Cap capitalism holds Phils captive


Allison Gmerek, who is director of sales for the company that makes them, said, "They're going to be Top 10 sellers this year for major-league caps."

Don Steele, manager of a Philadelphia sporting goods store, said, "There's no controversy about them yet. But after the stories come out, there might be."

But Jim Fregosi, whose baseball team wears them, said, "Oh, no. I'm not talking about those hats. Do we really have to talk about this? Let's talk about baseball, not this stuff."

Fregosi might not want to, but everyone else in Philadelphia seems to have blue caps on their minds, not to mention their heads. Maybe longer than the Phillies will themselves.

Consider that the Phillies, after going 15-6 in home day games and winning the National League pennant last season in red caps, are 0-3 this year in blue.

It was supposed to be merely one of many changes in headgear this season in major-league baseball -- 10, according to Gmerek, whose employer, New Age of Derby, N.Y., makes the caps for every team.

"It was something that [club president] Bill Giles wanted to do, and we kicked it around during the winter," said Larry Shenk, the team's vice president for public relations. "A lot of other teams have alternate hats."

The cap, navy blue with a red-and-white "P" on the front and a Major League Baseball emblem on the back, has overshadowed even John Kruk's comeback from cancer as a topic of conversation.

Though it should quiet down now that the Phillies are on a seven-game West Coast trip and don't play a home day game again until May 1 against the San Francisco Giants, the issue will be hanging, uh, over their heads.

"Bill is going to mull it over," Shenk said of a possible change back to red. "But there's more involved than the concern of the players. As Lenny Dykstra said, 'The color of the hats don't affect the way you play.' "

It's certainly good for business, which is one reason the team went to the dang things in the first place. Ed Pheiffer, buyer for licensed products for the Gold Medal sporting goods chain, told the Philadelphia Daily News that the Phillies' blue caps are hot items.

"We're having trouble getting them from the manufacturer," said Pheiffer, who estimated the blue caps were outselling the reds, 4 to 1. "They always seem to underestimate how popular a new item will be."

And Steele, manager of Mitchell and Ness, a sporting goods store in Center City said that while "we carry both the blue and the red hats, the new ones are selling a lot faster."

The Phillies don't seem to be catching on to this craze. In fact, after losing their first two home day games, the red caps were hanging from the hooks by each player's locker before Tuesday afternoon's affair with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

It turned out to be a symbolic, not to mention short-lived, &L; gesture. After several conversations, including one behind closed doors between Fregosi and catcher Darren Daulton, the red caps came down, the blue caps went on and the Phillies went out and lost, 8-7, having blown a five-run lead.

"There are a lot of superstitions in baseball," Fregosi said.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, they probably will have to break this one with blue caps on their heads. Who knows? Maybe they'll someday call their day home games "Blue Hat Specials."

* Someday, but not just yet.

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