When it comes to caps in the Minors, Chihuahuas have the edge over Squirrels.
After nearly three weeks of voting in MiLB.com's Clash of the Caps, the El Paso Chihuahuas hung on to win the title of "Best Cap in the Minor Leagues," narrowly beating the Richmond Flying Squirrels and the Albuquerque Isotopes in a contest that generated 2 million votes and tested loyalties around the nation.
"I think we told everybody here in El Paso on Oct. 22, 2013, that we wanted a brand that embodies fun, and we're going to live our brand," said El Paso general manager Brad Taylor. "I think our cap is fun, I think it was great that [design firm] Brandiose could help us take a Chihuahua and make it the baddest dog on the block."
El Paso, the Triple-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres, owns one of the newest and most polarizing logos and names in the Minors after relocating in the offseason from Tucson. The Akron RubberDucks, who challenged El Paso for the most buzz and, at times, mockery this winter for their radical logo and name change, also received strong support in the cap contest, finishing 10th.
Taylor said the victory for El Paso reflects the support from the community in Texas, a pride fueled by wide acceptance around the country after the logo was revealed last year.
"I think our own community has embraced it -- it's amazing to see how far it's come in a short time locally," he said. "After we reached merchandise sales in all 50 states and [several] countries in under two months, I knew we had national appeal as well. When the locals bought in, nationally everyone loved it, and I think local fans then saw it was OK for everyone to love it. It's a neat story."
Clash of the Caps Top 25
|1||El Paso Chihuahuas||San Diego Padres||Triple-A||Pacific Coast|
|2||Richmond Flying Squirrels||San Francisco Giants||Double-A||Eastern|
|3||Albuquerque Isotopes||Los Angeles Dodgers||Triple-A||Pacific Coast|
|4||Quad Cities River Bandits||Houston Astros||Class A||Midwest|
|5||Durham Bulls||Tampa Bay Rays||Triple-A||International|
|6||Lakewood BlueClaws||Philadelphia Phillies||Class A||South Atlantic|
|7||Carolina Mudcats||Cleveland Indians||Class A Advanced||Carolina|
|8||Fort Wayne TinCaps||San Diego Padres||Class A||Midwest|
|9||Omaha Storm Chasers||Kansas City Royals||Triple-A||Pacific Coast|
|10||Akron RubberDucks||Cleveland Indians||Double-A||Eastern|
|11||Montgomery Biscuits||Tampa Bay Rays||Double-A||Southern|
|12||Greensboro Grasshoppers||Miami Marlins||Class A||South Atlantic|
|13||Toledo Mud Hens||Detroit Tigers||Triple-A||International|
|14||Bradenton Marauders||Pittsburgh Pirates||Class A Advanced||Florida State|
|15||Orem Owlz||Los Angeles Angels||Rookie||Pioneer|
|16||Burlington Bees||Los Angeles Angels||Class A||Midwest|
|17||Vermont Lake Monsters||Oakland Athletics||Class A Short Season||New York-Penn|
|18||Portland Sea Dogs||Boston Red Sox||Double-A||Eastern|
|19||Clearwater Threshers||Philadelphia Phillies||Class A Advanced||Florida State|
|20||West Michigan Whitecaps||Detroit Tigers||Class A||Midwest|
|21||Savannah Sand Gnats||New York Mets||Class A||South Atlantic|
|22||Jackson Generals||Seattle Mariners||Double-A||Southern|
|23||Wisconsin Timber Rattlers||Milwaukee Brewers||Class A||Midwest|
|24||Erie SeaWolves||Detroit Tigers||Double-A||Eastern|
|25||Lake Elsinore Storm||San Diego Padres||Class A Advanced||California|
Fans tended to favor caps with a black and red color combination, with El Paso, Richmond, Albuquerque and Quad Cities finishing as the top four, all with similar red, black and yellow colors.
"We picked from great colors," Taylor said. "If you look at the other contenders, they have similar colors. There's a reason marketing agencies pick color schemes, and these fit us. And there's the fun of the brand, taking an iconic little dog and making him fun and kind of edgy."
Older, more iconic logos like the Durham Bulls (No. 5), Montgomery Biscuits (No. 11) and Toledo Mud Hens (No. 13) also had strong support.
For El Paso, the win justifies a bold decision, one that was celebrated but also ridiculed by some fans when the organization revealed its new name and logos following the 2013 season. The teams' own existence in El Paso, challenged by some local residents, has been a victory as it currently ranks fourth in the Pacific Coast League in attendance despite having played fewer home games than most other clubs.
"It wasn't the logo [that was ridiculed], it was the name, and that's why we knew when we announced the name, we needed the logo with it. The logo made the name acceptable," Taylor said. "Chihuahuas aren't very intimidating, so people said, 'How can you take our team and make it a little dog?' But they saw the hat, and they said, 'OK, that's kind of cool.'"
Richmond's identity is also fairly new as the team moved from Connecticut to Virginia in 2010 and rebranded itself with a superhero-themed squirrel as its logo. The Isotopes' design and name stems from a 1990 episode of The Simpsons, while Quad Cities rebranded itself in 2008.
"It's funny, I've been in Minor League Baseball for 20 years -- I like gear as much as anyone, and to be mentioned alongside those teams -- I would buy their merchandise too, it's cool and fun," said Taylor of Richmond, Albuquerque and Quad Cities. "It's a privilege to be up there with those teams, not just how they look but how they live their brand. Parney [Richmond vice president Todd Parnell] talks about living the brand -- you know it'll be good, so just ride it out. The funny things like the Isotopes -- all these teams that are successful in these contests do a great job of living their brands. They live it and breathe it and that's what works."
Durham's cap, largely unchanged for decades, may be among the most globally recognizable thanks to the popularity of the 1988 film Bull Durham. Colorful caps also fared well, with Lakewood (light blue), Omaha (royal blue), Montgomery (yellow) and Greensboro (orange) all attracting support.
In terms of affiliate loyalty, the Padres scored big, with El Paso, Class A Fort Wayne and Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore all ranking among the top 25 vote-getters. The Tigers (Toledo, West Michigan, Erie), Rays (Durham, Montgomery) and Angels (Orem, Burlington) also received plenty of votes for their Minor League clubs.
Taylor said the Chihuahuas harnessed the power of social media to encourage fans to vote.
"I think we've been fortunate, to sell out 14 of our 16 games -- we've promoted this in the stadium," he said. "We live in a town that prides itself on being savvy in social media. We're the fifth-ranked team in the Minors with 70,000 Facebook fans. We have a large contingent of people on social media, over 10,000 on Twitter -- so we wanted to use the tools of social media, and we reminded fans when they were here. We have 8,500 fans coming out -- why wouldn't we remind them to show some support for their home team?"
The most notable caps to fall out of the top 25 include the Lehigh Valley IronPigs' new bacon cap, which has generated plenty of publicity but finished at No. 29, and the Lexington Legends' quirky hipster/retro mustache cap, which came in at No. 58. Other newer designs, like the Charlotte Knights and Reading Fightin Phils, finished in the top 50 but didn't enjoy the same success of other recently revamped logos.
Clash of the Caps was designed to create random matchups that allow fans to vote continously and have the opportunity to see a variety of the 160 caps and logos from around the Minors. Every team was represented in a head-to-head voting format with either their main uniform cap or one the team wished to enter into the competition.