For over 80 years New Era has continued its rise as the leading cap provider in the game, all the time remaining intensely focused on the hand-making process of each 59fifty Authentic Collection cap, whether for MLB players, lifestyle fans or those players fortunate enough to make the postseason and wear the cap with a postseason patch.
New Era broke in with the Indians, but by the 1970s, New Era had 20 of the 24 MLB teams and in 1993 became the official on-field cap of baseball, a 25th anniversary the company plans to celebrate next season. "From an iconic perspective, we compare the 59fifty to a pair of Levi's 501 jeans," says Tony DeSimone, New Era's baseball category director. "It is our iconic (product). It has been around for a long time and is very recognizable. You can't watch a game without seeing the New Era Authentic Collection cap on the field."
In that 80-plus years, some things haven't changed at all, while everything is different. The cap was made from 100 percent wool into the 1990s. It has since been modernized with a performance polyester that includes sweat wicking, UV sun protection and an updated comfort fit. But the move into performance wasn't at the cost of an iconic design. "What is great about it is it still has a bit of a wool look to it," DeSimone says. "It is an all-around better performing cap than using wool, but it doesn't look like an athletic cap that wouldn't go with an outfit so it has maintained its lifestyle appeal."
That crossover appeal has given an extra dose of success to the Authentic Collection cap, DeSimone says, attracting both the team fan who wants the actual cap worn on the field and well beyond the typical sports fan. "They may not be a huge baseball fan, but they love to represent their city," he says. "They buy a Yankees cap or a Boston cap with the 'B' on the front and know it is a high-quality product and they can hook it up with their outfits and shoes. It lends itself to why the 59fifty AC cap has been so iconic over the years."
As the 59fifity represents the heritage of the New Era brand, it does come with a bit of a modern choice. The traditional design rises high on the crown and comes with a flat visor, allowing players to break it in any way they want. Also available for on-field wear is the low-profile version, not so high in the crown and with a slightly pre-curved visor, giving two different options in the 59fifty AC.
DeSimone says that players still gravitate in larger numbers toward the traditional 59fifty, representing the lion's share of what is worn on field, but the trend in the game has moved toward the low-profile. From a consumer perspective, they see similar numbers, but notice that in the last 18 to 24 months there has been a larger shift toward the low-profile version, especially online where shoppers may spend more time researching, he says.
As teams move toward the postseason, most players will pick up a brand-new cap with the side patch added, an accessory also available to consumers. "If your team hasn't made the postseason in 15 to 20 years and you see your team out there wearing that, it is a big change for our fans," DeSimone says. New Era sells plenty of the postseason patch AC caps, but also the World Series side patch when the time comes. "That is very important to recognize another milestone and fans remember it for the rest of their lives," he says. "They see it on the field of play and can get the exact cap."
While most MLB players will simply select a brand-new cap with the patch for the postseason, there remains one or two on every team who persist in superstition to wear the same cap all season. "You know who those guys are," DeSimone jokes. "You will see some of the guys with a worn cap, but it is a small percentage."
Whether the cap from the start of the season or a fresh AC cap for the postseason, every single cap worn in MLB is made in New Era's Derby, New York, plant outside of Buffalo, a 22-step process that remains completely hand-crafted. "Operators are taking a lot of pride in hand-crafting these caps that are going to be worn by the best players who play the sport of baseball in the world," DeSimone says.
Most Authentic Collection caps for fans also get crafted in the Derby plant.
The step-by-step process includes everything from rolling out fabric—New Era uses nine different main colors, as many teams share the same base color, such as navy or royal—to adding a visor board and stitching together panels. Each cap needs eyelet holes, a crown, a premeasured strip to create a specific size, a sweatband and a top button. The most intricate part of the process comes via the embroidery of each team logo. The most complex logo for New Era comes from the Miami Marlins, while the Yankees feature one of the least complex make-ups, a welcome sight for New Era cap crafters as the Yankees routinely represent the most popular cap.
During the Chicago Cubs' historic 2016 run the Cubs rivaled the Yankees for the year's top-seller, but each year the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox and Cubs rise to the top as "big market teams with national followings." Each year someone new attempts to break in, such as 2017 and the Houston Astros cap, likely bolstered both from the success of the team and fans wanting to support the city after the devastating hurricane.
As the 2017 postseason gets its start and teams take the field with that postseason patch on the side of the New Era Authentic Collection cap, know that the heritage of the hand-crafted cap—for fans and players—dates back to Cleveland. And 1934.
Tim Newcomb covers gear and business for Baseball America. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.