Players staying warm with cold-weather headgear

BY foxsports • October 24, 2009

Joe Maddon looked into his locker during the bitter cold 2008 postseason and saw an unfamiliar piece of equipment: a fleece-lined baseball cap with ear flaps. "I know that a lot of the old baseball guys probably would not approve, but it didn't matter," the Tampa Bay Rays manager recalled Thursday. "The weather was pretty bad last year, and all I wanted to do was stay warm, because I do think better when I'm warm." Now that the postseason rolls past Halloween and ends as people are turning their attention to Thanksgiving turkey, there's a whole new line of sartorial gear for the Boys of Summer, attire usually more suited to sleigh rides than catching infield flies. New Era, which manufactures Major League Baseball's official headgear, has stocked three types of cold-weather items, which may make baseball old-timers turn red but keep ears from turning a crimson color during 4-hour-plus night games in the Northeast autumn: the downflap (which many players call "Elmer Fudds" after Bugs Bunny's ever-unsuccessful pursuer), a knit cap that is a little like a ski hat, and a balaclava, a ski mask that leaves only the face or eyes uncovered - something previously used in sport by auto racers in fire-retardant materials. Baseball's GQ moment is quite a departure. Remember back to Game 2 of the 1976 World Series, when then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn sat in the front row at Cincinnati without an overcoat in 43-degree weather to display his lack of concern for the cold. For Game 3 of last year's Series at Citizens Bank Park, when it was 47 at first pitch, Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins wore a cap with earflaps, as did Rays infielders Evan Longoria and Jason Bartlett. Both starting pitchers wore turtlenecks under their jerseys. And for last weekend's AL championship series opener at Yankee Stadium, when it was 45 with a 17 mph wind coming off Atlantic, Nick Swisher, Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira wore the special caps with ear flaps. Second baseman Robinson Cano wore a ski mask, and the Angels' Erick Aybar donned a balaclava. "I was wearing the Elmer Fudd for the first time in my career, but I had a few guys with me," Teixeira said. "As far as Robby is concerned, we'll get on him." Buffalo-based New Era began supplying its first major league team in 1934 (the Cleveland Indians) and took over as the exclusive licensee for all teams in 1993. The winterized caps developed out of discussions that began three years ago in the golf division. "No one really bit on it in the golf world because it's such a niche time. The golf courses here will wind up closing for the winter," said Mark Krause, the product development manager of New Era's fan business unit. "It kind of materialized into a really good opportunity for us in the licenses business, with MLB logos on it and stuff. What we need to do was prove to MLB that there was a market for it." After seeing Detroit and St. Louis improvise cold-weather gear during the 2006 Series, New Era persuaded Major League Baseball to give the go-ahead to produce it. New Era launched it for fans first, but it didn't really sell. Then it appeared on the field at last year's World Series. Krause said the phones started ringing at New Era, with people asking: "Where's that Elmer Fudd cap?" New Era sold 5,000 of the caps from October through December 2008. But it didn't have legs. "It was a three-year overnight sensation last year," said Gerry Matos, New Era's senior vice president of marketing. "Then people kind if forgot about it again." Until another postseason of games played in wintry weather. Now, at $31.99, New Era can't make them fast enough. "More than anything, it keeps the wind from hitting you," Swisher said Friday, when he wore it for a workout at Yankee Stadium. "That's the worst part, when you get all that wind, especially out in the outfield. They just keep you warm, man. It's nice." Expanding the range, New Era is coming out with something called "Fnitted," a knit cap that fits over the regular cap. It sold 288 last week at the Phillies' team store but hasn't supplied them to players yet. "Baseball, when it comes to what to what we wear, a lot of times guys are unwilling to try something different, only because baseball has all these unwritten rules - even according to how you're supposed to dress," Maddon said. "Although the Elmer Fudd has been around a long time, they've just never tried it in a baseball sense. Again, why not do something to stay warm? I don't get it." ---

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