This is the first of a 4-part series that evaluates the quality of the team logos for the four major pro sports leagues and pronounces a best and worst verdict for each.
At the risk of sparking a backlash of e-hate from the fan base of the soon-to-be-awarded “worst logo” in Major League Baseball, let me say one thing right off the bat (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun)… this is a no-win scenario for Sports Brand Jury.
If some self-proclaimed sports brand judge decided that my home team (full disclosure, Colorado Rockies) had the absolute worst logo in Major League Baseball, I would be pretty ticked off myself. But somebody has to do it, and what better venue could there be than the SBJ courtroom?
First, here are the ground rules. (Sorry, I did it again). The hardest part of this court case is deciding which logo should represent each team. A quick look at the website for each team (and, of course with the invaluable help of Chris Creamer’s Sportslogos.net) it’s immediately apparent that every team has several logos, from their primary cap logo to their alternate, to the various and sundry logo versions in between. After struggling with the best way to choose each team’s logo to evaluate, I decided to select the most recognizable version currently in use by each team. Admittedly this eliminates some really nice options. For example, the nicely designed Padres’ home plate/waves logo in use from 2004-2011. But this case will only review designs in use during the 2019 season. (No whining. When you get to be the judge, you can set your own rules.)
On the plus side, it also means that goofy but lovable logos like the Padres’ cartoon friar (1969-1984) won’t torpedo San Diego in this courtroom. Besides, that’s probably a future blog post series – Best and Worst of All-Time).
SBJ will also ignore the American/National league classifications, so both the Best and Worst logos could come out of the same league, or not.
Finally, there will be a sort of grandfather clause. This should prevent one of the many classic, iconic team logos from being nominated as the worst logo. That also means the verdicts will not be based on pure design evaluation. Because let’s face it – quite a few teams cling to questionable but beloved logos. And SBJ’s respect for baseball history (as well as the histories of the other three leagues to follow in this series) inserts an unavoidable degree of leniency. As for the best logo, the judging standard bar will be set high!
First, The Untouchables
A large group of MLB team logos falls in this “grandfathered” category. It includes teams whose logos may have started out decades or even a century ago, and have simply been updated or tweaked over the course of their lifetimes. Changing these team logos would rightfully incite riotous uprisings by their loyal fans. So, in no particular order the following teams can be excused from the courtroom:
The Cubs logo might be in the running for worst logo if they weren’t grandfathered in. The giant “C” and the tiny “UBS” wouldn’t make it past the first sketches in a current rebranding process. The only thing GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) about this logo was a curse named Murphy.
I’m still trying to figure out the reason for their attachment to the Gothic “D”. It uses a font that’s been around since the Gutenberg Bible, but isn’t nearly as contemporary looking. With the huge potential for an awesome tiger logo, this one’s a head-scratcher.
Boston Red Sox
It’s a good thing they have Fenway and the Green Monster. Without their iconic ballpark, their logo would border on childish. But tradition trumps campy in Boston so I’m giving them a pass.
Like the Cubs, this one only works because of the grandfather clause. But with such an ambiguous team name, there’s really not much room for creativity here. Especially since bringing back the Red Stockings would be a non-starter for obvious reasons.
San Francisco Giants
This logo received a healthy dose of design tweaks around the turn of the millennium, which makes it look much better, but only when it’s viewed really large. All of those slick details disappear at normal viewing distance, leaving a mediocre impression.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Another logo that hasn’t changed much since 1958. Its clean lines and the prototypical baseball script logo are nothing special, but will probably still be the same in 2058 (and I’m okay with that).
New York Mets
Sorry Mets fans, but a new logo wouldn’t hurt you. I used to be a fan, playing most of my Little League baseball years in New Jersey. And it was especially fun during the ‘69 Miracle Mets World Series championship season. But can anyone give me a good reason why this cityscape logo has been untouchable?
St. Louis Cardinals
Another logo that hasn’t changed much since the 1960s. Clean lines, the expected script Cardinals type, and of course the redbird, are nicely done but nothing too special. Their logo will probably be the same in the 2060s (and again, I’m okay with that).
Since they’ve de-emphasized the illustrated pirate image, the Bucs have used their sculpted P lettermark as their primary logo. It’s an adaptation of the type font that was used from the mid-60s to the mid-80s, so it just slips in under the grandfather clause. The fact that I am a huge Roberto Clemente fan has nothing to do with giving the Pirates logo grandfathered protection (okay, maybe a little).
