It's Much, Much More Than Just a Hat
Much like the Sox’s former right fielder, I am also exceptionally finicky about the fit of my Red Sox hats. The last time I tried to buy a New Era 59Fifty, the model all major- and minor-league ball-players wear on the field, was in 2003, when I made the spring training pilgrimage to Fort Myers with my father. The hat was constructed of six navy blue wool panels, sewn together and joined at the crown by a blue button, and attached to a flat but malleable brim. On the back was the small red, white, and blue Major League Baseball logo—the 59Fifty’s imprimatur of authenticity. There was of course also the familiar red B, stitched out in all its seriffed glory on the front. But it was the mesh structure lurking behind the letter that bothered me. It caused the front to puff out at its middle seam, making it look like I was wearing a billboard. And the cap’s deep bowl came down too far, pushing my ears out (so I looked like Dumbo wearing a billboard). Worst of all, the wool was too hot in the Florida sun, especially for a fat schvitz-box like me.
By May, I had replaced my 59Fifty with a slouch-fitted, garment-wash cotton model known as a Franchise hat. I picked it up in the giant souvenir shop across the street from Fenway, now called the Official Red Sox Team Store. The thing looked as if it’d been through the washer about 10 times, and was soft enough to feel that way, too. Where my 59Fifty sat up stiffly, the Franchise, with its unstructured design, rested naturally on the front of my head. At the time of purchase, the cap was navy blue with a red B, but thanks to all that sweat (plus sun and chlorine), its color can now be best described as various shades of brownish ick. I couldn’t love it more.
I’m not the only one. My roommates own Sox Franchise hats. My friends own Sox Franchise hats. My roommates’ friends’ mothers’ enemies own Sox Franchise hats. If you put down this magazine and step outside, you’ll see someone wearing one right now.
Members of Red Sox Nation, it turns out, buy Franchise caps in record numbers. According to national hat retailer Lids, Sox Franchise hats account for a whopping 26 percent of the leaguewide Franchise market. No other team comes within 10 percentage points. And yet, Lids reports that among all the myriad styles of hats it sold last year, Red Sox caps were second, by a two-to-one margin, to Yankees caps. In other words, Sox fans are uniquely, disproportionately, astoundingly loyal to their preferred model. But why?
It has partly to do with Trot Nixon, more to do with the team he played for, and everything to do with Boston and its ethos. It sounds almost silly to say, but the Franchise is the first baseball cap to fully capture a city. It is only fitting (pun intended) that it would be ours.