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July 12, 2012

RONN MOTT: Hats and Baseball Caps

TERRE HAUTE — I grew up not wearing hats. The only one I put on was a baseball cap when I was playing baseball. But since my hair went on permanent vacation, I’ve been wearing hats, most often a cap, in particular, a baseball cap. 

A baseball cap is a rather strange thing. It’s a beanie, a skull cap with a button on top and a large bill attached to the front. Baseball is a treasure house of ancient statistics, but I have no idea how this strange little cap got to be “the hat” of baseball. For instance, the original New York Knickerbockers (who would later become the Yankees), wore white skimmers and white shirts. Very spiffy. But the skimmers were soon replaced by the beanie with the bill.

I don’t know exactly when that occurred but it had to be early on, and that little beanie with the bill we recognize everywhere as a baseball cap. Even when it advertises some business or endeavor, it is still a baseball cap.

Throughout history men were often remembered by the hats they wore. Abraham Lincoln, a very tall man, wore a very tall stovepipe hat. Napoleon Bonaparte, who wasn’t very tall, wore that 18th Century commander’s hat. It appeared he was wearing it sideways. Of course, it didn’t make him look any taller.

Cowboys wore the distinctive hat they borrowed from the Mexican Vaqueros with some modifications. The ten-gallon hat the American cowboy favored had nothing to do with the amount of water it would hold, but rather the amount of “braids” that would fit around the crown. It didn’t take many to fit around the Mexican sombrero and it took about 10 braids to fit around the hat the cowboys favored. The term “galoìn” is the Spanish word for braid. To our gringo ears, it came out as gallon.

Around here, and most of the Midwest, a baseball cap says I’m a local. So if you see me driving down the road, walking the park, or heading somewhere more important, chances are I’ll be wearing a baseball cap. I guess that tags me as a local.

Ronn Mott, a longtime radio personality in Terre Haute, writes commentaries for the Tribune-Star. His pieces are published online Tuesday and Thursday on Tribstar.com, and in the print and online editions on Saturday.

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