Deadspin presents Laundry Basket, an occasional look at the aesthetics and meaning of sports uniforms. Not affiliated with the venerable and comprehensive Uni Watch franchise. Logos via sportslogos.net.
The Baltimore Orioles announced this week that they are replacing the awkward, pedantically overdesigned "ornithologically correct" bird logo on their caps with a slightly revised version of the grinning cartoon Oriole Bird heads the team employed from 1966 to 1988—a span that included six pennants, three World Series wins, and 18 consecutive winning seasons.
It's a welcome move, aesthetically. The original genius of the cartoon bird head was that it had the shape and weight of a gothic capital letter; it looked like it belonged on the front of a ball cap. Despite tweak after tweak, the flat, schematic full-body bird never sat right on the uniform. By its fourth and final incarnation, it was actually trying to perch on nothing. And while the meticulously detailed plumage might have looked great to the brain-circuits of an embroidery machine, from a few feet away it was a blob. (It's not impossible to make a legible and decent-looking full-body bird logo; you simply need to do the opposite of everything the Orioles did.)
As a gesture from the team to a bitter and despairing fanbase, the new retro cap is almost exactly right. More on the big almost part of that in a moment. Orioles fans are sensitive to symbolism. It was a big deal when the team finally put "Baltimore" on the road jerseys a few years ago, after decades of playing down the home city to court Washington D.C. and its suburbs. The cartoon Bird—with or without the revived '70s-harlequin white-panel caps and orange jerseys—evokes the time when the Orioles were the most consistently excellent franchise in baseball. Its return implies an apology for the past 14 years of uninterrupted failure: Hey, we've been doing things really wrong, and it's time to stop pretending that's OK.
Then again, those of us old enough to remember the original Bird logo are also old enough to remember that the ornithologically correct bird arrived in 1989 as a symbol of expiation. The cartoon caps had just gone through the worst season in Orioles history, 54-107, including the scarring 0-21 start. The logo was old and silly, a "duckie," to go with embarrassing color-banded elastic waists on the pants. The full-body bird—and pants with belts—represented a new commitment to some platonic ideal of baseball, presaging the brick-and-green-steel new-olde-style ballpark that the state had agreed to build downtown. (A park that gets its own 20th-anniversary patch on the uniform this year.)
So now the great wheel of fashion makes an obvious and labored full revolution, and retro replaces retro. That's fine. It's bogus, sure, to see this kind of tribute to the old Oriole Way coming from an organization that just hired a retread like Dan Duquette to handle its baseball operations, an organization that had Mark Reynolds playing first base but which pooh-poohs the idea of even bidding on the current superstar-first-baseman free-agent market. But would it be better if the fans couldn't even influence the uniforms?
Hold that thought. There is one little—nearly invisible—detail that more or less ruins the new Bird business. The logo on the baseball cap is wearing a baseball cap of its own. And that cap has a logo, too.
On the original cartoon heads, the cap-within-a-cap had a little splotch, suggesting infinite recursion: the Bird's cap had a Bird on it, and that Bird's cap apparently had a Bird on it, and so on. The new Bird is wearing the Orioles' alternate cap, which says "O's" on it. Or rather, it says "O‘s," with the apostrophe upside-down.
This is an idiotic error, originally caused by the fact that Bill Gates is illiterate. It has been discussed for years, but the Orioles have never bothered fixing it. And now they've gone to the trouble of propagating it in miniature. It's itty-bitty, but it's still definitely wrong. The same mistake, over and over again. That's the Baltimore Orioles.