Do the Hats Really Have to Be Red, White, and Blue?
Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day.Â They’re the holy trinity of American summer holidays.Â The triumvirate of patriotic celebrations.Â The mention of these three days evokes the image of American flags planted at the heads of lawns, the scent of charcoal slowly burning to its embers, and the mild droning of baseball games playing over a nearby radio.
However, these three days carry more significance than the sizzle of a nice thick steak on the grill or an opportunity to play some wiffle ball with your boys in the yard.Â In fact, when observed as a triptych, these holidays are meant to honor the many sacrifices that average Americans have made over the course of this country’s history.
Of all the major American sports, baseball stands uniquely positioned to responsibly and effectively honor the generations of men and women who selflessly gave their lives to protect the rights of the citizens of this country and of those abroad.Â The baseball season spans all three days.Â The beauty of baseball played in the brilliance of the midday sun–as it was meant to be–shines clearly on the last Monday in May, July 4th, and the first Monday in September.
So, how does Major League Baseball carry this singular privilege and weighty responsibility of effectively honoring American culture and history?
It reaches for the quick buck, and asks that all its constituents wear garrulous hats on these celebratory and patriotic days.
We live in a commercialized society, so I guess it’s no surprise to see a major corporation think more in terms of its bottom lines and merchandising opportunities than its defense of cultural significance or meaning.Â Obtrusive product placement has become ubiquitous in our society.Â The kids in Smallville simply can’t survive without their Sprint smart phones or their Toyota Yarises. (What is the plural of “Yaris”?Â Is it “Yari”? “Yares”?Â These are the type of linguistic questions that keep me up at night.)Â One of the major conflicts that Coach Taylor had to overcome early this season in Friday Night Lights was his team’s lack of Under Armor equipment.
I get it.Â Businesses have to think about revenue first and integrity second.
Major League Baseball releases these hats knowing that it’ll be able a to sell a large number of them to communities across the country, gain some quick media exposure, and ultimately increase its year-end profit margin.
Yet, there was a time when baseball played an almost irreplaceable role in American culture.Â This was mainly because many of these players were ordinary human beings with whom the average American could identify.
Joe DiMaggio was the son of Italian fishermen.Â Hank Greenberg emerged from an orthodox Jewish family in the Bronx.Â Jackie Robinson grew up a sharecropper’s son in Cairo, Georgia.Â Even the brightest superstar of the era grew up poor in Baltimore, the son of hard-working tavern-keepers, who happened to enjoy carousing and women as much as the next man.Â His name was George Herman Ruth.
Throughout the Twentieth Century, America found itself embroiled and entangled in a variety of international events ranging from world wars to undeclared and unsanctioned military actions.Â Every time, baseball players laid aside promising and high paying careers to serve their country.Â I have a hard time accepting that red, white, and blue hats are the best way to honor these individuals.
An estimated 4,500 professional baseball players sacrificed the primes of their careers to serve the American armed forces.Â Five hundred alone served in World War II.Â Among these men were giants in the sport, such as Yogi Berra, Tris Speaker, Bobby Doerr, Larry Doby, Phil Rizzuto, Bob Feller, and the aforementioned DiMaggio, Robinson, and Greenberg.Â Â Whitey Ford, Ernie Banks, and Willie Mays all served in Korea.Â Ted Williams replaced a number of his peak playing days with time in the Marines once during World War II and again in Korea
And those are just a handful of the Hall-of-Famers.Â Hundreds of others did the same thing, without even a second thought.
You’re telling me Major League Baseball couldn’t do a little research and find the thousands of men who gave up the primes of their careers, invite them to their local ballparks, and celebrate their incredible selflessness?Â Families could stand proxy and justifiably honor their relatives who bravely faced perils and tribulations that no man could possibly imagine.Â Maybe MLB could donate a percentage of its gate receipts on these three days to the local chapters of Veterans Affairs.
It might not be as easily distributed to the Lids store on the corner, but Bob Feller, dressed in his Navy dress blues, tossing out the first pitch in Cleveland on July 4th wouldn’t draw some media coverage?
Instead, I’m forced to tune into a Sunday afternoon broadcast where the Yankees wear gaudy white caps adorned with blue brims and logos colored with stars and stripes.Â The payers, broadcasters, and fans meander blissfully through their afternoons without properly recognizing the contributions of the previous generation of men who voluntarily donned both the pinstripes of the Bronx and the combat greens of the American armed forces.
At this time, I think of both my grandfathers, who fought in the Pacific during World War II.Â I wonder what they might have to say about their blood, sweat, and tears being co-opted to sell MLB merchandise and turn a few extra bucks.
On most days, I’m happy to steal a phrase from the old country song and say I’m proud to be an American.
But on these three days, in the face of those ridiculous hats,
I’m not at all proud to be a baseball fan.
To learn more about baseball players serving the American military, go to Gary Bedingfield’s Baseball in Wartime.