Two men and a woman broke into a locker at a Manhattan gym in February and stole credit cards, the first in a series of similar thefts.
Three months later, in May, a young man tried to rob a Chase bank in the Bronx armed with only a note, which he slipped to a teller. She read it and stepped away, and he fled empty-handed. Weeks later, in June, a gunman robbed a Family Dollar store in Queens.
Gym-locker heists, bank robberies, daylight holdups — these New York City crimes have only one thing in common, and it is not the culprits.
It is the Yankees caps they wore.
A curious phenomenon has emerged at the intersection of fashion, sports and crime: dozens of men and women who have robbed, beaten, stabbed and shot at their fellow New Yorkers have done so while wearing Yankees caps or clothing.
One of the three suspects in the gym break-ins wore a blue Yankees cap. A security camera photographed the man who tried to rob the Bronx bank, and though his face was largely obscured, his Yankees hat was clearly visible. The Queens robbery suspect was last seen with a Yankees cap on his head.
In some ways, it is not surprising that Yankees attire is worn by both those who abide by the law and those who break it. The Yankees are one of the most famous franchises in sports, and their merchandise is widely available and hugely popular.
But Yankees caps and clothing have dominated the crime blotter for so long, in so many parts of the city and in so many types of offenses, that it defies an easy explanation. Criminologists, sports marketing analysts, consumer psychologists and Yankees fans have developed their own theories, with some attributing the trend to the popularity of the caps among gangsta rappers and others wondering whether criminals are identifying with the team’s aura of money, power and success.
Since 2000, more than 100 people who have been suspects or persons of interest in connection with serious crimes in New York City wore Yankees apparel at the time of the crimes or at the time of their arrest or arraignment. The tally is based on a review of New York Police Department news releases, surveillance video and images of robberies and other crimes, as well as police sketches and newspaper articles that described suspects’ clothing. No other sports team comes close.
The Mets, forever in the shadow of their Bronx rivals, are perhaps grateful to be losing this one: only about a dozen people in the same review were found to be wearing Mets gear.
“It’s a shame,” said Chuck Frantz, 57, the president of the 430-member Lehigh Valley Yankee Fan Club in Pennsylvania. “It makes us Yankees fans look like criminals, because of a few unfortunate people who probably don’t know the first thing about the Yankees.”
The Yankees organization declined to comment for this article.
Antisocial behavior has no dress code; people wear what they please when they please, whether they are going to see a movie or going to rob a bank. And in New York City, that often means Yankees attire, regardless of the hour or the season.
In April 2008, on the day after the Boston Red Sox defeated the Yankees in the Bronx, a man in a Yankees cap robbed a bank about a mile from Yankee Stadium. The woman who robbed a Manhattan bank on July 7 was diplomatic in her clothing choices: she wore an orange Mets cap and a gray Yankees T-shirt.
Three gunmen burst into an apartment in Washington Heights on July 23, bound the hands and feet of the tenants and left with cash. A surveillance video released by the police and broadcast on television showed one of the suspects in a Yankees cap — one of the most iconic brands in sports represented, however briefly, by someone accused of helping tie up a 9-year-old girl.
In 2007, after activists protested the sale of Yankees caps that bore the colors and symbols associated with three gangs, Major League Baseball’s official cap manufacturer pulled the headwear, and the Yankees said in a statement that they were unaware of the caps’ symbolism.
Yankees caps have even played a central role in a few crimes. One day in 2003, a fight over a missing Yankees cap broke out between two brothers in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. One brother, an ex-convict, ended up stabbing and killing the other.
One criminologist said the trend might be a result of what could be called the Jay-Z effect.
The rapper Jay-Z has worn a Yankees cap for years — on his album covers and in his videos — and has helped turn the cap into a ubiquitous fashion accessory for urban youths (“I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can,” he boasts in one song).
Criminals might be wearing Yankees merchandise not because they are fans of the team, but because they are fans of the cocked-hat look popularized by Jay-Z and other rappers, said the criminologist, Frankie Y. Bailey, an associate professor at the University at Albany, who is writing a book about the role of clothing and style in criminal cases.
“He wears it and makes it look cool,” Ms. Bailey said of Jay-Z and the cap. “It’s almost like the Yankees have acquired a kind of street rep, a coolness.”
It is but one of several theories. Sports marketing analysts say it is a matter of numbers: the Yankees sell more merchandise than any other baseball team. As of August, they hold a 25.13 percent market share of nationwide sales of merchandise licensed by Major League Baseball, with the Red Sox second at 7.96 percent and the Mets seventh at 5.32 percent, according to SportsOneSource, a firm that tracks the sporting goods industry.
For criminals outside New York, the team’s caps and clothing are nearly as popular.
The man who robbed a Chase branch in a Chicago suburb in May wore a Yankees cap. In July, a young man in a Yankees cap assaulted an 81-year-old woman in her home, about 2,800 miles from Yankee Stadium, in Seattle.
“Why people pick the Yankees over the Mariners, I don’t know,” said Detective Mark Jamieson, a Seattle police spokesman. “It just happened to be an article of clothing he was wearing on that particular day.”
And Yankees caps hold a distinguished place in the annals of crime: the man who robbed more banks than anyone else in American history wore one. Edwin Chambers Dodson, known as the Yankee Bandit because he wore a Yankees cap and sunglasses during most of his holdups, robbed 72 banks in Southern California in the early 1980s and the late 1990s.
Mr. Dodson, who died in 2003, was a fan of the team. “We did everything we could to get this guy,” said William J. Rehder, 69, a retired special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation who was the longtime coordinator of bank robbery investigations in the Los Angeles area.
Mr. Rehder not only named the Yankee Bandit, but helped put him behind bars twice. “I couldn’t figure out why he was so lucky,” he said. “I didn’t attribute anything to the cap, but I’m sure he did.”
Mr. Rehder, now a security consultant in Los Angeles, is a Dodgers fan. Nevertheless, he keeps an old, worn Yankees cap on a shelf in his office at home. Mr. Rehder never wears it. It belonged to the Yankee Bandit.