CHICAGO -- Sometimes an attorney’s hunch can lead to a triumphant legal battle for a client, and other times it just might be the difference in getting somebody to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
When Los Angeles attorney Ryan McClellend came up with the prototype for a Doodle Hat in 2009, he had the thought that he might be in possession of the next pop culture fad.
Five years later, and with a little help from Chicago White Sox players, he just might be right.
Doodle Hats are being used by White Sox players this week to help Chris Sale's All-Star Game bid. Sale is in the five-man Final Vote to decide the American League’s last roster spot.
Quite simply, Doddle Hats are baseball-style caps with a white patent-leather front that allows the wearer to create any message that comes to mind with a dry-erase marker. They can then erase that message and create a new one when the mood strikes.
Consider it social media that doesn’t need an Internet connection.
The hats, which are listed at $19.95 plus shipping and handling on the doodlehats.com website, have been worth their weight in gold for the Sale marketing campaign, as the left-hander was leading the voting after the first round of poll results were released Tuesday.
Voting continues until Thursday afternoon at mlb.com and whitesox.com.
It’ not a coincidence that Doodle Hats found their way into the White Sox clubhouse. Pitcher Scott Carroll is an investor in the product, as is his close friend Blake Wollard. McClellend is married to Wollard’s sister.
“When my brother-in-law invented them, I thought he was pretty crazy,” Wollard said.
The White Sox essentially felt that it would be crazy not to use any tool at their disposal to help Sale become an All-Star for the third consecutive year.
Not long after Carroll made his major league debut in late April, he had a box of Doodle Hats shipped from the company’s Kansas City headquarters – which doubles as the basement of McClellend’s home – to the clubhouse. Carroll put one hat in each player’s locker.
All was quiet, though, until Sale stepped forward. During his postgame interview after his June 18 victory over the San Francisco Giants, Sale wrote a phone number on his Doodle Hat with two words “call me.”
The phone number was Carroll’s, and the rookie pitcher learned his lesson: Paying your dues in a big league clubhouse takes on many forms.
If fielding random phone calls from strangers for the next few days was a chore, there was one valuable component about it all. Doodle Hats got their first spike in popularity, especially after Carroll changed his voice mail message to direct callers to the Doodle Hats website.
“The clubhouse prank obviously helped,” Wollard said. “And to be honest, the most laughs were coming from Kansas City because knowing Scott as well as we do, that prank couldn’t have happened to a better guy. We were really enjoying it.”
Carroll, McClelland and Wollard already had learned quickly that the sports market was the area that Doodle Hats played best.
“I remember we wore them to a Kansas City Chiefs game a few years back and people were going nuts over it,” Wollard said. “We wrote different things throughout the game. That’s what makes it so enjoyable, that you can change the message on a dime. In this world when you have the ESPN news scroll and everything changing so quickly, you now have the hat to make that statement.”
The Chiefs game, though, was merely a blip on the radar compared to what all the White Sox attention has meant.
Recent messages had All-Star Game-bound Jose Abreu holding a Doodle Hat that read “I heart Sale”, while Alexei Ramirez, who is also headed to the All-Star Game, held one that read “#VoteSale” and “whitesox.com.”
Carroll’s latest message was to write “I heart Chris Sale” on his Doodle Hat with the marketing hash tag of “#TargetSale.” Carroll posted a photo while wearing the hat on his Twitter account @Scotty_Carroll.
“We never thought we’d be a part of trying to get a guy to the All-Star Game, but you never know how things will work out,” Wollard said. “We shipped about 25 of them out to (to the White Sox in) Boston on Monday morning. We’re just excited, one, that they are enjoying them, and two, that it’s helping to get Chris to an All-Star Game. That’s just an absolute blast for us.”
While Wollard is busy as a loan officer, McClelland handles his attorney duties after recently relocating to the Kansas City area and Carroll is occupied with the White Sox, orders and shipping duties of the hats have fallen to Wollard’s sister.
But it has been all worthwhile when the group sees how people are using the caps, which are growing in popularity in Chicago.
“We love the Hawk Harrelson quotes on people’s hats,” Wollard said. “We’ve seen quite a few of the old Hawk-isms, as you guys like to call them. Down in Kansas City, we weren’t that familiar with Hawk, but now that we watch every game because of Scott we get it now. So the 'hang wiff ’em,' 'he-gone,' 'stretch,' we’ve seen some of those coming in and we just love that, and we love listing to him, so that fits.”