I’ve developed this sixth sense when watching movies and TV shows to spot baseball references in the background or to pick up on them in lines of dialogue. There are times when the hair on the back of my next stands up to hear a reference to the Dodgers or Babe Ruth when it’s not expected.
I’m also always scanning the locations of scenes that aren’t shot on a sound stage, at least in projects filmed in cities I know. One of my favorite things about “The Blacklist” on NBC is trying to figure out which New York neighborhood they’re using as a stand-in for Washington, D.C.
And so while watching “Widows,” the 2018 Steve McQueen movie starring Viola Davis and Michelle Rodriguez about the wives of thieves who put together a heist following the deaths of their husbands, I was struck by the entrance of Fireside Bowl in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. While I’ve never been there, it just had the feel of some place I’d seek out.
So what does a midcentury bowling alley have to do with baseball? In a quick view of the bar, I spotted above the beer bottles and below a shelf of toy trucks, a line of helmets — a complete collection of ice cream sundae helmets.
We paused the movie and started identifying the ones we could see clearly. It didn’t take long for the pattern to emerge. They’re arranged by division: AL East, Central, West; NL West, Central, East.
And that’s how we were able to figure out the helmets where the logos were indistinguishable and to realize that this collection is most likely a mixture of original 1970s helmets supplemented with newer ones, particularly for the 1990s expansion teams.
With the help of Eric Lichtenberg’s sundae helmet resource, let’s take a look. Click on any of the team names to see the variations over the years at Lichtenberg’s site.
We initially started identifying teams starting on the right and moving left, because the logos are clearer on the right, but process of elimination led us to the conclusion that the five helmets on the left are the AL East: Rays, Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Orioles. Once you realize that this is the AL East, it’s not hard to pick out the last four of those teams, based on the helmet color, the blurry logos and the color in the logo. It also helps that those four teams’ logos have pretty much stayed the same since the advent of sundae helmets.
This is where things get a little tricky. The seventh helmet from the left, the second in the AL Central, is red — but no team currently in the division has a primarily red helmet or cap. The Indians and Twins have or have had alternate caps that in that color, but thanks to a photo on Lichtenberg’s site of an original 1974 collection of helmets, it’s clear that red helmet is the White Sox. So that gives us an order of Indians, White Sox, Royals, Tigers, Twins.
That red White Sox helmet also suggests that the bulk of this collection at the Fireside is from the ’70s, perhaps the original 24 from ’74. And there is more evidence of that to come.
Knowing which division you’re looking at and using the helmet colors and logo shapes, it’s pretty easy to ID this group: Angels, A’s, Astros, Mariners, Rangers. The green A’s helmet and orange Astros stand out the most in the entire AL, along with the White Sox.
This division is a little trickier to put together. Light reflections off the helmets and unexpected colors can throw you off, but again, the process of elimination eventually leads to positive IDs.
First, on the left, the orange logo indicates this is the Giants helmet, even if the “SF” logo or the color of the helmet can’t be confirmed. Next is the Dodgers, the only team in that division using that shade of blue. Three helmets to the right of the Dodgers, the logo appears to be an “SD,” so that’s the Padres, leaving the two teams in between.
We’re only left with the Rockies and Diamondbacks, and since the Rockies don’t have a red helmet, they’re clearly the black one next to the Dodgers. Arizona is the red helmet between Colorado and San Diego. That D-backs helmet is one of the newest additions to the Fireside’s collection, based on Lichtenberg’s site — and that Padres helmet is clearly from the original set the bar put on display.
Moving to the right from the Padres helmet, we have two easy teams to identify: the Cubs and Cardinals. Next is a yellow Pirates version, also dating to the earlier days of helmet bowl production. The Reds helmet is also pretty easy to pick out.
Next to the Reds, we have the helmet that provides the strongest evidence of when the bulk of this collection was acquired. Knowing that this is the Brewers helmet, Lichtenberg’s page for the team tells us that the block “M” logo was only used for the team from 1970-76.
It also appears that the block “M” was produced when the logos were stickers applied to solid-color, blank helmets. Now go back and look at some of the other older teams. Even accounting for reflections of light and possible differences in the angles at which the helmets are displayed, it appears some of the logos may not be perfectly centered, either horizontally or vertically. The Orioles, White Sox and Giants look low; the Astros may be high. And the Dodgers may be fully right of center — all suggesting these may be sticker-logo versions from the first sets produced.
The last division features three old helmets — possibly original — and two new versions. The newer Marlins, in teal, and Nationals, in red, bookend the quintet. Atlanta sports the lowercase “A” from the 1970s, while the Phillies helmet appears to be the maroon version issued from 1984-91. And the blue and orange of the Mets rounds out the collection.
Someday, when we’re no longer sheltering in place and travel becomes an option again, we’ll find ourselves back in Chicago. And we’ll have to take the Blue Line up to California for a drink at the Fireside and a closer look at this collection. After all, if most of these helmets are from the ’70s, there may be an Expos helmet tucked away behind the bar somewhere.