I want my hat back.

Fashion, identity, values, and baseball.

I have a lot of baseball caps, but I don’t actually wear many of them. Special occasions might earn a special hat, but for my daily routine, I rotate between two caps - both for the Kansas City Royals. One is the traditional blue, the other is a jazzy ‘all black’ variant (purchased, randomly, from a German eBayer).

The hat is just, well, always there. It is my ‘thing’. My mental picture of me is wearing a Royals cap. Hell, when I was screwing around with Fiverr earlier this year, the 8bit avatar I briefed is wearing – you guessed it:

This week, I just couldn’t do it. Initially, every day was a ‘special occasion’: an excuse to wear one of the other caps in the collection. And this morning, a distinctly unspecial day, I moved my Royals caps down to the oubliette of the hat drawer and donned a Monarchs cap instead. My mental picture has been effective wiped clean.

The why is easy: the Royals suck.

Not on the field: that’s business-as-usual for a Royals fan, and (see below) one of the reasons I did wear the caps. But as it turns out, they’re anti-vaxxers. A whopping ten starting players (half the roster!) and multiple managers couldn’t go on a recent road trip to Toronto. Above and beyond one’s feelings about vaccines (spoiler: take them), this was a disaster. Two of our best players (in Royals terms) even torpedoed their own trade value. Other teams won’t shell out for players that won’t play. 

Canada’s “tough” vaccine laws aren’t a surprise. The team deliberately keeping the players’ unvaccinated status a secret until the last minute, however, was. This secrecy means that the unvaccinated players have spent the season mingling with the other players – as well as crowds, signings, and fan events. More baffling, as an institution, the Royals have had no issue standing a public stand on far lesser evils, making this nonsense all the more hypocritical and embarrassing.

It is painfully obvious that these unvaccinated players simply don’t care about playing for the Royals. This isn’t implied. They literally said that.

Compounding the damage, the Toronto road trip wasn’t a pummelling. The Royals called up ten players from the minors, who – rather miraculously – won the first game and kept it close in another. Going one for three on a tough road trip is actually better than the Royals have been for the rest of the season. They were fun to watch. They played hard…

… and, once the trip was over, the kids were promptly sent back down, and the anti-vaxxers restored to the line-up. The folks that wanted to be there were replaced by those who didn’t.

We found a hat.

Association with a sports team is one of the most powerful and ubiquitous in-group dynamics. Here in England, for example, your football affiliation is more than a handy ice-breaker: it says who you are, where you come from, what you stand for. Who you support is an intangible, but potent, social dynamic - arguably as powerful and as pervasive as an accent, or the class system. You are who you cheer for.

Back across the pond: the Yankees are a global brand. They’re exciting. They’re dominant. They’re winners. They’re legitimately legendary: the best of the best. Every player is a superstar and a household name. They represent the greatest players on on of sports’ greatest stages. The Yankees are, well, the Yankees.

The Royals, on the other hand, are budget Midwestern perennial losers. We’re the worst team in the worst division. If baseball had relegation, we’d be playing in the Middlesex County League. But we try hard. We have a sprawling stadium that makes home runs hard. No glamour; we grind out wins. And when we do (see: the magical year of 2015), it is undeniably a team effort. We keep the line moving: everyone does their part. Our players are homegrown from the farm system, we love them, we raise them, and then we wave them off to better teams. Our one actual star, the adorable Salvador Perez, is notable for his 100 megawatt smile and using his offseason to play more baseball. We are loveable underdogs, who play our hearts out. At least, we were.

Teams therefore aren’t just regional affiliations, they’re value sets. And when I wear a hat, I am choosing to project to the world that I subscribe to those values. I’m displaying my group to everyone I encounter, before I even open my mouth. My choice of cap is my choice of how I want to be perceived.

Fashion is a huge, huge, huge part of our identity: it is the way that we choose to project ourselves, our values, and our group associations to other people. For me, a notoriously bland and monochromatic dresser, my Royals cap is my fashion – my one bit of identity-promoting flair. That’s how I want to be seen. So what happens when it isn’t?

This is not my hat.

One of the most thought-provoking books I’ve read recently was Craig Calcaterra’s Rethinking Fandom. Calcaterra is a terrific sportswriter, particularly on baseball, and his book looks at the ‘sports-industrial complex’: the evolution of American sports from a pastime into a series of corporate enterprises that have little, if anything, to do with the game. It is a fascinating, eye-opening book, that reveals, in painstaking detail, the vast rift between fans and the industry that supposedly serves them.

The first half of Calcaterra’s book carefully rips out the readers’ heart, with stories of union-busting, stadium blackmail, and the macabre manipulations of billionaire owners. The second half, thank god, is a little more optimistic – focusing on what the reader, as an individual fan, can do. And the simplest thing? Stop. No team deserves your loyalty. You don’t have to support a single organisation blindly, just because you always have. Hell, keep enjoying the sport, but find another way to do so – support a player or a league or a different team. Keep cheering, but do so with your eyes open. There are many, many identities that are imposed upon us. Your sports allegiance is one of the few you can choose for yourself. It is, of course, easier said than done.

You stole my hat.

2015 and 2014 were some of the greatest moments of my life, bar none. That’s a strange thing to say about ‘watching some dudes run around with sticks (mostly on TV)’, but it is engrained on my psyche. Even in my famously muddled psyche, I remember so much of that magical World Series run. Hell, I even remember some of 1985. I’m not burning my caps, throwing out my jerseys, taking down the photos, or renaming my cat (Salvador Purrez, natch).

But, that’s our history, not the present. As Calcaterra would say, I don’t owe the Royals anything. They no longer represent a set of values that I believe in, and what they do represent, I don’t want to be associated with. The Royals, as they are now, aren’t who I want to be, or who I want people to think I am.

I’m not throwing everything away forever, as who knows who the Royals will be next year, in five years, or beyond that. But they’ll need to earn my loyalty again. For now, it can all stay in a drawer for a while.

(Except for the cat, but he’ll probably sit in there anyway. Because, cats.)

1,500 words on baseball caps. Y’all miss me?

Here’s a quick recap of stuff:

That list is less impressive when you realise it has been a whopping fourteen months between newsletters. Sorry about that.

The biggest news - and the primary reason for the lengthy gap in newsletters - is The Big Book of Cyberpunk. The opportunity to edit one of Vintage’s incredible ‘Big Books’ series has been incredible. Now that it is ‘over the hump’, I’ll undoubtedly write more about BBoCP in upcoming newsletters, but here’s a spoiler: it is, indeed, very big.

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