MLB, the Mets, the Hats, and September 11

Apparently, Major League Baseball really doesn’t want teams wearing caps other than their official team hats. The latest flap occurred when the New York Mets wanted to mark the 10th anniversary of September 11th by wearing caps marked FDNY, NYPD, and other city agencies involved in emergency response on 9/11. Major League Baseball said no, so the Mets decided to wear the caps just during batting practice. Then, according to an in-game tweet from R.A. Dickey, officials came in the fourth inning and took their non-Mets hats.

Joe Torre, Executive Vice President of Operations for MLB, cited recent precedent for the decision, when MLB denied the Washington Nationals’ request to wear caps honoring Navy SEALS a month ago, after a number of SEALs died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. The Nats wore the caps during batting practice instead. At the time, the Washington Post paraphrased MLB’s rationale, according to a spokesman:

The league prefers its clubs commemorate specific causes with uniform patches or batting-practice displays, rather than the actual game hats… “We reserve hats for national tributes, where every club is wearing them on the same day,” spokesman Pat Courtney told me.

But that’s inconsistent with recent history, as Paul Lucas at Uni-Watch demonstrated. Back in 2007, the Nationals wore Virginia Tech caps in remembrance of victims of the tragedy at that school. And this year, on Earth Day, the Minnesota Twins wore special green Earth Day caps.

Alright, so maybe Major League Baseball changed its policy really recently and just didn’t tell anyone. Still, understandably, emotions have been running high. Bud Selig was angry that the Mets took the flap public, apparently claiming the team had thrown him “under the bus.” Many New Yorkers were just as angry that Major League Baseball forbade the team from memorializing the first responders who perished as a result of the tragedy.

But it’s not hard to suspect $lightly ba$er motive$, as Andy Martino of the New York Daily News writes: “For what it’s worth, New Era, which manufactured the American flag hats used in all MLB games Sunday, said it would not have objected to the Mets wearing first responder hats, as the team so memorably did in 2001… [But] it is difficult not to conclude that MLB, tempted by memorabilia money, made an odious calculation.”

But MLB wasn’t the only party making a monetary calculation. The New York Post reported another possible reason the Mets decided to nix wearing NYPD and FDNY caps during the game:

Another source said Mets COO Jeff Wilpon was “back and forth” with the commissioner’s office on the matter until the proverbial 11th hour, when it was decided the Mets, on the hook for a $25 million loan from MLB, shouldn’t risk the wrath of Selig.

Most Mets past and present did not support their team’s decision to comply with the league edict. David Wright told the Daily News, “If we had a vote, we would wear the hats.” The same article quoted John Franco and Todd Zeile, who played for the Mets in 2001 when they wore first responder caps despite MLB telling them otherwise, urging confrontation. Franco said, “MLB said we couldn’t wear them – we said the heck with that… They (the current Mets) should do that, too, and pay whatever the fine is.” That’s what Josh Thole, the team’s representative to the union, said the same thing before the game: “What are they going to do, they gonna fine us?”

By contrast, several NFL players wore 9/11 tribute equipment from Reebok and expected to be fined, but in the end the league announced it wouldn’t fine anybody. That was the right decision, and if MLB had made it, they would have avoided this controversy — and Selig would have avoided making the disgusting accusation that a New York team that wanted to honor the victims of September 11 had in some way thrown the league “under the bus.”

As commissioner, Bud Selig has increased baseball revenue to tremendous heights. Last year, according to a trade publication, MLB licensing revenue was projected to beat NFL licensing revenue for the fourth straight year. Selig’s knack for making people richer is a good reason why he is already the second-longest-tenured commissioner ever, counting his six-year run as acting commissioner following Fay Vincent’s resignation. But he isn’t particularly popular with baseball fans.

(That said, baseball fans opposed to Bud Selig are about as well-organized as The People’s Front of Judea and the People’s Judean Front, as can be seen from four Facebook pages dedicated to his removal:
Baseball Fans for the Resignation of Bud Selig — 34 likes
Remove Bud Selig as MLB Commisioner — 16 likes
Bud Selig should resign — 18 likes
1,000,000 petition who HATES Bud Selig and thinks he’s an idiot — 8 likes)

Selig understands business. But a tunnel focus on the business — as with baseball’s ridiculous ban on YouTube videos, making game footage of amazing plays absurdly hard to find — can have the counterproductive side effect of pissing off fans. Hey, baseball’s a business, and it should be run as one. But I doubt that any of baseball’s priorities would have been seriously harmed by just letting the Mets wear the FDNY and NYPD caps during the game, just as they weren’t harmed by letting the Nats wear Virginia Tech caps. MLB made the wrong choice, and as a result, they’re suffering the blowback in the court of public opinion. They deserve it.

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Alex is a writer for The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.

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Good article, thanks. Love the Life of Brian reference.