New York Yankees
Again, I hate to sound like a broken record, but the Yankees hat-and-bat logo is another example of one that will never be changed, but maybe could be? But for fear of pinstriped backlash SBJ will refuse to hear that case just yet.
One of the two teams that have had to dodge the political correctness hammer, the Braves successfully turned their branding focus to the tomahawk as their primary logo. It’s crafted well, but the traditional script lettering is merely decent.
The A’s are a team that has maintained pretty much the same logo since they moved from Philadelphia to Oakland in 1968*. It’s been cleaned up, spit and polished to its current iteration and is one of the nicest grandfathered logos in the bunch.
* Thanks to a couple readers who rightfully pointed out that the A’s spent the 1955-1967 seasons in Kansas City before ending up in Oakland. My bad!
Next, The New and Improved
A third of the league falls within this category. In some cases, the logo is brand new, and in some cases, it’s a successful update. Naturally, the best logo award will come out of this group.
I’m typically not a fan of cartoon-like logos for major league sports teams, but the Orioles’ new cartoon bird is particularly well designed. It’s simple, endearing and captures an inscrutable baseball fun factor for me. Aside from the weird little white notch at the back end of the cap, this one works really well. (Design note: I probably would have left that notch in the orange color and made the “O” on the cap stand out as the other white accent.)
For a team that’s never really had a very good logo, this badge-style version really hits the mark for me. With the subtle three-dimensional treatment on the H and a nice application of color and dimension to the star, the whole image is pretty sharp. My only criticism is the elimination of the shooting star concept (the astronaut basis of the Astros name) and now it looks too much like their in-state rival Texas Rangers. It’s an excellent logo design, just a slightly flawed conceptual approach. Houston, we have a (little) problem…
Kansas City Royals
KC is another team that, like the Oakland As, has stayed pretty much the same over the years. Subtle tweaks and an overall clean-up pushed this one into the New and Improved category for me. I can see this banner hanging off the castle parapets in King Arthur’s day.
I really like the Rangers logo even though they have gone away from the big Texas star that was featured in their previous logo. The typography is perfectly crafted and the blue seams work really well to create the inner baseball shape. Nothing showy, just a straight-up Texas flavor.
Even though I miss the trident M from their early logos, their current use of the compass rose (the typical seafarer’s symbol) still works pretty well. The overall circle badge design is a solid if uninspiring solution.
Another example of the circular badge-style logo (Rangers, Astros, As, Jays, etc.), the Twins have done a particularly nice job with typography, dimension, and proportion. And although I think there could have been a way to incorporate some kind of “twins” concept into the logo, this one is still one of my favorites, with just the right amount of contemporary versus classic styling.
Los Angeles Angels
The current Angels logo is an example of exquisite simplicity. It reads equally well small or large, and the A letterform is perfectly created. Even the three-dimensional aspects of the A are masterfully chiseled. The simple halo provides the unmistakable Angels branding element. Overall, it’s a heavenly design.
I flat out love this logo. A few of their past logos have been meh, but the current Brewers logo incorporates all the right stuff: superb typography, good dimension (simple and not overdone), and a perfect graphic element (the stalk of grain) that visually supports the team name and city. Cheers!
Last year, the Marlins would have easily won the worst logo award. That ugly, trendy, neon-like fish design was atrocious. The new logo is way nicer and should give the team a consistent logo for years to come (we hope). It’s especially cool the way the curve of the marlin’s back completes the circular baseball shape and gives a perfect balance to the laces graphic. I just wish they hadn’t joined the overcrowded red and black/dark blue club with their color palette. Aqua can work as a timeless color for Miami, it’s just a shame they refuse to embrace it.
San Diego Padres
The Padres’ logo is simple, clean and perfectly rendered – the ultimate baseball logo example of less is more. However, I do miss the use of a second color. The lighter blue used in some of their previous logos would have added some spark to their branding system.
Close but no Cigar.
This is a smaller group of teams with logos that are not bad but could be better.
Even though the big W is a little too Walgreens for me (check it out), and the design is nice, I expected more from this team. There are too many design opportunities that could enhance their logo and express their pride in being our nation’s capital. I understand their desire to maintain the lettermark from their beloved Senators team (1961-1971), but relegating that to special occasions and coming up with something better for their primary logo might have been a better direction. A real lost opportunity here.
