Yesterday’s brief News Ticker mention of baseball cap surgery procedures prompted an unexpectedly large reaction, so this seems like a good time to mention that a few months ago I started getting e-mails from a reader named David Goodfriend. He said he had a big baseball cap collection and that New Era was interested in acquiring it for a museum they were planning to set up. He asked me not to write about it until the matter was settled, and every now and then he’d send me an update.
The latest of those updates came a few weeks ago, when David said he’d decided to hold onto his collection and was now ready to talk with me. So I gave him a call.
Unfortunately, David doesn’t currently have access to photos of his collection (or to the collection itself, which is in storage). Still, our interview contains some fascinating info about New Era, and about the state of MLB merchandising 25 years ago. Dig:
Uni Watch: How old are you, where do you live, and what do you do?
David Goodfriend: I’m 56, and I live in Arlington, Virginia. I’m a researcher for the Associated Press and a musician.
UW: Were you a sports fan growing up?
UW: Were you a collector?
DG: Well, baseball cards. But nothing else.
UW: So how’d you start collecting caps?
DG: Well, I grew up in New Jersey, but I’ve lived in the DC area since 1975, so we used to go to games in Baltimore. And one day I just happened to buy a St. Louis Cardinals hat at the game.
UW: And when was this?
DG: Around 1977. I really don’t know what made me do it — I just thought it was a nice hat. I started wearing it to softball games, got some compliments on it, and it got me thinking about baseball hats. I started noticing them more. One day in the winter of 1978, there was a brief blurb in the Washington Post about a baseball card convention that was going to take place at George Mason University. And at this convention, it said, would be a representative from New Era. And they’d be selling the caps to the public.
UW: And back then…
DG: Back then that was very rare. Merchandising wasn’t like it is now. So my friend and I went to this convention, and there was the New Era guy. I remember I bought a Minnesota Twins hat. My friend bought a Red Sox hat and a Cubs hat. Then, about a month later, my brother-in-law — who was working with my dad in New Jersey — called me up and said he’d noticed a store in Cliffside Park selling baseball hats. And I said, “No, nobody’s selling these.”
UW: It’s so funny to think about that now, because everyone sells authentic MLB caps. But back then they were hard to find.
DG: Exactly. So I went to this store, and it turned out to be Manny’s Baseball Land. It was a tiny little store, but they had all these hats — I was completely blown away. So my friend and I went up there from time to time, and we’d buy a few hats, and at one point Manny’s daughter, Lisa, said, “Listen, do you guys want to see our stockroom? You’re the only two people who buy these hats.”
UW: And you were just buying standard Major League Baseball caps?
DG: Yes. And that’s when I really started collecting them. And I should point out, I own nothing that’s game-worn. I have a few hats from the 1940s and ’50s, and a quite a few from the 1960s. But the unique thing about my collection is that from 1978 through 1982 or ’83, I have everything — any hat worn by any team during that period.
UW: So you’ve got the full set of all 28 teams for 1978, or however many teams there were that year.
DG: Yeah. And if they changed their hat design, I’d buy the new one.
UW: So you became a completist, for the then-current era.
DG: Yeah, for about four or five years.
UW: What happened after that?
DG: It just got to be enough — they were taking over my life. But I used to have them on my wall, all displayed. And it’s funny, guys would come over and just ignore them, but women loved them. They loved the colors, and the look of them.
UW: It was a chick magnet!
DG: It was my only hope, believe me. Anyway, it kinda looked nice. Now all the hats are stored away now at my mom’s place. They’re in boxes, in a climate-controlled room.
UW: How many of these are we talking about?
DG: Probably between 120 and 150.
UW: Did you actually wear all of these, or any of them?
DG: I hardly wore any of them. I usually wore a Mets hat, because they were my favorite team. And I couldn’t walk down the street without someone asking me where I’d gotten it, because you just didn’t see authentic hats in those days.
UW: What about that very first Cardinals cap — the one that got you started on all this?
DG: Unfortunately, that’s gone. I should have saved it, but it got worn out.
UW: Now what about your recent communications with New Era?
DG: I was on their web site last fall, and I saw that they had a notice on there, saying that they were trying to create a New Era museum, and they wanted donations.
UW: To help document their own history?
DG: Exactly. So I contacted them and said, “I have some things you may be interested in.” And they got back in touch and said, “We’d love to have you donate them.” And I responded, “Wait, I said nothing about donating them.” I said, “Your company has a terrible labor reputation” — and they do. And if you talk to any retailers, they’re a nightmare to deal with. I also said, “You asking me for this stuff tells me that you didn’t bother to save it,” and what does that say about them?
UW: Yeah. Y’know, it’d be one thing if they didn’t have caps from the very beginnings of the company. But I’m really surprised that they wouldn’t have stuff from the 1970s and ’80s.
DG: Yeah, that’s bad. Now, I have to say, the guy I was dealing with — his name was Jim Wannemaker — could not have been nicer.
