Jerry Morales was—at least anecdotally—a slick-fielding outfielder known for his unorthodox habit of catching routine fly balls below his waist and out in front of him. He led PCL outfielders in fielding percentage in 1970 and 1971 and was a top defensive NL outfielder in 1975 and 1976 by standard metrics – including assists, range factor, double plays, and fielding percentage. Morales was also known for his sweet mustache, ranked here as the 12th best in Cubs history.
In his 15-year Major League career, Morales amassed nearly 5000 plate appearances and displayed decent power, belting double-digit home runs in five seasons. Morales was an All-Star in 1977 with the Chicago Cubs and was hit by a Sparky Lyle pitch in his only All-Star plate appearance. He would end the regular season .290/.348/.447, with 11 home runs and 69 knocked in. Advanced metrics have not been kind to Morales as a defensive outfielder, however. According to Baseball-Reference, Morales was worth -0.7 WAR in his 1977 All-Star season and finished his career with a -2.0 WAR, including a lifetime dWAR of -12.4.
On the other hand, center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. was a perennial Gold Glove recipient, winning ten consecutive awards from 1990-99 with the Seattle Mariners. Although the second half of his career, mostly with Cincinnati, was marred by injuries and declining defensive value, Griffey finished his Hall of Fame career with a lifetime 2.2 dWAR, upstaged by his offensive prowess and a trophy case overstuffed with Gold Gloves. Griffey appeared in 13 All-Star Games and compiled a .440/.464/.640 slash line in 25 at-bats, with a home run and seven driven in.
Junior was also known for wearing his baseball cap backwards, although his reason for doing so began of necessity, not style. “My dad had a ‘fro, and I didn’t, so I wore his hat and it always hit me in the face, so I just turned it around and it just stuck. It wasn’t like I was trying to be a tough guy or change the way that baseball is played. It was just that my dad wore a size 7 1/2, and I had a 6 1/4. It was just too big.” Griffey participated in 1993 Home Run Derby with his cap on backwards and concluded his 2016 Hall of Fame induction speech by donning his hat in that oh-so-familiar way.
So why all the fuss about Jerry Morales? Well, as it turns out, he was the first non-catcher to ever appear on a Topps baseball card with his hat on backwards, years before Ken Griffey Jr. became associated with the style. On his 1981 Topps card, Morales is pictured hanging out at the batting cage with his New York Mets cap on backwards.
Sure, catchers were often depicted on cards with their caps on backwards, but mainly because they wore them that way under their masks.
The last catcher to be pictured on a card with his hat on backwards was Rick Dempsey in this 1991 Score edition.
But Jerry Morales will always be a fashion pioneer.
- Bogovich, Richard. “Jerry Morales.” In Maxwell Kates (Author, Editor), Warren Corbett (Author), Gregory Wolf (Author), Leslie Heaphy (Author), Rory Costello (Author), Rob Neyer (Author), Bill Nowlin (Editor), Len Levin (Editor), Carl Riechers (Editor), Time for Expansion Baseball, Phoenix: Society for American Baseball Research, 2018, 215-22.
- Slocum, Frank, “Topps Baseball Cards: The Complete Picture Collection” (New York: Warner Books; 1st Edition, 1985)
- “Why Ken Griffey Jr. wore his hat backward might surprise you,” Kyle Ringo, Yahoo Sports, July 22, 2016, https://sports.yahoo.com/news/why-ken-griffey-jr-wore-his-hat-backwards-might-surprise-you-203823929.html
10 thoughts on “Jerry Morales: Fashion Pioneer?”
Interesting story. I am a Minnesota Twins fan and have attended spring training in Florida for years. I remember how former Twins manager Tom Kelly who was helping out in spring training would sometimes “get on” the kids that wore their hats backwards by asking them if they were a catcher. When they replied no, he would tell them to turn it around and wear it the right way because only catchers wore their caps backwards. Then he would them a ball.
Oops, Then he would throw them a ball.
Thanks – great to be part of the group!
Welcome aboard! I just need to mention that Jeffrey Leonard on his 1985 Topps cards bridges the gap from Jerry Morales to Ken Griffey Junior.
Nice work – after going backwards from 1981, I could not stomach going forward to find the next one!
Fun piece. Welcome aboard.
Recent update for this article – 2016 Topps Heritage – David Ross
Great find on the 91 Rick Dempsey card. I had no idea that was the last card to feature a catcher with backwards hat. Pretty neat.