As I mentioned earlier in this article, this is my home team. And as much as I like the overall Coors Field branding system, I have always felt that the Rockies logo itself falls short of what it could be. I love the purple and silver/gray color palette, but the flying baseball and overly detailed snowy peaks create a slightly disjointed logo. I love my Rox, but wish they would consider a rebrand or update sometime soon (the safe and unremarkable “CR” lettermark doesn’t count as a rebrand in this courtroom).
Kudos to the Phils for bringing the Liberty Bell into their branding equation, it’s a perfect choice. Unfortunately, the design is just a mediocre solution. Maybe they feel like they have to stick with the realistic outline of the historic bell and frame shape. But it’s a bit clunky, and taking some creative license would open up their logo to some really cool options. I also think the toothpaste-style font and the tiny stars that function as dots for the “I” letters could be much better.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays logo is another one of those designs that looks really nice when you see the gorgeous detailing up close. Unfortunately, it loses impact at normal viewing distance. It might be the way it’s forced into the over-used circular badge format, but for the Jays logo, the individual parts are greater than the whole. More bird and less superfluous line work could make for a really special logo.
Swing and a Miss.
This category needs no explanation. The bottom of the barrel of the bat.
Tampa Bay Rays
I love the choice of their team name, and can even understand why they dropped Devil Rays in favor of just plain Rays. But they’ve had twenty years and still haven’t quite gotten it right. Why they shunned the manta ray as part of their main logo is a mystery to me. I understand that Florida is sunny, and the sun ray concept is valid. But the design and execution of the system is clunky and forced. The only thing worse than their primary logo is the horrendous jersey wordmark logo that is just downright awful. If that was their primary logo, they would win the worst logo award hands down.
The Diamondbacks are an example of sports branding at its indecisive worst. Even though they are a fairly new team, they have the biggest brand identity crisis in Major League Baseball (maybe in all of professional sports). After beginning their tenure in the league with one of the most unique designs and color schemes, they have been all over the board since then. Mostly because Arizona makes liberal use of their alternate logos, which presents an unusually schizophrenic brand culture. And aside from joining the unrecognizable color palette club (do I have to say it again?), the southwestern “A” logo with the odd-looking x-shaped snakehead is another example of a great idea with less than great execution. But if history is any indication, wait around a bit and they’ll roll out something new before long.
Chicago White Sox
It’s a good thing Chicago has great pizza, because their baseball team logos are nothing to write home about. The ChiSox logo is a strange attempt to capture gothic letterforms that falls short on several levels. The overly large “S” is more contemporary-serif with an odd forced split stripe. The smaller “o-x” letters are sharp-edged attempts to appear more true gothic. But a clumsy chain-link technique tries to combine all three letters into a single symbol. Poor use of negative space and inconsistent outlining bake up this absolute hot mess of a logo. Although it’s a minor improvement from their kindergarten-style logo from the 70s and 80s, I’d send this one back to the kitchen.
Sigh… I hate to kick a team when they are down (logo-wise), but the Indians are experiencing a branding quagmire ever since Chief Wahoo bit the dust of political correctness. Now before you start the digital SBJ scalping campaign, I agree that the chief’s time as the Cleveland baseball team logo has come and gone, leaving a love-hate legacy among baseball fans. But to default their logo to a basic block letter “C” with no degree of style or nuance is perhaps the ultimate example of overreaction.
And the winner (and loser) is…
Choosing the best MLB team logo came down to a tight race between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Los Angeles Angels. You could even say it took extra innings to decide the winner. But SBJ gives the nod to the Angels. It was almost impossible to find a deciding factor because they are both outstanding examples of sports branding. So in the end, the Angels get the SBJ Best MLB Team Logo Award simply because they got it right sooner. The halo-A was unveiled in 2002, whereas the Brewers logo was officially adopted just last year (2018). Congratulations to the Los Angeles Angels. Here’s hoping this award propels the team on another World Series championship run sometime soon.
As for the worst logo… without a doubt, the Indians win the prize. It’s time for Cleveland to embrace their team name, get back on the horse and create a strong, respectful logo honoring the brave, noble history of the American Indian. They only need to look to the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks for some beginning inspiration. If they aren’t willing to do that, they should cut bait and change the name. Until then, they’ll continue to be a sports branding underachiever. Luckily, the opportunity for a successful rebrand is there for the taking. If they do (and I hope it’s soon), the White Sox might need to follow suit or risk taking up this tarnished crown.
Agree? Disagree? SBJ would love to hear from you. Next up… Part 2. The SBJ Best & Worst Logos of the National Hockey League.