The Cartoon Bird, Retail Therapy, and Oriole Fandom
I don’t think it shocked anyone this morning when the Orioles announced changes to their 2012 uniform set, which predictably includes prominent placement of the vaunted “cartoon bird” and a the return of an orange jersey to the wardrobe.
You could certainly nitpick about these relatively benign uniform tweaks if you really tried, but ultimately the new set falls into the category of “different but just as good.” The O’s have always looked good in any combination of black, orange and white, and while fans prefer different ratios of the three, re-branding an Oriole uniform is hard to screw up. I’ll certainly miss the presence of the “ornithologicaly correct bird” of the cap, but it’s not going to keep me up at night.
As I looked at the revised cartoon bird and the new orange jersey, I was immediately hit with two powerful memories that connected me to these images. Which is the point, isn’t it? After 14 years of losing with no tangible signs of improvement, what else can we do but shop the pain away?
I’ve been an Oriole fan since I was 3 months old. On Friday, October 14th, 1983 I watch Game 3 of the 1983 World Series from my parents’ arms in Philadelphia. Steve Carlton pitched against Jim Palmer. There were seven total Hall of Famers on the field that night. The O’s came back with a two-run seventh inning and won 3-2, and would close out the series two games later. Over top of Cal Ripken, Jr.’s full mop, he wore that white-paneled hat with the cartoon bird. That bird represented everything I understood about the O’s in my formative years, so much so that even today when I look at it, I truly believe it looks like Frank Robinson.
For the next ten seasons after that World Championship, the Birds also employed an orange alternate jersey. To me, the orange jersey also was a beacon for the start of a new season. Nothing caught the Sarasota, Florida sun quite like that day-glo shade of orange. It’s a fun color. While Baltimore was still thawing out, reports on WJZ from spring training of the Orioles horsing around and preparing for the season reminded me that baseball, and my favorite baseball team, represented all I thought was fun at the time.
These two memories are etched in my brain. I can’t see either the orange jerseys or the cartoon bird and not be transported to my childhood. The logo and the use of that color are associated almost exclusively with Memorial Stadium, so the images don’t bring me to a specific time but a specific place. I can still see the parking lot attendants in their mesh vests, the same shade of orange as the Orioles’ jerseys.
This is typical baseball writing fare, I know. Combining nostalgia and imagery evoking a Simpler Time is a trope churned out annually by those who care or once cared about America’s Old Game. And the Orioles know this as well, because there’s no reason to make a change like this other than to connect with that ethos. Certainly, there is a “retro” appeal that will move hats to the fashion set, but ultimately these changes are telling of what fans have to be excited about in 2012: the past.