Jewish World Review May 4, 2000 / 29 Nissan, 5760
Even baseball couldn't
make light of this
SARASOTA, Fla. Now that spring training is over
-- now that the real baseball season has started -- it
may be instructive to give some thought to the
people who truly affect the game.
The ballplayers? They come and they go. They
arrive young, they play until they get too old, and
they are replaced by new youngsters. The
managers? They hang around as long as they can --
their baseball longevity exceeds that of the players
on the diamond.
But who has an impact? Who genuinely changes the
Sometimes it's a person you would never think of.
Which brings us to John Nash Ott, who died in
Sarasota this month at the age of 90.
Years ago, I sought him out. Mr. Ott -- he was a
former banker who became the head of something
called the Light Research Foundation -- was
absolutely fanatical about the nature of light, and
how he believed light affected human health and
He wasn't a baseball fan; he wasn't a frustrated
baseball player. But, because he lived in Sarasota,
he found himself right in the middle of the part of
Florida where major league teams have traditionally
come to train.
And one day in the early 1970s -- according to what
Mr. Ott told me -- he received a visit from a man by
the name of Rex Bowen. Bowen was a scout for
the Cincinnati Reds. He wanted to talk to John Nash
Ott about baseball caps. Specifically, about the
undersides of the visors on the caps worn by major
Bowen told Mr. Ott that, by tradition, the color on
the undersides of the cap visors was green.
Mr. Ott was appalled. He told the Reds scout that
this was all wrong. He said that if a ballplayer wore
a baseball cap with a visor that was green
underneath, that player's on-field performance could
be seriously harmed.
I asked him why this was so.
"The color can cause malillumination," Mr. Ott told
me. "Do you know what malnutrition means? It's
when things are lacking in your diet -- things you
should have. Malillumination is the same thing, but
He told me that he convinced the Cincinnati scout
that the Reds would do much better if the undersides
of their cap visors were gray instead of green. Rex
Bowen, according to Mr. Ott, was able to persuade
the Reds' front office to change the color
underneath the cap visors. And -- the story went --
as soon as the Reds began to wear caps with gray
undersides, the players' batting averages improved,
their running speeds became swifter, their mental
alertness sharpened, and they won the National
I put it to Mr. Ott directly: Was he saying that the
reason the Reds got better was that they had
followed his suggestion and changed the undersides
of their cap visors to gray?
"Of course," he said.
I did not understand how the underside of a baseball
cap visor could affect anything at all. The sun comes
from above -- how would the underside of the bill of
a cap have anything to do with the reflection of
"Oh, there's a lot of light reflected from the
underside of the visor," Mr. Ott told me. "There's the
natural reflection of light bouncing off the ground. If
a batter holds his head up, or if a fielder looks up to
catch a fly ball, the light will reflect off the underside
of the visor."
Now . . . in most businesses, theories like the
would be shrugged off. But baseball is nothing if not
a game of superstitions -- and as soon as word got
around the major leagues about what John Nash Ott
and his gray undersides had done for the Reds, other
teams allegedly scrambled to change the color
beneath their caps, too.
By the time I spoke with Mr. Ott, the majority of
teams in the National League, plus several in the
American League, had ordered gray undersides for
their players' cap visors. And a spokeswoman for
the New Era Cap Co. of Derby, N.Y., which at the
time manufactured caps for 23 major league teams,
told me: "It's true. It's a very strange deal, but it's
true. The teams think it helps to have gray on the
undersides of the visors instead of green. They must
believe it works."
Mr. Ott told me that he never watched ballgames on
television, and, "I can't remember ever having been
to a baseball game. I was never a great baseball
Anyway -- he died this month. He changed the
game of baseball, in a way few people were aware
of -- even those who benefited the most from his
theories of light.
"I've never heard from a single baseball player," he
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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