The weird and quirky tradition of the rally cap has endured in Major League Baseball for almost 70 years. Pete Hodges looks at the origins of the rally cap to take a closer look at why players may subject themselves to looking foolish in front of the baseball world.
The 11th inning of Game 2 of the 2014 American League Divisional Series was a crucial time for the Kansas City Royals. They were coming off of a 3-2 victory in Game 1 against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and tied going into the eleventh inning for the second successive night. The Royals needed a win to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the best of five series so they turned to one of baseball’s oddest traditions, the rally cap:
With one out, Lorenzo Cain hit a single on a weak grounder to shortstop Erick Aybar. An Eric Hosmer two-run home run followed, giving the Royals a 3-1 lead on their way to an eventual 4-1 victory. The win brought the ALDS to Kauffman Stadium with the Royals leading the series 2-0. They would go on to win Game 3 to complete the sweep, following it up with an American League Championship Series victory against the Baltimore Orioles before losing the World Series to the San Francisco Giants.
The rally cap is a common sight at ballparks across the country when a team is down or tied in the late innings of a game. Rally caps are typically a normal baseball cap worn inside-out, but the look can vary as long as it’s ridiculous. The idea is to give up some of your pride and look silly so that fortune will favor your team in a time of need. Whether it works or not is irrelevant; baseball players far and wide believe it does:
Details aren’t clear, but the origins of the rally cap most likely started in MLB with the 1942 Detroit Tigers. Fans of the team started wearing their hats inside-out when the club needed a spark and the players took to the new habit. It was observed nationwide in Game 5 of the 1945 World Series between the Tigers and the Chicago Cubs when announcers Bill Slater and Al Helfer made note of the ritual. The Series was split at two games apiece and the game was tied 1-1 in the top of the sixth inning when the Tigers in the dugout put on their rally caps and Detroit proceeded to score four runs. They would win Game 5 by a score of 8-4 and eventually won the World Series in seven games.
After that the rally cap appeared to go dormant in the majors until 1977, when the Texas Rangers revived the ritual. The team finished in second place in the AL West with 94 wins.
The most famous use of the rally cap occurred during the 1986 World Series. With the Boston Red Sox ahead three games to two and leading the Mets 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 6, New York donned their rally caps. While the seventh inning was fruitless for the Mets, the eighth was a different story. With Lenny Dykstra on second base and Lee Mazzilli on third base, Gary Carter lifted a sacrifice fly to left fielder Jim Rice that resulted in Mazzilli scoring the tying run. After the Red Sox scored two runs in the top of the tenth, the Mets were once again in need of a rally. What followed is still painful for many Red Sox fans. After an RBI single by Ray Knight and a wild pitch allowed Kevin Mitchell to score from third, Mookie Wilson came to the plate. With a full count and two outs, Wilson grounded the ball down the first base line, and Bill Buckner made the most infamous play in Boston sports history. Ray Knight scored from third on the error and the Mets would go on to win Game 7 for their second World Series title:
Sacrificing one’s dignity by wearing a rally cap in the hope of getting lucky is not really what the rally cap is about. The ritual allows players to relax in a time when a team’s nerves are on edge. Relaxing helps focus on the task at hand rather than the dire situation they find themselves in and, hopefully, results in a winning rally.