Why MLB Umpires Collect Players’ Caps, Especially from the World Series
Some umps ask players if they can trade for a cap; others just take them.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned while writing about uniforms over the past 20-some years, it’s that there’s often more to a uni-related story than I initially realize. Sometimes what appears to be an isolated incident turns out to be part of a larger phenomenon. That’s the case with the faaaaascinating story I’m going to share with you today.
Let’s start with this: If you’re a longtime Uni Watch reader, or just a student of sports eccentricities, you may know that as the Cardinals were celebrating on the field after the final out of the 1967 World Series, third base umpire Augie Donatelli inexplicably reached into the scrum of players and took second baseman Julian Javier's cap right off of his head. Really! You can see it happen at the 0:10 mark of this video:
This is not a new discovery. I briefly referenced it nine years ago in an ESPN column, in fact. But here’s something I hadn’t noticed until recently: If we slow down the video and look at it frame by frame, Zapruder-like, we can see that Donatelli — wearing a suit and tie, as umps did in those days — already had a Cardinals cap in his hand when he reached the celebrating players. So after purloining Javier's cap, he ran off with two caps:
Who did the other cap belong to? According to this biography of Donatelli, published in 2011, the second cap came from the head of Cards shortstop Dal Maxvill. Here’s the pertinent passage from the book:
Without skipping a beat, Donatelli raced into the pile of St. Louis players and zeroed in on the caps of Dal Maxvill and Juilan Javier. As they celebrated, he plucked the caps off of their heads — neither of them noticed. If you zero in closely on the historical film of that World Series celebration, there recorded for posterity is Donatelli streaking across the screen and grabbing the caps and running out of frame. The players had no idea what had transpired, nor did they care. The umpire’s only intent was to grab a pair of souvenirs for his two sons. Mission accomplished.
That’s certainly an interesting way to acquire family heirlooms. We’ve all heard of cat burglars, but Donatelli was a cap burglar!
In any case, for years I thought the Donatelli situation was an isolated oddity — one of those classic strange-but-true moments that the sports world sometimes serves up for us. But is there more to it than that? As it turns out, yes.