For only the second time in 19 years, the Yankees are out of the playoffs before the postseason has even begun. Phew. Now I can finally wear my Yankees cap.
Hereâs the thing: I love the Yankeesâ logo, but couldnât care less about the team. Itâs not that I object to a $1.85 billion franchise with a $230 million opening-day payroll. And Iâm not a Mets or Red Sox fan. I just donât care all that much about baseball. But, that logo. This is not where I segue into some screed on graphic design, gushing about serifs or kerning. The logo is just flat-out quintessential, distilled, pure New York.
It was designed by Louis B. Tiffany as part of a silver shield-shaped Medal for Valor depicting a woman placing a laurel wreath on a policemanâs head. It also contained the by-now-familiar interlocking letters âNY.â The medal was given to John McDowell, the first New York police officer shot in the line of duty, in 1877, one year after the National League was formed.
In 1903, when the American League moved the Baltimore Orioles to 168th Street and Broadway for a season, they were dubbed âThe Highlanders,â because, in those days, 168th was the nosebleed section of the city. In 1909, after several unsuccessful uniform designs, William âBig Bullâ Devery, a part-owner of the Highlanders, essentially expropriated the logo, having remembered it from his days as the cityâs police chief. (The Police Department still awards medals of valor, but they are based on a 1939 redesign.) By 1913, when the team moved to the Polo Grounds, newspaper reporters who were sick of the long team name had nicknamed the Highlanders as âYankeesâ and the franchise had made the moniker official.
So here, in these simple overlapping letters, is a Venn diagram of every type of power in the city: the luxurious jeweler, the valiant public servant, the three-card-monty entrepreneur, the imperious immigrant and the chummy citywide nickname. It has been the winningest thing in the city since day one. But it gets ruined by baseball.
Whether people move here from Connecticut or Kazakhstan, there are certain immigrants who pride themselves on earning a New York state driverâs license. But the Yankees cap is the true calling card.
Picture any celebrity walking their dog through TriBeCa or shopping with their child in SoHo. Their costume from the neck up is sunglasses and a Yankees cap. Itâs clichÃ© because itâs true, so true that Sports Illustrated keeps a slide show of celebrities in Yankees caps: Billy Crystal, Kate Hudson, LeBron James, Spike Lee, Jennifer Lopez, Madonna, Adam Sandler, Paul Simon, Denzel Washington, and on and on. Before they were part-owners of the Brooklyn Nets, the rapper Jay Z and his wife, BeyoncÃ© Knowles, were avid Yankees cap devotees. Jay Z not only rode in Yankeesâ World Series parades, but in 2010, he also unveiled a line of co-branded gear.
When Hillary Rodham Clinton was the first lady, she greeted Yankees at the White House and wore a Yankees cap the whole time, perhaps underlining her New York credentials as she prepared to run for a Senate seat here.
The mayor at the time, Rudolph W. Giuliani, strutted about town wearing âa Yankees cap like a king wears a crown,â noted The Washington Post in 1999. In his reign as mayor, Mr. Giuliani gave keys to the city to Yankees players, coaches and retired legends on nine separate occasions. By comparison, his predecessor, David N. Dinkins, gave out only two keys, one to Mikhail Gorbachev, the other to Nelson Mandela.
The lower rungs of society, too, know the power of a Yankees cap: a 2010 analysis by The New York Times of Police Department news releases, surveillance video, and images of robberies and other crimes, as well as police sketches and newspaper articles that described suspectsâ clothing, revealed that Yankees caps far outnumber those of any other sports team among the crooked.
More than Broadway or bagels or perhaps even that beacon on Liberty Island, the Yankees logo has been our greatest ambassador.
I hold no illusions that anyone sees the back story and symbolism of the logo when I wear my hat. As a friend explained to me: âThe Yankees are so big and famous itâs kind of a stretch to wear the logo and expect anyone to take your symbol-splicing seriously.â
Whatever the motivation or interpretation, a Yankees cap is an open invitation for anyone anywhere to feel cool, rich, tough or victorious (mostly). That is not a feat made possible by Mariano Rivera or Andy Pettitte or the ghosts of Babe Ruth or Joe DiMaggio â” rather, itâs by virtue of the more than eight million sluggers rounding the bases in this crackerjack slog of a town.
And now the Yankeesâ season is over. Long live the Yankees cap!
A Yankees cap doesnât make you a Yankees fan as much as it makes you a New Yorker. It is the secular skullcap for the priesthood of all believers who arrive at the likes of Port Authority, Pennsylvania Station and Kennedy Airport by the minute with nothing but a duffel bag full of dreams. To that, I tip my hat.