A People's History of the Dad Hat in Baseball

In a sport full of dubious fashion statements, Dad Hat towers above the world of baseball fashion like... um, a big goofy hat perched atop a dad's head, mostly.

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Mar 4 2015, 1:55pm

Somewhere in your house there is a picture of your father at a company softball game. You're there, too, wearing your old Angels hat, the one with a mesh back, and standing next to a group of your dad's work friends all in softball uniforms. There is at least one man in that picture who has no idea how to wear a baseball hat. His hat is placed gently atop his head, with far too much separation between his hair and the inside of the hat. He's wearing the dang thing as if it were a crown, or an autumn leaf that had fluttered down through the air and landed oh-so-softly on his head. His hat is hairspray with a brim. This is Dad Hat.

Dad Hat is a scourge, a menace. Mostly it looks very silly. But silly or not, Dad Hat is part of our history. Ever since the invention of the hat there have been people incapable of wearing it properly. Heck, ever since the invention of anything, people have misused it. How many people had their testicles ripped off in the heyday of the cotton gin? Far too many to count, presumably, although obviously we'll check this before publication. What was the cost in human eyes upon the invention of the first hammer? We'll never know because numbers hadn't been invented yet, but it seems safe to say: a great many eyes.

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To understand what Dad Hat has done to our nation, we must look back at our history. Perhaps one of the most iconic images in our country's past is that of General George Washington crossing the Delaware River on the night of December 25, 1776. In Emanuel Gottlieb's iconic painting, Washington stands steadfast in the front of the boat, leading the way to victory. And on his head? A hat!

Worn correctly, of course, the brim pulled down towards the eyes as far as possible. Washington was leading his soldiers into battle and dammit he would do so wearing his hat suitably. Had the man's hat been fluffed atop his head, we'd all be spelling 'color' with an unnecessary U. George Washington, naturally, did not wear his hat that way. Jump forward 84 years and a virtual unknown from Illinois led our nation into war against itself, and then won it. Here's Abraham Lincoln with his famous stovepipe hat; note how it's pulled down strongly.

It was at about this time that baseball began taking hold in America. The earliest hats didn't look too different from the kepi hats worn during the Civil War. But even then the seeds of Dad Hat were there to be seen. Take this photograph of the 1870 Brown University baseball team. First, you'll notice only two players are even wearing hats, so it was an odd time, hat-wise. Still, the gentleman on the far right seems to have his hat on snugly, as befits a ballplayer. But the player on the far left has placed his hat gently upon his head, failing to pull it down as is appropriate. It's not egregious, and without further inspection it might have even gone unnoticed, but we can nevertheless identify this as the Homo Habilis of Dad Hat, or by its scientific name, Dado Hatilis. Here is our patient zero.

For decades following, Dad Hat was met with disdain. But as the game of baseball evolved, so too has Dad Hat. In much the way a player lays down the perfect bunt, or steals third off an unsuspecting pitcher, Dad Hat has become something of an under-appreciated art form. What was once an act of disrespect, has been re-imagined, re-claimed, and re-formed into something beautiful. Or, at any rate, high-crowned.

The credit for this transformation isn't due to one individual, although if it were due to one individual it would probably be long-tenured relief pitcher Rick Honeycutt. Look up any picture of Honeycutt on Google Images. Right now. Go ahead. You will not find a single photograph of Honeycutt sans Dad Hat, no matter how far down you scroll.

It was this dedication to craft, this singular vision of the future that helped push Dad Hat out of the shadows and into the light. Honeycutt's ability to mis-wear a baseball hat spans decades, and more teams than there are years in most players' careers. Here is Honeycutt with the A's. Here he is with the Cardinals. Here he is with the Mariners. Here he is with the Rangers. Here he is with the Dodgers. Dad Hat Dad Hat Dad Hat Dad Hat Dad Hat. The man is relentless.

But Honeycutt, great as he is, isn't alone. Another Dad Hat great is Fred McGriff. Here's McGriff from those old Tom Emanski videos on how to field. Many people, those unfamiliar with Honeycutt's pathbreaking work, will tell you that McGriff's work in these ads represent the apex of Dad Hat. They are not fully wrong, although they are ignorant with regards to the hat's history. They are right, in that McGriff is still a titan of Dad Hat.

McGriff wasn't one to keep his Dad Hat off the field though, he proudly Dad Hat'ed during team events as well. Here's McGriff posing while with the Blue Jays in full uniform!

And here he is with the Braves

That's a thing about Dad Hat. It's a skill that comes with a player, like on-base percentage or power. You know when you trade for a guy that he's going to take some walks, hit some doubles, be an average baserunner, and that he will just Dad Hat the shit out of everything. That's McGriff. He had power, he had some speed, and he had 80-grade Dad Hat until his last days as a big-leaguer.

There are so many Dad Hat greats that we'd be here forever if I listed them all. There's Nino Espinosa, and Jose Uribe, Jose DeLeon, and early-career Jorge Posada. There are the new instances categorized daily by @ProductiveOuts at the indispensable #DadHat hashtag. And then there is Jim Leyland.

Leyland wasn't a career Dad Hat'er—the man could wear the hell out of a baseball cap when he wanted to—but like all great managers, he was versatile. The old Pirates cake box hats were as much an invitation to Dat Hat as they were anything at all. Leyland, to his eternal credit, noticed and acted on this. Here he is posing for his baseball card in 1986, in a hat is so high it could bring rain. Dock Ellis looked at this hat and surmised that it was extremely high. It is so high that it will charge you extra for luggage. It's a big hat, and it's worn all wrong.

And yet this is not the end. This is not, implausibly, the ultimate in Dad Hat. To find that, we must go back to Rick Honeycutt, who absolutely bends fucking space with this, here:

Honeycutt's hat is simultaneously huge, high atop his head, but also somehow pulled down low to shade his eyes. How is this possible? The only conclusion, the only thing that almost makes sense, is that Honeycutt had a special Dad Hat hat made just for him, one that could both reach for the stars and remain grounded. This is unlikely, naturally. But nothing else even comes close to explaining it.

Just look at it. This is of course a static image, and yet if you stare at the crown of the hat, it grows. This is a hat that is also one of those Magic Eye images they used to have at the mall. I'm half convinced the hat will grow to cover the team name at the top of the card and holy shit... I swear it wasn't like that when I started writing this.

These supernatural aspects aside, Dad Hat has much to teach us about the human condition as we live it here on earth. Dad Hat shows us not to judge others, not to disparage those of us who look different or unpleasant or over-generously crowned; it teaches us to value diversity and to love those of us who dare to be distinctive, even when they are extremely wrong. There could be no greater compliment towards a thing so silly as a baseball hat than that the mere act of wearing it in a certain way could bring us closer to equality and to understanding each other as humans. Yes, it looks silly, but Dad Hat nevertheless has serious lessons to teach all those willing to learn. But also, wow, it really does look silly.