Casing at the Bat

Uni Watch has no great love for the Florida Marlins, what with the teal motif and those awful black jerseys with the ridiculously clunky lettering (have you noticed they can barely fit Todd Hollandsworth's name on his back?). Still, their post-season run has provided a gratifyingly high-profile showcase for outfielder Juan Pierre, who's single-handedly preserving a little-noted old-school uniform style: He's the only current big leaguer to wear his cap under his batting helmet while hitting.

In baseball's early days, of course, there were no batting helmets, so all players wore their caps in the batter's box. When helmets were introduced in the 1950s, many players simply wore them atop their caps. It's not clear exactly when or why the stacked cap/helmet style began to wane, but the most common explanation Uni Watch has heard is that caps were less comfortable when worn beneath earflap helmets. Photographic evidence does seem to confirm that the rise of helmet earflaps—which were introduced in 1964, became increasingly popular in the 1970s, and were made mandatory for new players in 1983—roughly corresponds with the decline of the cap/helmet combo.

In any case, the last big-name player to wear his cap beneath his helmet was Eddie Murray (also one of the last non-earflap hitters, thereby reinforcing that hypothesis). After he retired in 1997, the next and seemingly final custodian of the stacked style was journeyman infielder Kurt Abbott, who last played in 2001. Fortunately, that's when Pierre became an everyday player.

Pierre's motivation may be more practical than stylistic: He has the smallest noggin in the majors (teammates call him "Peanut Head") and may simply need the cap to serve as an extra layer to keep his helmet securely in place. Repeated inquiries on this point to the Marlins PR department were unavailing, but it's worth noting that Pierre is also among the last players to wear genuine stirrups, making him a throwback literally from head to toe. Alas, his career has so far been spent with two of the game's most aesthetically challenged franchises—the Marlins and the Rockies—where his traditionalist look has largely gone to waste. Quick, trade this guy to the Dodgers, Red Sox, or Tigers, where his good taste can finally be put to good use.

 
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