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A Tip of the Hat to Hats

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Posted: Tuesday January 05, 1999 06:32 PM

 

Sometimes you write off the top of your head.

This one is about hats.

Every generation is shaped by its hats. First thing kids do now when they shop for a new hat is try it on backward, and then they bend the bill into a croquet wicket. This isn't at all what we did with our new caps back in the 1960s. First thing we did was put our favorite player's baseball card in the front to push the crown up nice and high. Mine always had Lou Brock.

You can mark the passages in your life by what happens to your hats. When you marry, the first thing your wife makes you take off the wall is your hat collection. When you apply for the big job, you throw your hat in the ring. When you retire, you hang up your hat. Men are bonded to their hats. Nearly all the guys I know have a lucky hat. None of them has a lucky tie clasp.

Just about anything you need to know about a sport can be learned from its hats. If you were watching a baseball game on TV and the only camera angle you could get was from the players' eyes up, you would still know what was going on by the way they wore their hats. If everybody in a dugout has his hat on backward, for instance, you know that team is behind in a very important game. If a pitcher is looking in steely-eyed for the sign and has pulled his hat low over his eyebrows, you know that the count is 3 and 2 and there are two outs. If a pitcher has his hat tipped back in exasperation, you know he has just given up a home run that will come down in Poughkeepsie.

Golf is all about hats. To acknowledge applause, golfers have developed a hierarchy of hat moves that hasn't changed in 30 years. If a player pinches the brim of his hat to acknowledge the clapping, he has hit a good shot. If he lifts his hat slightly, he has hit a leaner from 150 yards. If he takes off his hat and holds it high, he has slam-dunked a two-iron from out of a frozen-lemonade cart. If he tosses his hat like a Frisbee, he has just sunk a 30-footer to win the U.S. Open.

Hats are history: Willie Mays running out from under his; Casey Stengel lifting his to release a bird; Jim Bouton pitching out from under his but keeping a very good book under it. Without his houndstooth hat, Bear Bryant would have been just some old coot with a whistle. Without his fedora, Tom Landry is Fred Mertz. Would the Buffalo Bills have won Super Bowl XXVI if Thurman Thomas could've found his hat and been on the field for the Bills' first two plays? What would Woody Hayes have stomped on the Ohio State sideline if not his black baseball cap with the block red O on the front?

In a hat Cal Ripken Jr. looks like he's 27 and dating pages 5 through 12 in the Victoria's Secret catalog. Without his hat he looks 53 and on his way to assisted living. Flipping up the bill of a hat has never looked good, however, even on a French cyclist. Golfer Jesper Parnevik wears his hat like that, and it cuts off the circulation to his brain.

Some people are defined by their hats. The white touring cap Ben Hogan wore is now known as a Hogan cap. In hockey the hat trick is nearly older than ice. It's said that Wayne Gretzky was so good in the mid-1980s that Edmonton Oilers fans purposely wore their worst headgear to games, fearing yet another Gretzky hat trick. Hats are so much a part of sport that not wearing one can be a trademark. Arnold Palmer became known for rarely donning one, although his finest moment was flinging his visor into the crowd after winning the 1960 U.S. Open. (Anyone who gets rid of a golf visor is O.K. by me.) Craig MacTavish is known mainly as the last man in hockey not to wear a hat on the ice.

Remember the old NBA? It was mostly about hats. The two greatest days in an NBA player's life were the ones he had a hat on: the day he was drafted, and the day someone came up from behind and slapped a very ugly hat—heavily logoed and with the tags still attached—onto his head. That meant he'd won a championship.

By the way, for the Super Bowl, the Final Four and Game 7 of any championship series, manufacturers must prepare two sets of those hideous lids for distribution immediately after the title game. Usually the losing team's hats are destroyed, but in the past they were occasionally given to the homeless.

Homeless Guy No. 1: "Hey, cool Bills-World Champions hat."

Homeless Guy No. 2:"Thanks. I like your Knicks Rule hat, too."

We don't get hathead. We are hatheads. I just counted. I have 78. I am taking them all with me when I am buried.

It's my wife's idea.

 
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