In the beginning, it was easy. Baseball players, especially good ones, tended to spend the bulk of their careers -- or at least the best parts of their careers -- with one team. So if a player was good enough to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, there usually wasn't any question or debate regarding which team's cap would be depicted on his plaque in Cooperstown.
Then came free agency, salary dumps, frantic trade-deadline deals spurred by the addition of wild-card playoff spots, and so on, all of which gave rise to the now-familiar debates about which team's cap should be shown on a Hall inductee's plaque. In some cases, these debates are resolved by depicting the inductee with no cap logo at all.
You'd think new inductee Craig Biggio would easier. A rarity in today's game, he spent his entire 20-year career with one team -- the Astros. But that's the problem: Biggio spent so long in Houston that his career spanned three distinct eras in Astros uniform history, each with its own headwear logo. Which one should appear on his plaque?
Biggio hasn't decided yet, and it's possible that we won't know the answer until his plaque is unveiled at his induction July 26. In any case, his situation underscores a little-noted development that is likely to complicate the plaque-design process in coming years: In addition to players changing teams more often than in the past, teams are changing uniforms more frequently as well.
Not only that, but many teams now have more than one cap design at a time, which can cause additional complications. Consider, for example, the case of Biggio's fellow 2015 inductee Randy Johnson. It's been widely reported that Johnson will wear a Diamondbacks cap on his Hall of Fame plaque. What hasn't been widely noted, however, is that the D-backs had two very different cap designs during Johnson's first stint with the team. Then they wore one of those cap logos -- but in a different color configuration, as part of a completely different uniform package -- when Johnson returned to Arizona late in his career. Spokespersons for the D-backs and the Hall both confirmed that the logo for Johnson's plaque hasn't yet been finalized and, like Biggio's, may not be revealed until this summer's induction ceremony.
Other recent Hall inductees have faced similar issues. Bert Blyleven's plaque, for example, shows him wearing the Twins' "M" cap logo, but he spent more years -- arguably better years -- wearing the team's "TC" cap. And while it probably makes the most sense for Cal Ripken's plaque to show the Orioles' "ornithologically correct" bird logo, a case could have been made for the team's cartoon bird logo, which Ripken wore in 1983 -- the year he won the American League MVP award and the O's won the World Series.
More cap controversies are likely looming. Here are the situations surrounding several players who could be getting the Cooperstown call in the next year or two:
• Mike Piazza: As soon as Piazza retired, the debate started as to whether he should represent the Mets or Dodgers on his plaque. But there's a potential
cop-out solution here: Piazza was a catcher, which means he spent most of his time on the field wearing a backwards helmet. Why not show him wearing that? No team logo, no snub to either fan base, no problem.
• Jeff Bagwell: In the same boat as Biggio, because he wore three different caps during his Astros career. If he eventually gets in, will he choose the same cap Biggio ends up choosing? Will he go out of his way not to do that, just for the sake of variety?
• Vladimir Guerrero: Won't be eligible for induction until 2017, but let's beat the rush and start arguing over his plaque cap now. If you look at his career stats, it's a tough call between the Expos and Angels.
• Curt Schilling: Fascinating case. Schilling spent nine years with the Phillies -- more than than he spent with the Red Sox (four) and Diamondbacks (four) combined. But his reputation as one of the sport's best big-game pitchers was built with Arizona and Boston, both of which he helped to win titles. A prime candidate for a cap with no logo.
• Mike Mussina: Tough call, as his career numbers are split fairly evenly between the Yankees and Orioles.
• Mark McGwire: At this point, Big Mac's Cooperstown candidacy seems pretty dubious but he's still an interesting case. Most people now associate him with St. Louis, because that's where he broke Roger Maris' record and had his greatest media visibility. But if you look at his stats, you'll see that he actually spent the bulk of his career, and hit most of his home runs, in Oakland.
As for Biggio, there's a simple solution. One of his visual signatures was all the pine tar gunked up on his helmet, often to the point of obscuring his helmet logo. So for his Hall plaque, just put a smudge on his headwear instead of a logo -- it would be a fitting tribute to a distinctive look.
(Special thanks to Jason London for his research assistance.)
A new face in the commissioner's chair
Whenever a sport gets a new commissioner, there's potential for change on the uniform front. In the NBA, for example, longtime commish David Stern was a steadfast opponent of putting corporate ad patches on the league's unis. But Adam Silver, who took over for Stern about a year ago, has repeatedly said that NBA uniform ads are "inevitable" (a characterization he made last March, then again a month after that, and yet again two weeks ago).
MLB also has tinkered with the idea of uniform ads, but commissioner Bud Selig ultimately had little appetite for going that route. So what does Selig's retirement and the ascension of new commish Robert Manfred portend?
New York Times baseball writer Tyler Kepner posed that very question to Manfred the other day, and Manfred's answer was gratifyingly direct:
"There was more chatter about [uniform advertisements] in the game 10 years ago than there is now. It's just not a hot issue for us. I think people have great respect for the way our uniforms look. I don't foresee that one; I really don't."
That's good to hear. Maybe Manfred should have a sit-down with Adam Silver.
Paul Lukas wishes he could give Rob Manfred a big, wet kiss. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch membership program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.