The Forgotten Birds: A Study of the Baltimore Orioles Cartoon Bird Cap Logos
My favorite team, The Baltimore Orioles! They haven’t had a winning season since 1997, so lately I’ve shifted my attention to my favorite logo of all time, The Cartoon Bird. That friendly, smiling, feathered chap that perched atop the Orioles caps from 1966-1988. But don’t let his friendly smirk and soft feathers fool you, he will show no mercy.
The Cartoon Bird logo has 19 out of 23 winning seasons. That includes 7 trips to the ALCS, 6 pennants and 3 World Series championships. Not to mention, the Orioles were the winningest team in all of baseball during that span.
Here’s a good visual breakdown:
OK, enough with Baltimore’s long gone winning baseball history, lets get to the actual cap and its famous logo:
First the 1966-1974 cap:
This is a Mike Cuellar game-used cap, made by Wilson (Wilson caps were manufactured by New Era).
Here’s a ’74 Topps Paul Blair card wearing the same cap:
The logo above is the most commonly seen on caps from that era, however, other logos have shown up on this cap:
This is Mark Belanger’s cap. I haven’t seen any pictures of actual players wearing this cap. The subtle differences between the two logos might be because this one was made by the KM Pro Cap Company, but both Wilson and KM Pro apparently had their embroidery supplied under private label by The Roman Art Embroidery Corp., so who knows?
And here’s yet another variation:
Made by Wilson, this is 1st base coach George Staller’s game used cap from 1970. I’ve never seen any cards or pictures from ’66-’74 with this logo either.
Here’s one more variation of the Cartoon Logo on the black crowned cap:
Also made by Wilson, it’s another Mike Cullar game used. I’ve seen this version of the bird on pictures of the Orioles from 1974.
You can see it on this Jim Palmer card from the 1975 Topps set. The O’s had made the switch to the white panel caps in ’75, so the actual picture was most likely taken during the ’74 season or maybe ’75 Spring Training:
So here we have 4 distinct, different versions of the Cartoon Bird on the ’66-’74 cap:
All of ’66-’74 game-used caps I’ve come across have been made by Wilson, but then there’s that one I found from KM Pro.
I’d like to know exactly when Wilson and KM Pro had the rights to manufacture Orioles hats during these years, and whether or not they were exclusive back then.
Moving on to 1975, the Orioles added white panels to the front of their hat:
Notice the black stitching around the white panel. Also, if you look closely at the logo, you’ll realize that it’s basically an enhanced version of the logo on the black crowned ’74 cap. This logo is bigger overall, the features are slightly larger and the whole thing is angled up more, making his beak point higher. Made of 100% Nylon, these were manufactured by the AJD Cap Company, based at the time in Richmond, Virginia.
The one and only Brooks Robinson:
They also had an alternate orange paneled cap that they used through 1976, with a similar logo design:
This is Tommy Harper’s 1976 game-used cap, also made by AJD.
Slightly smaller than the previous logo, this logo was also featured on the white panel caps. In fact, it’s the same exact logo design as the ’74 logo with a black outline added.
Here’s Reggie Jackson sporting it in 1976:
And here’s another variation of the same cap with the larger logo and a black button on top:
Looking at these logos side by side, you can see that they’re all basically the same design:
Going by my Topps baseball card references, these two logos would stay on the white paneled cap on through to about 1978.
Here’s another cap that also shows up in about ’78:
This is a Doug DeCinces game-used from 1978. Notice that this logo is the same as the KM Pro logo from above, but the button on the birds cap is black instead of orange, and the whole head is outlined in black. The similarities between these two logos make sense because this cap is made by the Roman Pro Cap Company (the former embroidery company mentioned above). They began manufacturing their own caps when KM Pro went out of business.
Here’s Mike Flanagan wearing that cap from the 1979 Topps set:
As I mentioned earlier, the photographs for the Topps cards back then were usually taken the previous year, or during Spring Training of the same year, so I assume they used this hat in 1978.
Around 1979, the Orioles switched to this cap by New Era:
This is Cal Ripken’s cap. It’s made of Nylon, with clear nylon stitching, however, it’s a much thicker weave than the AJD caps above, which were also made with Nylon.
Here’s Cal wearing it on his 1987 Topps card:
This cap was worn through the 1988 season. This would be the final Cartoon Bird hat, before they switched to the ornithologically correct Oriole logo in 1989.
Notice that it’s the same logo that’s on George Staller’s 1970 cap, above.
Here are all the logos featured on the paneled caps:
Again, it would help to know exactly when AJD, Roman Pro, and New Era were contracted to make caps for the Orioles during this time, because there seems to be overlap for some years, so it gets a little confusing trying to figure out the exact chronology.
This is the best I can come up with from what I know for sure:
- 1966-1974 – This is the logo you see most often on the black crowned caps. I think it’s pretty safe to call this one THE ’66-’74 cap logo. Made by Wilson.
