Tip o' the Cap

Far be it from Uni Watch to discourage anyone from writing anything by hand in this keyboard-driven age, but the trend of ballplayers putting little handwritten tributes on their caps is getting seriously weird. The practice had appeared sporadically in previous seasons but really took off this spring, when the Braves all inscribed their caps with a little "14"— the uniform number of cancer-stricken teammate Andres Galarraga, who's out for the year. Many of Galarraga's Venezuelan countrymen soon jumped on the "14" bandwagon (including Edgardo Alfonzo, Roger Cedeno, and Melvin Mora of the Mets, who apparently put national solidarity ahead of intra-division rivalry), and before long just about any player with a hangnail was being tributed on his teammates' headwear.

Houston's Jose Lima, who's had as many as four injured Astros' numbers on his cap at once, is the unofficial king of cap inscription. But injuries aren't the only things that have inspired cap tributes this season . . .

  • Venezuelan native Hector Carrasco of the Twins, whose cap already features a "14," added a "38" when teammate Rick Aguilera was traded.

  • The Cards' Mark McGwire and the Mariners' Frankie Rodriguez, Jose Mesa, and Jamie Moyer have all written their children's names or initials on their caps.

  • Oakland's Matt Stairs, an avowed hockey and wrestling nut, wrote a "99" on his cap when Wayne Gretzky retired and added an "OH" when wrestler Owen Hart died in the ring.

  • Even umpires have gotten into the act, with National League ump Angel Hernandez inscribing "CHS" on his cap after the tragedy at Columbine high school.

    Despite the league offices' legendary persnicketiness regarding uniform uniformity (remember the fuss when Deion Sanders shortened his jersey sleeves a few years back?), spokespeople from both leagues said cap customization is okay as long as it's done "tastefully." But the N.L. rep added, "Major League Properties [the game's official merchandising licensor] might be more worried about it from a marketing standpoint." This strikes Uni Watch as tragically shortsighted— instead of fretting over the inscriptions, why not capitalize on them? Hell, if the leagues can get the "14" to spread beyond the Venezuelans, they could make it a permanent design element and market a new line of tribute caps. Of course, they might have to tell Galarraga to sit out another season.

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