The hat years

kangoooEarlier today, while digging through a moldy cardboard box in the attic, I found this newspaper clipping. It’s from June 2000, on the day after John Rocker confronted me in the bowels of Turner Field.

I actually vividly remember the photo being taken. I was standing in the Yankees’ clubhouse after the game, probably thinking about Rocker jabbing his finger into my chest, when I spotted a photographer snapping my image. Weird.

I digress.

My daughter Casey is almost 10. She has no idea who John Rocker is; knows little about my time at Sports Illustrated; knew nothing about the hat I used to wear.

“Dad,” she said, “what’s that on your head?”

“A hat,” I said.

“It’s terrible,” she replied.

Indeed. The hat is terrible. Awful. Pathetic. I bought it at Marshall’s for, I’m quite certain, somewhere between $6-$10. It did, however, serve a purpose.

Back in the mid-to-late 1990s, when I began serving as the No. 2 to Tom Verducci on the baseball beat at SI, I’d hop from clubhouse to clubhouse, never sticking around more than a few days. One week it’d be a profile of Mark Quinn in Kansas City; the next week it’d be Gary Sheffield in Los Angeles. Or J.D. Drew in St. Louis. Or Sean Burroughs in San Diego. I’d come, I’d go—quick as that. I hated how it worked; how I’d develop connections with players, then turn invisible and, ultimately, forgotten.

Enter: the hat.

I broke out the Kangol as a calling card. At the time, the majority of sports writers were pretty homogenous—white, unathletic, male, a bit droopy looking. We traveled in packs, dressed in off-the-rack duds, loved baseball but lacked the ability to play at any sort of legitimate level. Hence, I thought the backward Kangol might help me stand out a little; might help me be remembered.

And you know what? It worked. I still remember being 25 or 26, leaving the Seattle Mariners’ spring training complex and having Ken Griffey, Jr. say, “Hey, where’s your hat?” Other players started taking note, and before long I actually was recognized and acknowledged and somewhat familiar. I’m unsure whether it actually helped my stories, but it certainly reduced the need for awkward getting-to-know-you time.

Anyhow, I rode the hat for a few years—happy, happy, happy.

Then, when Rocker happened, the hat went from garment to noose. Suddenly, every ballplayer in every clubhouse seemed to immediately know who I was—in very, very bad ways. There’d be whispers, finger pointing, “That’s the guy who did in Rocker.” It got to be very uncomfortable; so much so that I stopped wearing the hat altogether. Before long, the last thing I wanted was to be recognized by the athletes.

Anyhow, time passed, and I stopped covering the game, and a couple of months ago the Baseball Hall of Fame requested the Kangol for its media section. I was honored, and sent it there to be preserved.*

And that’s that.

* I’m full of shit. The hat fell off my head in a ballpark tunnel. Never saw it again.