While reading up on old Pacific Coast League uniforms a few years ago, I came across the above image in a web store called Rakuten. The sold out item was described as a “San Diego (PCL) Padres Authentic 1940 Game Cap by Ebbets Field Flannel.” If there’s one thing I know well, it’s the PCL Padres and their uniform history, however, this cap was a complete mystery to me. If it didn’t have “1940” in the title, I would’ve disregarded it and assumed it was just a custom Ebbets Field Flannels cap. The fact that 1940 was referenced had to mean something, right? As time passed, my curiosity got the best of me, so I decided to contact both Jerry Cohen & Joe Swide at Ebbets to ask about the cap. ￼￼￼￼￼
Jerry responded and initially informed me that “This was an old cap we did once for a special event.” However, he emailed me shortly after and said he was mistaken and that “It was a regular cap we did.” He also mentioned that “We used the one with the SD because it’s more interesting than a blank cap. That’s all there is to it.” This all makes sense, but my curiosity was still sparked because if this was indeed a legit cap the PCL Padres wore, why had I never seen it in all my photos and books that I’ve collected over the years?
Shortly after my emails with Jerry, Joe responded as well and verified that they ￼made the cap. He also informed me that no one wore the cap in the 1940 team photo:
I was no stranger to this team photo but somehow had overlooked this gem. When I proceeded to look up the 1941 team, I couldn’t find anyone with the last name of Skelley, which added to my overall confusion and curiosity. After some sleuthing, I found two players with that last name who played for the PCL Padres. The first being William Skelley, who played 10 games for the Padres back in 1937 and later played for the Hollywood Stars in 1940. I also found Mel Skelley, a local San Diego kid who played American Legion ball with Ted Williams prior to professional baseball. This particular Skelley played for San Diego in 1942, was in the military from 1943 to 1945, and then came back in 1946. He fits the age, frame of time and his photo on the 1942 team photo looks a lot like the same guy in the above 1941 team photo.
It’s not that odd that Mel Skelley was featured in the 1941 team photo but never played. It’s possible that he may have joined the team late in the season and didn’t get into any games; but still managed to get into the team photo. That, or the photo was taken in Spring Training and he didn’t make the team out of camp. Either way, Skelley actually spent the 1941 season playing with the Tacoma Tigers of the Western International Team & Salt Lake Bees of the Pioneer League. It’s possible they were affiliated with the Padres as the old PCL teams did have affiliated teams under them at times. Ultimately I didn’t care too much about all this, I just wanted an explanation as to why Skelley is wearing this mysterious cap and no one else is.
After my emails with the Ebbets guys, I was flipping through Bill Swank’s “Echoes from Lane Field–A History of the San Diego Padres 1936-1957” (If you don’t own this, get it!) and found this collage of the 1940 team:
If you look at Pat Tobin (left side, around the “8:30” position), he’s wearing the same “SD” cap! I did a little research on Tobin and the only similarity between him and Skelley that I found is that they both played in the Pioneer League in the year that each photo was taken; however Tobin played for the Idaho Falls Russets. I doubt there’s a connection, but it’s just worth mentioning. Still, I was left without any backstory on the cap and eventually gave up on trying to figure it out. I just hoped that sooner or later I’d be able to add the Ebbets cap to my personal collection, but wasn’t holding my breath as they were no longer made.
Well, after monitoring eBay for a few years to no avail, I recently got the cap. Or should I say a version of it, as mine has a red line that goes down the middle and the one I initially found online did not. I actually like my version more, which is also navy blue, but this photo makes it seem a bit darker than it actually is. Finally owning the cap is what sparked me writing this post, however, I still I have no backstory on it.
Maybe it was a throwaway cap that ended up not being used, yet was given to players when nothing else was available? Maybe they were made for a special day? Maybe they were worn by players in the same capacity that college football players wear stars on helmets? Anyone’s guess is as good as mine and regardless of why it existed, it’s gotta be quite insignificant, or it would have been documented better. Something I’m aware of (and Jerry from Ebbets stressed to me), is that it was common for uniforms from this era in the minor leagues to not always entirely conform. A relevant example would be the 1936 team photo, which features 3 players wearing Hollywood Stars uniforms. Still, there’s a documented backstory on that. There’s no backstory to explain why the “SD” cap was made and if anyone else besides Skelley and Tobin wore them? I’d have a hard time believing that only two players ever wore these caps.
As of today, this curious case of the PCL Padres cap remains open. When (and if) I ever find more info, I’ll be sure to share here as I can’t be the only person who loves stuff like this. To be continued…I hope.
After posting this last week, I decided to contact my friend and San Diego Baseball Historian, Bill Swank. It’s something I should have done ages ago, as he knows more about the PCL Padres than anyone. With that said, Bill was able to shed some light in regards to the caps:
The PCL Padres went through several uniform changes in the late 1930s and into the 1940s. Mel Skelley is wearing a 1939 Padres uniform in the 1941 team photo. You’ll notice that several players are wearing the same jersey. They were young men under contract to the Padres who played winter ball in San Diego as the Junior Padres. Mel is also wearing the cap of the Junior Padres.
There are several references to “Junior Padres” in “Echoes from Lane Field.” The most memorable is from Earle Brucker, Jr. on page 123.
“I’ve got quite a memory of Lane Field. I was standing on second base for the Padre Juniors when they turned on the PA system and said the War had just started. It took away a double, so it was a bad war.”
Looks like Bill set the record straight on the caps! I’ve read about the Junior team before, but only in reference, so it never crossed my mind. Also, I’ve never noticed that Skelley and four other players are wearing 1939 jerseys in the 1941 team photo, so that’s a cool little gem to be aware of as well. Thanks again for the information, Bill!