- 1974 – This logo seems to show up on the last year of the black crowned caps in ’74. This same basic design would remain on the caps through the transition to the white and orange panels. Also made by Wilson.
- 1975-1978 – Logo used on both white and orange panel (’75-’76 only) alternate. Made by AJD.
- 1975-1976 – Logo used on both white and orange panel (’75-’76 only) alternate. Made by AJD.
- 1977-1978 – Made by Roman Pro.
- 1979-1988 – Made by New Era.
I’m just not sure where these other two black crown logos would fit in:
I have yet to find any photographs of players wearing these. Could they have been prototypes or samples of some sort, given out in limited supply?
Here are all the logos together again, for easier comparison:
Except for the top and bottom left, all the logos basically match up with each other.
Who knew there were at least 4 different, distinct variations of this guy over the years?! I think it’s interesting that all the versions appeared at one time or another on the 1966-1974 black crowned cap, and 3 of the 4 were made by the same manufacturer, canceling out the possibility that the variations were caused by switching companies.
Now, the reason I titled this The Forgotten Birds, is because the only bird people seem to remember nowadays, (if they even realized there were differences in the first place) is the ’79-’88 bird. All throwback merchandise today only features variations of that particular bird.
For example, here are the best “replica” caps offered at the moment:
First, New Era’s Authentic On-Field, Turn Back the Clock cap, released earlier this season:
And here are the best white and orange panel New Era Cooperstown Collection caps:
They all look like decent caps, but if you’re a stickler for detail, like me, you’ll see that they all have the wrong logos.
Even the white paneled cap, which is almost correct, (for ’79-’88) isn’t exact. Look at the logos side by side, original on left, replica (featured on all 3 caps) on right:
Some might really consider this nitpicking to the extreme, but the replica logo on the right, while the embroidery is more refined, isn’t quite as round and symmetrical as the original, particularly the line along the bottom left. Other minor differences include the button on his cap and the eyes.
Even Chris Creamer’s authoritative sportslogos.net doesn’t have the correct logos:
(The ’66 logo is very close to the actual logo. The only difference I can notice is the button on top of his cap. See above for the inaccuracies in the other two logos )
At the very least, these four logos should be represented:
Here are the graphic versions:
Well, that’s pretty much everything I know about the Baltimore Orioles Cartoon Bird cap logos. The Orioles are bringing back a new version of him on their home and road caps for the 2012 season. While I haven’t seen it yet, the new version of the Cartoon Bird is reported to be a combination of these two guys:
The unveiling should be later this month, and I can’t wait! I, for one, am glad to hear that they are designing a new logo, that fits in with the old logos, rather than use an old version that isn’t exactly correct, like they do with the Cooperstown Collection and TBTC “replica” caps, as I’ve pointed out above.
It’s been 23 (mostly losing) seasons of this:
1989-2011 Ornithologically Correct Bird cap logos
I’ve never particularly had a problem with the different variations of the realistic bird cap logos. When it was introduced, the Orioles had just been through a few losing seasons, including their worst in 1988, so I think at the time, (1989) putting a new version of the realistic bird on their caps was a refreshing change. That’s right around the time I started seriously following baseball and I remember being very excited about that hat. In fact, it was my first authentic, on-field cap. I think that cap logo also fit in well with the Birds moving to Camden Yards in ’92.
That said, if the realistic bird ever makes its way back onto the caps again, I think it should be as an alternate only. The Cartoon Bird has proven himself as THE classic Orioles logo. I’m glad to see him back, and hope he’s here to stay!
First the new home cap:
Who would have thought that the Orioles would not only bring back the Cartoon Bird, but the ’75-’88 white panel too! Bonus! The white panel cap is a unique look to current day MLB cap styles, and now that the Orioles are the only team sporting them, I think they really have a chance to own this look!
The new logo looks even better in its raised, embroidered form:
Here are Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy, proudly wearing their new caps:
The new road cap:
Reminiscent of the ’66-’74 caps.
Adam Jones, stylin':
Of course I’m biased, but this has got to be the best looking uniform set in MLB right now!
They even brought back their orange alternate jersey! Double bonus!
Here are each of the known variations of the Cartoon Bird for chronological comparison:
The new logo really fits in perfectly with the past logos.
And here’s the entire Cartoon Bird family!
Please drop me a line for comments or if you can add any more information.
SPECIAL THANKS TO:
Parkway Pastimes – Awesome Orioles collection, where I found most of the game-used cap images posted above.
Ryan Sullivan of pasteinplace.com for providing his “Lucky Bird” analysis chart.
Matt Strackbein – Graphic Design, Production Artist, Comic Book Creator – For converting the photographed logos into graphic images.
The Ballcap Blog Where I found information about the different cap companies.
Neal, for providing “The Bird Is Back” banner.
Clint Farrell of www.ProCapRepair.com, for providing pics of his absolutely pristine AJD caps.
All information written and compiled by T.L.Lears 2011