Whether your batting helmet is filled with ice cream or came from a vending “gumball” machine, these mini and micro caps remain popular collectables that can be traced to baseball innovator Branch Rickey.
Rickey (1881- 1965) is best known as the manager that broke the major league color barrier when he signed Jackie Robinson to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
Rickey’s long career in baseball began as a catcher for the St. Louis Browns in 1905. After two mediocre seasons he left to attend law school, but was back as the Browns’ manager in 1914.
While certain players had used reinforced caps while batting, the hard plastic model wasn’t developed until 1952; Rickey worked with inventor Ralph Davia and designer Ed Crick and created his own company, the American Baseball Cap Company to produce them.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, the team Rickey was managing at that time, were the first to use the new helmets but usage for all players was not made mandatory by MLB until 1971.
By 1969, Laich Industries of Cleveland, Ohio was creating souvenir helmets licensed by MLB that were available at stadiums and sporting goods stores; a decade later they would produce the cup-sized versions suitable for ice cream.
Offered alternatively at Baskin Robbins or Dairy Queen, a different team was offered weekly as youngsters gobbled two scoops of 31 flavors or soft serve drizzled with toppings to collect helmets featuring all the teams.
The Barbie doll-sized micro helmets were also produced by Laich; first offered as a complete set that came with a cardboard display where collectors could move the helmets to show league standings.
Later, they were encased in plastic bubbles and available in vending machines for 25 to 50 cents. Laich Industries ended production in 2005, citing competition from China while making Laich helmets more collectable today.
Rickey’s company, renamed ABC Helmet Co., was purchased by Rawlings in 2003 to offer a complete line of baseball gear for players and fans alike.