New hats just the latest baseball fashion trend   

Updated: January 22, 2008, 6:53 PM ET

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I don't know if I should be kicking myself, stabbing myself in the leg with a lead pencil (if you can find one in these days of sissified graphite) or banging my head against the edge of the bar where I spend so much of my time. To be honest, though, I haven't had the physical wherewithal to kick my own self since the Ford administration, so I'll guess I just sit here and smack my noggin against the oaken slab.

Why am I so bent on self-punishment? It's on account of the Honus Wagner two-million simoleon card sale that happened this week. I get this way every time one of those little bastards sells for another record amount.

What does this have to do with me? Well sir, I used to have one. A signed one, no less. Honus himself gave it to me after I sported him to a couple of slugs during the 1927 World Series. So what did I do with it? Put it in a glass case? Stick it in a safe-deposit box? No, I used it to pick my teeth a couple of weeks later. It seems I had just had a corned-beef sangwich, and you know how stringy those things are. No matter how much beer I drank, I couldn't get that meat out of my teeth. I was going crazy, I tell you, so I reached for the first usable picking device handy: the Wagner card I still had in my jacket pocket. Those mint-condition crisp edges did the trick, let me tell you. I felt like a million bucks after I scoured my dentition with that card. Of course, I'd feel like two million bucks if I'd held onto it and sold it this week. The saddest irony is I don't even have those teeth anymore, either.

In baseball news not relating to me screwing up my future, the game stands on the threshold of a new age: the Wick Era. The game is changing its headware from the traditional wool cap to some sort of blend of Space Age polymers that are supposed to "wick" away sweat. I wish the fat lady at the Clyde Beatty Circus were wearing one of these when we were having our fling back in whatever the hell year that was. I would like to have drowned beneath her ministrations, let me tell you.

In any case, now that this Wick Era is upon us, I thought I'd look back at some of baseball's previous accoutrement-related eras. Here goes:

The Dirty Sock Era (187?-1902): In the old days, the crunching sound you heard when players ran by was not their spikes hitting dirt. A combination of owner frugality, player machismo and ignorance of citified ways on the part of rurally raised ballplayers led to this unwashed phenomenon. Thanks to do-gooding hygiene crusaders -- no doubt some of the same crowd who successfully agitated for Prohibition a few years later -- clean hosiery was mandated for skilled laborers by federal edict and the Clean Sock Era began in 1903.

The Paper Hat Era (1907-24): How cheap were the owners back then? How's this: Not only were players forced to wear ball caps made from old newspapers, they had to make the caps themselves. Prior to every game, you'd see them sitting around the clubhouse, folding, painting and then painstakingly drawing the team letter onto their creations. Why did the Cincinnatis of 1910 and 1911 have no markings on their caps? It seemed that none of their players were artistically gifted enough to execute a C. And why were there so many rainouts in 1913? Because even the slightest drizzle rendered the hats unwearable.

The Slippery Shoelace Era (1925-41): How did big league ballplayers end up wearing laces that wouldn't stay tied? Word is that someone in the powerful shoelace industry got to the baseball powers that be with promises of kickbacks and gifts if they would fix it so that players were required to wear expensive laces made from silk. At first it seemed like the owners were, for once, giving the players a rare luxury. It soon became apparent that, like silk sheets and undergarments, silk shoelaces weren't much for friction. Timeouts for shoe tying soared. Fans eventually grew impatient, although there were so few of them during the Depression nobody noticed their discontent. As Ring Lardner once said to me, "Pity the poor slumping rookie who tries to hang himself from a clubhouse rafter with these."

The Scratchy Label Era (1961-72): For whatever reason, labels on uniforms were especially scratchy during this time period, and it drove players to distraction. Some trace the roots of the modern union movement to the discontent over this inconvenience. It is said that Luis Tiant developed his pitching motion while trying to turn all the way around to scratch his neck, but that sounds like a myth to this reporter.

The Jewel-Encrusted Jockstrap Era (1997-2006): In a marked contrast to the earlier eras, this was one of excess rather than deprivation. As player salaries skyrocketed, the meaning and proper usage of the dollar began to get a little fuzzy for them. Nobody is quite sure who showed up to spring training with the first blinged-out custom jock strap back in 1997, but in no time at all, nearly every player wouldn't be seen dead without one. As laymen, we probably can't imagine the discomfort caused by this flagrant example of form over function, but to get a vague idea, shove some costume jewelry down your pants the next time you walk down to the corner store for jerky and chaw.

The Wick Era (2007-?): So here we are, standing on the very precipice of a new baseball epoch. What wonders will it bring? Will pitchers, now with less sweat creeping down their necks, return to pitching entire nine-inning ballgames like the he-men of yore? Will fielders, no longer glistening with their own residue, stop having balls slip from their grasps, rendering throwing errors to the sports scrap heap alongside dropkicks and the five-minute mile? We'll know soon enough.

Scribbly Tate is a veteran but not necessarily venerable sportswriter. You can tell him how much you agree with him at ScribblyTate@yahoo.com.


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