UW: Even when you said they had a bad labor reputation?
DG: Yes, even then. He actually thanked me for that, and said, “It’s always good to know what people are saying about us.” He also said, “You’re right, we didn’t save anything.” He said they were a small company and it was all we could do just to get the orders filled for the Major League teams.
UW: That’s pretty short-sighted.
DG: I agree. And I said, “Look, I don’t want to donate these, but I’d consider exchanging them for a current set, or something like that.” And he said he was open to the deal, but of course he needed to see my hats first. And I said, “Okay, the next time I go visit my mom, I’ll take some photos.”
UW: So did you do that?
DG: No. The more I thought about it, I decided I didn’t want to part with the collection right now. So that’s what I told them, and again, they couldn’t have been nicer about it. They said I could stop by the plant any time I’m in Buffalo and they’d give me a tour. And what I’ve basically arranged is that if anything happens to me, the hats will end up with them.
UW: So do you have any old photos of the wall of caps, or of yourself wearing some of the caps?
DG: No, unfortunately. I may have some old photos packed away, but I don’t have access to them right now.
UW: Are caps today different from the ones you collected?
DG: The crown on the old hats was so high, it was ridiculous.
UW: Much higher than today?
DG: Yes, definitely. And the sweatband on the old hats was leather. Also, there were a few teams — the Red Sox and I think the Orioles — that didn’t wear New Era for a season or two. They wore Roman Pro. Are you familiar with that brand?
UW: No. I thought all MLB teams have worn New Era for, like, decades.
DG: Roman Pro was a company from Brockton, Massachusetts, and a few teams wore their hats. You could tell the difference — they were a little cut lower, like the old-time hats.
UW: Any other distinctive characteristics of the older New Era models?
DG: I think the wool was a bit softer then. Better wool, maybe. The brim was a little stiffer in the old days. And of course most of the teams had green under the brims back then. Otherwise they’re basically the same.
UW: Do they seem equally sturdy, the old ones and the new ones?
UW: Was the sizing more consistent back then?
DG: Yes. When I was buying hats at Manny’s, I always took a 7-1/8. Now, if I’m buying a hat, I say, “Give me three 7-1/4s and three 7-1/8s, and I try them all on, because I don’t know which one will fit.
UW: I notice you don’t use the word cap — you use hat.
DG: Yeah, I don’t know. It’s just the term I use.
UW: Did you used to play baseball when you were a kid?
DG: Yeah, in high school. And, ironically, I hated wearing baseball hats back then — I only wore them because you had to. I was more into — you’ll dig this — I was more into the stirrups. Back then the stirrup openings were very small, and they didn’t show a lot of white sock. So I would have my mom cut them sew some extra material into them, so they’d look like Mickey Mantle’s.
UW: Wow! I’ve read about people doing that, but you’re the first person I’ve ever encountered who actually did it.
DG: All my friends did it. We all did it.
UW: So everyone’s mom was sewing this extra fabric in there?
DG: Oh yeah.
UW: Anything else?
DG: Here’s a story: One time when our band was playing in Philadelphia in the early 1980s, I had some time to kill during the afternoon, so I walked around a bit. And I walked into this tiny little store. And they had some old Reds and Pirates vest jerseys. You never saw those back then. So I started talking to the guy, and he said, “Would you buy these?” And I said, “Well, I hate those teams, but if you did an old Mets jersey, I’d buy it in a second.” He went in the back and he had all kinds of old hats back there. And it turns out, this was Mitchell & Ness. And I’d been speaking to Ness.
UW: You were the focus group!
DG: I guess, yeah.
Big thanks to David for sharing his story. He’s promised to send along some photos of his collection as soon as he’s able to.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Dying to slap a decal of your favorite team’s logo on your car? Look here (with thanks to David Sonny). … “The Portland Press Herald did a big spread this past Sunday on the New England Pond Hockey festival, held last weekend in Rangeley, Maine,” writes David Versel. “There is a slideshow of the event online, including some great classic uni shots.” … Uni Watch got a nice mention in yesterday’s Minneapolis Star Tribune. … Reprinted from yesterday’s comments: Good article here about the N.Y. Rangers’ equipment managers. … A Yankees source issues the following report from spring training: “The Yanks are not issuing Cory Lidle’s No. 30, at least for the moment. And there’s no 22 or 51 here either, and they still haven’t retired or given out O’Neill’s 21. Highest uniform number for a player is 94, for a catcher named Jason Brown.” … Rob Fryer reports that WVU will have new unis next season (home, road, alt). … The Bruins celebrated Johnny Bucyk’s 50th anniversary with the team last night, complete with a “9” jersey patch. … Shannon Briggs had to cancel his March 10 heavyweight “title” defense yesterday, due to a respiratory problem. According to this article, the cancellation will cost Briggs “about $500,000 in endorsements. I was going to look like a NASCAR driver with my trunks.”