a hat was largely genetic. We come from a long line of bald men.

By the time I was a senior in high school my hair line had already begun it’s retreat. This is embarrassing for an 18-year-old and a hat hid that. But now that I’m older and don’t care that I’m bald, a hat is a more functional choice. It keeps the sun and cold out. Now the problem is finding a decent looking cap to serve that purpose.

Somewhere around the early ’90s, ball cap design really started to explore the canvas. First it was the rear logo, then side logos, then stitching on the bill, then designs that encompassed all those elements. Cap front stitching went from flat to raised and there were flexfits and Velcro closures popping up everywhere. The fabric changed from wool to acrylic blends and performance textiles. Even Major League Baseball switched from a 100% wool cap to a polyester blend in 2007, eliminating the Levi’s-esque shrink to fit method many, myself included, had employed to garner the right look.

In 1988 if I wanted to buy a Chicago Bears hat I would’ve had a hard time finding anything other than a navy blue wool cap with an orange ‘C’. In 2010, that exact hat is all that I want and it’s incredibly hard to find.

A few years ago I found a solution to this cap problem. Cooperstown Ball Cap Co. produced handmade historical reproduction caps one at a time. They featured heavy 12-13 ounce wool flannel construction, period appropriate fits and real horsehide hatbands. Their selection was unparalleled. CBC Co. had just about any historical MLB design you wanted but the collection truly shone outside the professional ranks. Tractor company teams, teams from the Chicago brewery and New York nightclub leagues, Native American tribe teams, essentially anything with a historical record to work from was in play. If you wanted a short brimmed 1912 Beatrice (Neb.) Milkskimmers hat or a 1947 Tip Top Club cap, and who wouldn’t, this was THE source.

Leather hatband and Cooperstown Ball Cap Co. tag

The original purpose of this post was to extol the virtues of Cooperstown Ball Cap Co. heading into baseball season, but a visit to their website shows that the company has ceased operations citing increased costs and legal trouble. The latter isn’t surprising considering that they were producing MLB designs, but in terms of craftsmanship alone it’s a big loss. The wool blends offered by the MLB endorsed Cooperstown Collection hardly compare but that now looks like your only source if you’re in the market for a 1969 Seattle Pilots “scrambled egg” design. You get the same basic look with none of the texture or shape of the original.

In my mind, that’s a pretty significant loss. Looks like my 1914 Free Soil and 1908 Cubs caps, along with the two 100% wool 5950s I was able to rescue from the store shelves before they were phased out, will have to last quite a while.

Out of the 300 or so hats I own, they might be the only “real” baseball caps I have left.

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