The Golden Sombrero

Photo Credit: Keith Allison | Flickr

by: Rich Daniels

Sports fans are familiar with the term "Hat Trick" from hockey and soccer used to identify when a player has scored three times. 

In baseball, however, a hat trick is something a player wants to avoid without discussion. 

That's because to achieve a hat trick in baseball a player has to strike out three times in a game. Yet another juxtaposition from other sports baseball maintains. But there are times when players exceed the dubious achievement of swinging and missing nine times and it took over a hundred years of playing the game for someone to identify it.

Enter slugger Carmelo Martinez, a first baseman-turned reluctant left fielder for the 1984 National League Champion San Diego Padres.

In his time Martinez was known for bruising baseballs with both his bat and glove. A natural first baseman, he came up through the Cubs system and was part of a three-team trade that brought him to the Padres before the 1984 season.

San Diego had invested a great deal of money in free agent first baseman Steve Garvey, so Martinez was shifted to the outfield. After a great many misadventures in left field, Martinez began exercising the one thing more prodigious than his home runs: his sense of humor.

One night the big rookie struck out four times and was asked about his "big hat trick" in a post-game interview. True to his fun-loving form, Martinez quipped that it was a "big hat trick...a sombrero...probably made of gold'. And that was that.

The term "Golden Sombrero" circulated through the player ranks quickly.

Ironically, it was the Cubs' Leon Durham, playing for the team Martinez both came up with and would defeat in the 84' LCS, that first used the term publically after whiffing four times himself. But it took a while for it to catch on with fans.

It took the 1987 Minnesota Twins, a collection of young, downright goofy at times players, to bring the Golden Sombrero to the masses. 

During the 87' playoffs both first baseman Kent Hrbek and right fielder Tom Brunansky, popularized as "The Bruise Brothers", used the term in interviews broadcast nationally. The appeal of the team and those two players sold the Golden Sombrero to fans everywhere.

The Nationals' Mark Reynolds and the Orioles Chris Davis are the two active players ranking in the top ten all-time for Golden Sombreros. The all-time leader? World Series champion Ryan Howard who did the deed 27 times.

Now there are even more rare occurrences where players exceed four strikeouts in a game and, with the popularity of the Golden Sombrero, those feats gained their own names.

Five strikeouts has come to be known as the Platinum Sombrero or the less popular Olympic Rings which Sammy Sosa managed to do four times and former Cardinals outfielder Ray Lankford did three.

Six K's is Double Platinum or Titanium Sombrero most recently "accomplished" by Brewers outfielder Geoff Jenkins in 2004 in a 17-inning game. 

In this era of grinding counts in every at-bat and dialing deep for home runs, strikeouts have become so commonplace that few fans even realize how the K's are piling up in a prolific manner. 

The Yankees Aaron Judge not only recorded a platinum sombrero on June 4th of this year, he completed that day's doubleheader with three more whiffs in the second game.

But the crown jewel in the Swing-and-Miss collection comes from the minor leagues. Last season Lexington Legends outfielder Khalil Lee K'd eight times for his part in a 21-inning game. 

So the next time you're at the ballpark and the K-counter starts to pile high, watch out for a player coming to the plate with three strikeouts late in the game. You just might get to see the Golden Sombrero firsthand.  

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