Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Cardboard appreciation: 1977 Topps Bake McBride

(One of the best quotes about appreciation: "The best way to appreciate your job is to imagine yourself without one." -- Oscar Wilde. I can't believe I haven't used this before. It's time for Cardboard Appreciation. This is the 120th in a series):

The "We Are Family" Pittsburgh Pirates are known for a variety of characteristics: the 1979 World Series title, the gold stars, the crazy black-and-gold uniform combinations, "Pops," "The Cobra," "Teke," Sister Sledge, etc.

They also wore those funny, square caps from 1976-86. Their fashion choices became the darlings of the "Those Were the Days," crowd. Remember the '70s? Remember the bizarre clothes we used to wear? Remember the PIRATES? Oh my god, what freaky caps they wore!!!

Of course, cap connoisseurs -- and they're out there -- know that the Pirates' cap choice began as a tribute to the National League's centennial season in 1976. They wore the style of the late 19th century during the '76 season and just kept wearing the caps for another 10 years, I don't know why. Possibly because gold stars looked so good on those square, striped caps?

But some people forget that there were four other National League teams that also wore those pillbox-style caps in 1976. The Cardinals, Mets, Phillies and Reds did the same.

I don't know why it was just those five teams. Although I'm a little grateful that the Dodgers weren't running around in square caps during the bicentennial, it seems unfair that just five teams got to pay tribute to that time period.

I don't remember the Phillies and Reds wearing the caps at all. I just went through all of each team's 1977 Topps cards (which feature players during the 1976 season) and none of them are wearing pillbox caps. I'm wondering if some teams wore them only for Opening Day or certain weekends or something.

I do remember the Mets wearing the caps, because I'd watch Mets games at my grandfather's house that year and I can recall a pitcher sporting them (I don't remember which one). But after going through the 1977 Topps cards, I was sad to see that none of the Mets are wearing them.

The only team that I can find cards of players wearing those caps is the Cardinals. Bake McBride, of course, is famously wearing one -- because anything Bake McBride does becomes instantly famous.

The other players wearing them are Eric Rasmussen and Tom Walker. Also, Lou Brock is wearing a throwback style batting helmet -- it's not square, just striped.

I like to think that I remember the Cardinals wearing those caps. But like many baseball events that happened in the '70s, I'm wondering if I simply remember it because I saw it pictured on a card.

I want to say that the Cardinals or the Mets actually wore the pillbox caps once or twice after the 1976 season. In 1977. But I have no proof.

It makes me wonder that if those four other teams kept wearing the caps for a decade, like the Pirates, would they be iconic teams as the Pirates of that era are? The Phillies, of course, won their first World Series title in 1980, so they're already iconic among fans, although I don't know if they have the breakout instant mind-recall of the '79 Pirates.

I think you might need more than wearing a pillbox cap for 10 years to be an iconic team. You need a championship, and charismatic players and another sort of hook, unique to your team.

But those square caps, man, that's an excellent start.

(P.S.: The fact that I've featured Cardinals at the top of back-to-back posts doesn't mean I'm rooting for them to win the wild card. I'm actually rooting for the Braves, if you can believe it. The thought of a Cardinals vs. Yankees World Series, with La Russa and Girardi micromanaging pitching staffs into six hour games, is a horrifying thought).


  1. How come you keep saying "square" - there's not a right angle on them! they're cylindrical!
    Or do you mean square, as in

  2. Squarer? Squarish? I left geometry behind a long time ago.

  3. I never knew any other team wore those hats. I'd love to see those show up in a game with throwback unis. By the way, no worries on a Cards/Yanks Series. It's going to be the Rangers and whoever comes in second this year.

  4. Hope this helps:

    Pennsylvania “Pillboxes” Produce Plenty of Pennants
    By 1905, the “pillbox” baseball cap was rarely seen on big league diamonds, but the style did experience two noteworthy revivals. The Philadelphia Athletics donned a horizontally striped “pill box” cap from 1909 through 1914. The old-fashioned style evidently worked wonders as Connie Mack’s club won four American League pennants and three World Series Championships during the six years the cap was worn. The distinctive caps can be seen on the Hall of Fame plaques of three members of this Athletics dynasty: Frank Baker, Chief Bender, and Eddie Plank. The striped “pillbox” cap also made a comeback in 1976 when five National League clubs celebrated the “Senior Circuit’s” 100th anniversary by adopting the nostalgic style. While the Reds, Mets, Phillies and Cardinals wore the caps during the centennial season alone, the Pittsburgh Pirates retained the style from 1976 through 1986, including their Championship season of 1979.