On February 15, 2018, top prospect Ronald Acuña Jr. wore his hat in a way different than baseball players wear hats. Mass hysteria immediately followed. The teenagers looted. Bill Haley’s obstreperous pleas for 24-hour rebellion blasted. The unmistakable Mary Jane wafted through the air. Supporters of decorum openly wept. There was fire and dancing in the shadows of crumbling architecture.
Actually, no. None of that happened. Rather, Acuña Jr. let his locks show during spring-training camp. Nobody seemed to care at the time.
Yet, as Mark Bowman of MLB.com noted earlier this week, Atlanta was concerned. Wrote Bowman: “the Braves want Acuña to wear his hat straight and maintain a professional appearance while in uniform.
It was a shame, since it overshadowed former Brave wunderkind and Acuña spring-training mentor Andruw Jones seemingly inventing a fun new term.
The main thing he needs to remember is keep your head straight and respect [your surroundings]. Be humble, but a humble-cocky.
The cap story was controversial. Some noted the racial hypocrisy. Some theorized it was a ploy by Atlanta to later claim the very talented but very young Acuña should hang his hat in a home in Triple-A Gwinnett for the beginning of the 2018 season, in order to acquire an extra year of team control. Manager Brian Snitker said this afternoon talk of Acuña’s hat was “blown out of proportion.” Well, yeah. Acuña readjusting himself following a catch during Friday afternoon’s game against the Yankees should not have been as dramatic as it was.
Acuña hasn’t worn his hat any differently than his teammates in either of his televised spring-training starts, and photos from last year’s Futures Game show he probably never wore it at any disapproving angle during any game in his nascent career.
Unlike Fernando Rodney, that is. Rodney wears his hat at a sharp angle to honor his late father Ulise, a fisherman who wore his hat with the bill facing the sun so he could properly see. Ulise died of cancer six days before Rodney made his major-league debut in 2002. Fernando’s new manager, Paul Molitor of the Minnesota Twins, wanted a closer for 2018, but pulled a “That’s not what I meant!” on the front office when they signed Rodney. Molitor said this to the Minnesota Star-Tribune:
All I knew about him was what I saw from afar. The hat, the antics. In my day, that wasn’t something you’d be comfortable with. To me, it seemed gimmicky.
Yes, he really said “in my day.”
I was impressed when we had a chance to sit down and talk. You look for character almost as much as leadership, and I believe we’re going to be well-covered there,” Molitor said. “People draw conclusions without really knowing someone. I was guilty of that a little bit, but he’s much more than what you might think if you didn’t know him.
I can’t wear mine like that. I hate that. But he’s a grown man, a veteran guy, so he’s allowed to do it, and he likes to do it, so I won’t say anything about it. Here, nobody cares.
In the Tampa Bay Times piece (which begins with Red Sox fans yelling at Rodney to wear his hat “right”), Rodney said he started wearing his hat in his trademark fashion in 2002. In the Minnesota Star-Tribune, he said it was 2004. The visual evidence shows he didn’t really do anything notably different until 2012, which is when newspapers and future managers started commenting about it internally and/or externally. Unless Major League Baseball CGI’d Rodney’s hat before posting his first career save from 2003 online.
Over the next decade, it does look like Rodney very gradually moved it askew — until 2012, when he grew more comfortable in the game.
It could not have hurt that 2012 was Rodney’s first year managed by a rabble-rouser who goes by the name “Joe Maddon”:
The only people for me are the mad hatters, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to save ballgames, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or wear a hat the commonplace way, but burn, burn, burn…
Ok, he didn’t actually say that (as far as I know). He, honestly, did say this:
If it was actually legal to have it on backward I would be fine with it for him. I know some baseball purists don’t like it or dig it. I love it, and you could put a capital L-O-V-E in there. He’s just expressing himself, and for those that have a hard time with that, too bad.
Rodney had a career renaissance in 2012. Some say it’s because he changed where he stood on the rubber, but I think we know the truth.
“Different” = 2012-2017
Maddon might be mistaken about something: it’s legal to have your hat on backward. Or maybe it’s more “not illegal” than actually legal. I asked colleague Sheryl Ring to confirm what I did not see in the MLB rulebook: any mention of hats in the uniform section. While wearing glass buttons and not wearing your helmet the right way is clearly prohibited, hats/caps are a different story. Ring did note rule 3.03(c):
No player whose uniform does not conform to that of his teammates shall be permitted to participate in a game.
“So.. .I see two possibilities here,” she said over Slack. “1) Players like Ronald Acuña and CC Sabathia violate Rule 3.03(c) by wearing their hats crookedly because their hats are not worn in the same way as their teammates. OR 2) Because there is evidence to suggest that hats aren’t required to be worn *at all*, there’s no violation because you can’t punish a person for how they wear an unnecessary accessory.”
In other words, if all of Acuña’s teammates wear their caps crookedly, it might technically be legal. Or, if nobody on the team wears a hat, that would be alright, too.
When I brought up the fact that catchers wear a helmet when the rest of his teammates don’t all the time, our brains simultaneously exploded. RIP to us. Please wear your hats any way you wish at our funerals.
Before Acuña and Rodney, there was the original and best Turn Ahead the Clock Night, played between the Royals and Mariners in the Kingdome on July 18, 1998. Ken Griffey Jr. grew up with a baseball-player father, so it isn’t surprising he seemed to know his history. He convinced some of the Mariners to untuck their jerseys, pointing out that the 1970s White Sox did the same. He also prevailed upon his teammates to all wear their caps backwards. Outfielder Rob Ducey said he didn’t want to turn his cap backwards because, like Fernando Rodney’s father, he used his hat to protect himself from glare. Ducey recalled to Jayson Stark a week after the game in The Philadelphia Inquirer that Griffey didn’t want to hear any excuses.
From the actual paper itself:
And continued from the actual paper itself, but smaller for some reason:
Griffey collected three hits and made this play. He didn’t seem uncomfortable or intent on destroying baseball.
Halfway through the game Royals manager Tony Muser convinced the umpires Seattle should tuck their shirts in to prevent easier HBPs.
Sadly, I am here to report the Mariners might have to forfeit this 8-5 victory. It doesn’t matter that Seattle committed zero errors, and the world’s innocence did not end that night. Nor does it matter that something like 127% of current major league players seem to claim Ken Griffey Jr. was someone they emulated growing up. Pitcher Ken Cloude did not wear his cap backwards like his teammates, so they broke the law. Of course, the umpires specifically told Cloude he couldn’t wear his cap backwards, so perhaps Seattle can argue entrapment.
The Royals/Mariners game was meant to depict a game from the year 2027. Acuña is probably not actively fighting for that future to come true — and, even if he were, Atlanta cannot possibly make the argument that not wearing his hat the “normal” way would make him a lesser player. I mean, did they not read Rodney’s splits two minutes ago?
If the Unwritten Rulebook says Acuña needs to accumulate multiple All-Star seasons to earn the right to wear his hat any way he so chooses, then that’s not in the jurisdiction of the team or Andruw Jones; it’s up to the players who watch for that stuff, under their matching chapeaus.