#Shortstops: Capping it off

Written by: Nigel Ray

Baseball caps have become a staple in American culture. And the most iconic baseball cap of all time might be the blue and white New York Yankees cap.

So what happens when someone defies the norm and decides to rock a bright red Yankee cap? Turns out that someone was Spike Lee in 1996, and his decision sparked a change in modern fashion and the headwear industry forever.

Nowadays, when you think of baseball caps you think of New Era Cap Company. New Era Cap dates all the way back to 1920 in Buffalo, N.Y., founded by Ehrhardt Koch as the E. Koch Company, and originally produced Gatsby-style caps.

As the popularity of professional baseball grew in the 1930s, New Era decided to expand their business and introduce a new item in the marketplace, the baseball cap. The first New Era professional baseball cap was produced in 1934 for the Cleveland Indians’ uniform.

Over the years, New Era would expand to more teams across pro baseball. By 1950, their clients included many of the 16 teams like the Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers and Brooklyn Dodgers.

To generate more revenue, New Era implemented both home and away caps for each team. They also sold caps to high school little league and amateur teams, understanding that they would want to wear the same caps that their favorite players in the big leagues were wearing.

In 1954,the son of Ehrhardt Koch, Harold, designed the now infamous 59FIFTY style cap. Due to their success, New Era was invited by the MLB to sell directly to every team.

New Era would continue to grow, producing hats for college sports other baseball leagues and selling caps to sports fans.

Until the 1980s, green was used on the under-visors of MLB hats because it was believed the color helped the reflection of the sun off the turf, meaning there was less stress on a player’s eyes.

But after Florida State University found that gray was actually a better option than green, New Era gave teams the option to switch it up.

No one took them up on it until 1990, when the Cincinnati Reds shifted to gray. Other than that, the caps had not changed much and New Era only produced caps in the teams primary team colors.

New Era was officially named the exclusive supplier of on-field caps for Major League Baseball in 1993.

Soon after, baseball caps would transform into a fashion statement.

In 1996, filmmaker and New York native Spike Lee simply wanted a red Yankees cap to match a red Yankees jacket that he had for the 1996 World Series. Aware that at that time the only hat you could get was the one the players had, Lee decided to call up Chris Koch at New Era for his request. New Era was on board but first had to call Yankees owner George Steinbrenner for approval.

Steinbrenner agreed and Lee wore the red cap to the World Series. This created such a buzz that soon everyone wanted a red Yankees cap. The red Yankees cap added a fashion side to New Era's business and is now about half of their focus. Today you can find any MLB team hat in virtually every color. And the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s collection contains many different color caps, such as a paisley Mariners’ cap and pink Astros headwear.

Different brands now collaborate with New Era for all kinds of themed hats with all sorts of colors and materials. The red cap Spike wore changed the future of creativity and collaboration. This important moment has propelled New Era's business to thrive in the streetwear market as well as the collector/consumer culture of today.

Nigel Ray is a 2022 membership intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development

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