This past weekend Major League Baseball and New Era unveiled the 2012 edition of their “Stars and Stripes” line of ballcaps. This product line is designed to honour the United States, it’s servicemen and women at home and abroad, and it’s veterans. This summer will be the fifth consecutive season that teams will be participating in this program and the first time they will feature a camouflage pattern rather than a US (or Canadian) flag design.

All Major League Baseball teams will wear the “Stars and Stripes” caps during games on Memorial Day, Independence Day, and on September 11th.

Don Mattingly in the LA Dodgers 2011 "Stars and Stripes" cap

The caps do serve a charitable cause. In years past the league was vague with their intentions, saying “a portion of proceeds” of the sales of these caps were going to charity. Starting in 2012 that’s been bumped up to “all net proceeds”. The charity of choice is “Welcome Back Veterans” which is designed to help returning soliders deal with post-traumatic stress and other ailments.

Every year this program has it’s fair share of critics. Some call it tacky while others are quick to point out the irony that this line of caps, made to honour the United States of America, is manufactured in that well-known land of the free… China.

Despite its fans and foes today, the notion of honouring the nation and military during times of war is nothing new for the league, in fact teams have been wearing patriotic designs dating back almost a century.

1917 Chicago White Sox red-white-and-blue stars logo

During the 1917 World Series the Chicago White Sox paid tribute to the U.S. Army fighting in Europe during the First World War by wearing uniforms featuring a red-white-and-blue version of their logo complete with 13 white stars. The patriotic look worked for the club as they finished off the Giants in six games to win what would be their last World Series for 88 years.

One-armed St. Louis Browns outfielder Peter Gray with the WWII patch on his sleeve, 1945

During the Second World War, legendary players such as Ted Williams, Bob Feller, Hank Greenberg, and Joe DiMaggio (among hundreds of other players) went off to serve their country and Major League Baseball teams wore several different patches to honour the troops and their players serving overseas. In 1942, all teams wore a shield on their jerseys featuring the word “HEALTH” with a blue field of white stars above. For the 1943-45 seasons the shield remained however the “HEALTH” portion was replaced with red-and-white stripes.

The "Health" patch from 1942

Some Major League ballplayers, like Hiram Bithorn and Red Ruffing, who received an honourary discharge from the war donned the “ruptured duck” patch upon their return, although most opted to not call any attention to their service and elected to skip the patch.

In 1990, during the height of Operation Desert Storm in Iraq, both the Cincinnati Reds and the Oakland Athletics affixed American flag patches on the fronts of their jerseys during the World Series.

Cincinnati Reds players celebrate during the 1990 World Series, note the US flag on front of jersey

After the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001, every Major League team wore US flag patches on the back of their jerseys covering up the MLB logo in between the shoulders as well as a flag patch on the sides of their caps for the remainder of the season and playoffs. The wearing of the flag patch on the cap continued on every Memorial Day, Independence Day, and September 11th from 2002 through 2007.

US flags were worn over the MLB patch following the 9/11 attacks in 2001

The “Stars and Stripes” program took over this annual tribute with different league-wide templated designs in use each season beginning in 2008.

During this period of increased patriotism in the United States a couple of teams designed uniforms as part of their regular sets to honour the nation. The San Diego Padres, noting the large Navy base in their hometown, began wearing camouflaged team uniforms on Sunday afternoon home games. The design has changed slightly over the past 10 years, but the Padres still do this today. The Washington Nationals have also sported a stars-and-stripes themed design as an alternate uniform since 2009.

The San Diego Padres in their camouflage uniforms during the 2004 season

So what do I think about all this?

First, I’m cool with the league paying tribute to the military, I like honouring ones country, but I’m not sure the league is going about this the best way. I’m very anti-league-wide-template, if a team wants to honour the troops, let them honour the troops how they choose. Although I must say the 2012 edition of this program is the best looking one yet.

Second, these caps have got to be made in the U.S.A., this is a no-brainer.

Finally, the league should really step up and just donate 100% of all sales of this cap to their Welcome Back Veterans charity. Basically, if you really want to support your troops, skip the middle man and just hand over $40 to your local war vets charity.