Commentary

The evolution of MLB's July 4 caps

Originally Published: July 2, 2013
By Paul Lukas | ESPN.com

Mora-Chisenhall-FranconaGetty Images

Thursday is Independence Day, which means MLB teams will once again be wearing stars-and-stripes caps. You can see this year's crop of caps here.

The use of flag-based cap imagery on July 4 began during the 2002 season as a response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Some fans view the caps as a worthy gesture of patriotism; others see them as just another way for MLB to sell more merchandise (although it's worth noting that MLB has donated proceeds from the cap sales to Welcome Back Veterans since 2008).

Either way, the cap designs have steadily evolved over the past dozen years. Here's a year-by-year look at that evolution:

2002-05: Teams wear small American flag patches sewn into the left side of their caps.

2006: In an apparent cost-cutting move, the sewn flag patches are replaced by adhesive flag patches. Unfortunately, the adhesive isn't sticky enough, so many of the patches start to slip out of place. After some flag patches fall off, players stick them back on but sometimes accidentally position them upside-down and/or in the wrong place.

2007: More flag follies, as Nationals pitcher John Patterson's flag patch falls off his cap and gets stuck in his sideburn. Patterson remains oblivious to the situation until catcher Brian Schneider trots out to the mound and does some on-the-spot grooming for him.

2008: MLB scraps the flag patches altogether and creates a series of navy caps with flag-themed team logos (plus a star-spangled MLB logo for the umpires). The Blue Jays get a version based on the Canadian flag instead of the American flag. The blue caps look OK for teams that wear blue but not so good for teams that don't wear blue.

2009: The caps change from navy to red, again with the star-spangled team logos (except for the Blue Jays, who once again get a Canadian flag version). Unfortunately, it quickly becomes apparent that red just doesn't work with many teams' color schemes.

2010: One year of red, one year of blue -- can white be far behind? Sure enough, MLB comes out with a new line of flag-themed white caps but tries to solve the problem of clashing colors by giving some teams blue brims and other teams red brims. For the most part, it works (in part because the star-spangled logos really pop on a white background), although a few of the color choices are still head-scratchers. Why did the Orioles get a blue brim, for example, instead of red?

2011: Instead of using a white crown with a red or blue brim, MLB ups the ante by using white front panels with red or blue brims and crowns -- sort of a combination of the previous three seasons' designs. Once again, some of the designs work well enough; others, not so much.

2012: In a complete shift of gears, MLB replaces the flag imagery with camouflage logos. Makes sense -- after all, camouflage is what the founding fathers wore when they signed the Declaration of Independence. No, wait, camouflage is what the colonists wore when they fought the British during the Revolutionary War. OK, so there's actually no good reason to wear camouflage on July 4, unless you think camouflage is an all-purpose symbol of patriotism, but apparently nobody thought about that. Another thing they must not have thought about: For the most part, camo just makes a logo look muddy.

That brings us up to the present day. If you look again at this year's crop of caps, you'll see MLB has scrapped the camo and basically gone back to the 2010 template, except now some of the caps are white and some are gray, depending on whether the team in question is playing at home or on the road July 4.

Also of note: When this year's caps were unveiled, the Indians' version featured Chief Wahoo. But then it was announced the Indians will instead wear their block-C logo. MLB says the switcheroo was due to New Era having mistakenly released the wrong cap photo when it unveiled this year's headwear. But many observers think MLB changed course after many media outlets criticized the star-spangled Wahoo image as being inappropriate.

Either way, one thing is clear: The A's and Rockies will look ridiculous again on July 4, just like they always do, because these caps never match their color schemes. Think of it as baseball's latest Independence Day tradition.

Paul Lukas liked it better when teams just wore their regular caps on July 4. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his daily Uni Watch website, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted or just ask him a question? Contact him here.