It's Much, Much More Than Just a Hat
During the 2001 All-Star break, Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Paul Quantrill took time out to discuss the Red Sox’s gritty play with a Globe reporter. "They’re just dirt dogs…their players just keep playing hard," Quantrill said. "Trot Nixon may be the best example of all of a dirt dog." Soon after the story appeared, the term "dirt dog," heretofore unknown, became part of the vernacular. Talking heads, sportswriters, and radio hosts used it nonstop; Fenway hawkers started emblazoning shirts with the phrase; someone launched a Dirt Dogs blog. We all loved the idea that the Sox were winning not with the most gifted players, but with the scrappiest. They were like Larry Bird on a baseball diamond.
Capturing the fit and feel of what Trot Nixon wore on the field, the Franchise hat was perfect for the moment. It had been in stores for six years, but had yet to make a real mark. Sales exploded in 2002 and 2003, says Twins marketing director Steven David, just as the Dirt Dogs were cementing themselves as fan favorites. "A broken-in Franchise hat with the salt and sweat marks on the side, it’s the same symbolism as Trot Nixon," Ben Fischman says. According to Tim Pettit, a manager at the Official Red Sox Team Store, fans’ buying habits almost always reflect the style and character of the team they’re watching. The era of the Dirt Dogs was no exception. "That vintage look, in both T-shirts and hats, was huge during that time," Pettit says.
The core fans, then, had literally bought in. But there was an implicit message in their purchasing habits. The players most commonly referred to as Dirt Dogs—Jason Varitek, Brian Daubach, and Nixon—were all white. The unseemly inference was that they had to work harder and play smarter to compete with minority athletes like Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. Nobody ever said it out loud, but many fans nevertheless bought the inference, identifying with these Sox’s workaday attitudes. The cap’s initial popularity reinforced, if nothing else, Boston’s enduring tribalism: For all our outward progressivism, we are most comfortable with the familiar.