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They Could Have Made a Statement

The New York Mets wish to thank New Era and Major League Baseball for setting aside standard uniform regulations so Mets players and coaches could honor the bravery and courage of New York’s first responders and service agencies in memory of the lives given so selflessly in the heinous attacks of September 11, 2001. The Mets’ wearing of caps bearing the insignias of those agencies is but a small way of continuing to remember the enormous contributions of the men and women who came to the aid of those in need at a most crucial hour in our city’s and our nation’s history.

Something like that. A couple of announcements, read at the ballpark and over the air…maybe with the most subtle of reminders that if you are interested, a Mets cap with an American flag patch sewn on the side is available [1], too, and a portion of its proceeds will go to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, Flight 93 Memorial and Pentagon Memorial (a hefty portion, in an ideal world). Take care of MLB’s licensed apparel partner and let the Mets play ball one night a year in the caps of the FDNY, the NYPD, the PAPD, the OEM, the EMS, the K-9 corps, the Court Officers and anybody else I may have failed to list.

Everybody nods, everybody applauds and life goes on as best it can.

Too bad nobody could come to this kind of solution, or a realization that this kind of solution — and it didn’t necessarily have to be this exact version — would have made everybody feel better and nobody look bad. Terry Collins, sick of the whole thing’s dissection by now, says, “It was not what we had on our heads. It was what was in our hearts.” [2] True enough, and if you couldn’t see into the Mets’ hearts Sunday night, then you weren’t looking closely enough at the classy, heartfelt tribute that preceded their game with the Cubs.

But it is a little about what was on their heads. Or, more specifically, what wasn’t.

Blame the Mets for that, but only in the sense that you’re blaming them for having done the right thing ten years ago and continuing to do the right thing, capwise, for another six years thereafter. The Mets wearing the caps of the first responders to 9/11 — in some cases the actual caps worn by the actual responders, as Todd Zeile recalls [3] — was as heartfelt a statement as a baseball team could make about being part of something bigger than they were. It’s one thing to wear an “N” and a “Y” and say you play for New York. It’s another thing to borrow, with blessings, the crests of those for whom you play and literally play for them.

That’s what the Mets did in 2001, with heads held high for 18 games. That’s what the Mets did again, in commemoration of the most chilling acts of heroism imaginable, every year thereafter from 2002 through 2007. In 2008, MLB stepped in and told teams to wear other caps, with jury-rigged red, white and blue team logos, and they kept that up through last year. The Mets dutifully complied.

They sought to do differently this year for the tenth anniversary. MLB had a problem with it. It is to their everlasting discredit that they did.

MLB was shortsighted, to put it extraordinarily kindly, in rejecting the Mets’ efforts, no matter how the decision was made [4], no matter who said what to who or who threatened who with what [5]. The Mets wanted to wear the kinds of caps they wore in 2001 in 2011. They were told not to. We can implore the Mets to show more backbone or cojones or whatever phrase you choose to indicate a stronger stand of defiance, but it shouldn’t have come to that.

MLB should have recognized, as ESPN’s Buster Olney suggested [6], that the Mets wearing the caps of first responders was not only the right thing to do, but a part of their heritage. It’s an established tradition, a serious one. MLB should have said, “Look, we want to sell caps with American flags. But what the Mets do to honor their community transcends merchandising opportunities by so much, that even we’re not so thick-skulled that we can’t recognize it. So let’s get them to make a few announcements plugging New Era and let them play ball. Tomorrow we’ll go back to business as usual.”

Monday night, by the way, was business as usual. The Mets wore regulation caps, didn’t hit and lost [7] for the fifth time in six games. So there, Joe Torre, is your cherished “uniformity”.

Oh, and one more announcement that could still be made:

In 2012, Major League Baseball will inaugurate Community Service Recognition Day, when each of our 30 teams will promote the organizations in their communities who are dedicated to helping others by having its players and coaches wear the caps of those groups on the field for one game. Major League Baseball thanks the New York Mets for setting an example we can all follow.

Instead of worrying in corporate dunderheaded fashion (per Olney’s reporting [8]) that, “heaven forbid, there might be another tragedy…and then what we would do about caps?” (as opposed to worrying about the consequences of the tragedy itself), MLB can embrace its unique role as unifier rather than marketer. Do they realize how many community-based agencies across America wear baseball caps despite not being baseball teams? Don’t they see what baseball means to people beyond licensed branding? There is an inherent connection still between this game and this nation. The cap is a statement unto itself, one that isn’t translated strictly in an accounting of receipts.

Why is there an FDNY cap anyway? Don’t firefighters have helmets? Don’t the police have hats of their own to match their uniforms? Yet there is an NYPD cap and an FDNY cap. Everybody, at some level, wants to wear a baseball cap of their own. Everybody wants to be part of the team. MLB, in turn, can be part of their teams — part of a lot of teams. This doesn’t have to be solely about New York and its first responders. There are agencies and organizations in other cities that do great things for those communities. Let the teams there follow the Mets’ path in that regard. Let the Nationals, as they wanted, honor the Navy SEALs. Let the Rockies honor those who make a difference in Denver. Let the Mariners do it in Seattle and the Dodgers do it in Los Angeles and so on.

For one day, MLB, use your heads. It doesn’t have to be on the emotionally loaded day of September 11, but that does seem ideal, given that it’s more and more being promoted as a day of service. It doesn’t have to be just one organization per team. Look what the Mets meant to so many in ’01 by wearing the caps of several different agencies.

Let it be a local decision, ballclub to ballclub. Give New Era (or whoever) their props as suggested above and let the teams say to their cities, you’re with us, so we’re with you. You and and our entire community mean so much to us that you are, literally, top of mind. Look at us — we honor you right from the very top of who we are.

Y’know what? It should be about what’s in the heart, but sometimes you can tell what that is much quicker by seeing what’s on the head.

Especially in baseball.