The interlocking “NY” of the Yankees’ logo is arguably the most recognizable in all of professional sports, spotted on streets from The Bronx to Beijing, Manhattan to Melbourne. Their navy blue and white caps have transcended baseball, becoming a global cultural touchstone.
Yet most are unaware of the origins of that logo, a story that begins more than three decades before the franchise’s first pitch. It prominently features Tiffany & Co. -- internationally renowned for their treasures in little blue boxes -- and the swashbuckling early days of the New York City Police Department.
According to an account published one day later in The New York Times, NYPD patrolman John McDowell was walking his beat in the early hours of Jan. 8, 1877, spotting a robbery inside a saloon at 315 Seventh Avenue. (The newspaper erroneously printed the officer’s surname as McDonnell.)
Grappling with a group of three thieves, McDowell was shot behind the left ear. Two of the men scattered when backup arrived, but a seriously wounded McDowell still managed to arrest a 19-year-old named James Farrell, who also went by the name George Flint. Farrell admitted to shooting the patrolman.
McDowell recovered and was awarded the NYPD’s Medal of Valor, which prominently featured the interlocking “NY” symbol above a silver shield, depicting a woman placing a laurel wreath on a policeman’s head.
It was designed by Louis Tiffany of Tiffany & Co., and survives at the New York City Police Museum; the engraved back lauds McDowell “for bravery in pursuance of resolutions of the Board of Police of New York,” and is dated Jan. 12, 1877.
The baseball team arrived in 1903, the Highlanders playing their home games at Manhattan’s Hilltop Park while wearing an ornate “NY” across their chests. In 1909, the interlocking “NY” made its first appearance on the Highlanders' uniform caps and left sleeves.
It is believed that the design was adopted by William “Big Bill” Devery, one of the club’s owners and a former chief in the NYPD.
The “NY” migrated from the left sleeve to the left breast of the Yankees’ home uniforms from 1912-15, albeit in a larger version than is currently worn today. When the Yanks helped celebrate Fenway Park’s centennial in 2012, Derek Jeter led his team onto the field in gray uniforms sporting the old version of the logo.
In 1916, the Yankees removed the “NY” from their jersey and went with a plain, pinstripes-only look -- the logo remained off the uniform until '36, meaning that Babe Ruth (whose Yankees career spanned the years of 1920-36) never played a single game with the “NY” on his chest.
Of course, Ruth did wear caps with the “NY.” The Yankees tried numerous cap designs from 1903-21, including caps that featured pinstripes in 1915, ’16, ’19 and ’21.
They settled on their forever cap in 1922, a solid navy cap with the white “NY” insignia that would be worn by Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle … and, of course, Jay-Z, who rapped in 2009 that he “made the Yankees hat more famous than a Yankee can.”
To that claim, it would seem, he has some challengers.