Chasing Down Some Clues To the Backward-Cap Craze

Along with the Post-it note, the Bungee clip, the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, and the word processor's insert key, the baseball cap, I believe, makes the world a better place to live in. Thus I am puzzled by what appears to be contemporary nonchalance in the sartorial orientation of the cap: the fashion statement made by the under-30 set in wearing their caps with the bills pointing backward.

The spectrum of cap-reversers is broad, indeed, extending from the neighborhood kid "Good-time Charley," roaring up in his souped-up Camaro, with his radio off the scale, to high-paid tennis professionals who have played matches in televised major tournaments with caps on backward. Where did the antic start, and what is its purpose?

Once in a while in an American Legion baseball game you will see the entire bench of a team on the short end of the score in the eighth inning suddenly reversing caps to petition "The Great Umpire in the Sky" for a rally; and some people believe this is where American youth started backward.

Lately, players in the United States Davis Cup bench have been doing the same thing when a match appeared to be going down the tubes, so there may be something to it. On the other hand, I have never seen either an amateur or a professional baseball player actually play the game in a reversed cap. I did see Ken Griffey Jr. of the Seattle Mariners reverse his cap before a game while he was signing autographs; but as soon as "Play ball!" was intoned, the cap's bill was front and center.

So, to find out what gives with the run-of-the-mill "backward" brethren and sisters, I decided to go straight to the source and stopped a selection of local reversed-cappers. To each I posed the question: "Can you tell me why you're wearing your baseball cap on backward?" - making sure that my inquiry bore no trace of either amusement or censure.

According to my notes, I queried five representatives and received as many distinct responses. First, my neighbor's grandson said he definitely wore his baseball cap backward only to shade his neck from the sun. Next, a young lady playing tennis on an adjacent court giggled a little at my question but eventually responded that otherwise she "just can't do anything with my hair in back." Then a motorcyclist parked outside K-Mart believed his reversed cap cut down wind resistance; and besides, when the hat was worn forward at 70 m.p.h., his preferred speed on the open road, "Like man," he said, laying the obvious on me, "it's gone, zip!" (I was tempted to ask why he didn't wear a helmet, but he was a pretty good size....)

Now all three of these responses were rational, and I immediately felt better about the upcoming generation, if not about cap deployment. But another stranger, orienting his cap "way back" and "way down," recommended I mind my own business.

Perhaps the most incisive answer came from "Good-time Charley." I shot him the "backward cap" query as he sat revving up his engine.

"I dunno," he said. "Like man," he continued after some thought and a stray vrooom or two, "some dude put his on backward, and somebody else said it was cool. Like man, I guess it's cool."

I suspect "Good-time" has gotten to the root of reversed capping. For every reverser who is trying to induce a rally, shade the neck, caddy wayward wisps of hair in back, or mind motorcycle dynamics, there are hundreds exercising the sweet itch of youth to invert society's ordinary ways and thus call attention to themselves as being cool. There's no surer way, these days, of displaying laid-back, low-temperature status. I'd bet that the kids who were getting Ken Griffey Jr.'s autograph thought he was mighty cool with his cap on backward. So did Griffey.

So I thought I'd give it a shot and put my cap on backward for a trip to the supermarket. But my wife (on the way out) thought I was silly, and the clerk (on the way in) deliberately avoided eye contact. Neither seemed to size me up as having the coveted low-temperature status, which only proved that one man's "cool" is another man's "lukewarm," if you follow me.

But the coupe de grace was deftly administered by a junior high kid who was standing behind me in the check-out line at the supermarket.

"Hey, mister," he asked, "why ya gotcher cap on backward?"

Think I was going to tell him? No way.

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