Fans can develop extremely strong attachments to team logos and colors, attachments that border on emotional and, well, fanatical. These logos are just my favorites, but I can assure you of my (mostly) un-biased critical view as a designer. If I missed your favorite or you have a strong case against one of them let me know.
Here are what I think to be the best primary and secondary logos in the Major League, in no particular order (with a little nostalgia based appreciation).
Toronto Blue Jays Alternate (2012 – Present)
The Toronto Blue Jays logo has a troubled history. The most recent revision to the logo rebuilds the best logo they had previously used from 1977 to 1996. In between was a Blue Jay on steroids flexing around a T and the weirdly NFL looking version they used into 2012. This current logo is more of an evolution of concept than a redo. The lines here in the Alternate logo are very similar to the Primary version. You see streamlined and generally more dynamic and faster looking motions to the lines. The Canadian logo sits as an element within the design rather than what created the baseball on the older dated version.
Chicago White Sox Alternate (1976 – 1990)
This logo looks like it is from the 70s and that isn’t a bad thing. Its minimal in style, and the pictographic impression of a batter is awesome. It is expressive, with implied motion in the posture of the bat and arms, the typeface is clean and matches the design of the logo naturally and small details, like the torso of the batter, integrates with the X. Even though it has similar colors to the Cubs, this logo is uniquely different in a two team town like Chicago. While it somewhat is telling of the era it is from, this logo came with some of the worst jerseys ever worn by a baseball team.
Philadelphia Phillies Alternate (1971-1991)
Another logo that looks like the era it is from, mostly because of the really strange color choice of maroon. In the 70’s they had Philadelphia Phil and Philadelphia Phyllis as their “meh”scots. In the mid 80’s they had the School House Rock logo. Both of these were considered their primary logos, but more importantly the name of the team’s unique logotype is featured in both (and probably should have been the only part in my opinion). So while Philly’s primary logos weren’t great, their secondary logo was on all of their jerseys and caps for 20 years for a good reason. It is different, it includes a baseball but it’s complimentary to the design itself. It is sleek, unique and easily recognizable, which is a good direction for a baseball logo.
Milwaukee Brewers Alternate (1978-1993)
The Milwaukee Brewers Logo is a retro piece of art made while they were part of the American League. During most of the 70’s they had this “weird but great” anthropomorphic Beer Barrel Man batting that was much beloved in Milwaukee since the 1940’s. In the late 1970’s they updated the logo to this glove design. There is a special moment when you first realize it is a lowercase M and B together interlocked in the shape of a glove. The baseball, like the Phillies mark above, is what makes this logo complete. The Brewers absolutely nailed this one. It was no wonder they used it for as long as they did.
Montreal Expos Primary (1969-2004)
The Montreal Expos (French: Expos de Montréal) team started in 1969 and never changed their logo. For almost 40 years the team held on to this awesome mark because it was smart and looked great. Expos de Montreal Baseball. That is the secret behind this logo. Interwoven script pieces all come together to abbreviate the full name of the team. This logo is a little dated looking, but I can imagine this being modernized and still looking amazing without significant change. That is how you know this is a good logo. The line work is smooth, it is creative and clever and I commend the designer for coming up with a mark that doesn’t rely on a baseball to remind the viewer that it is a team logo. This is easily one of the smartest logos in baseball history.
Detroit Tigers Primary (1929, 1930, 2006 – Present)
The Detroit Tigers logos, historically, have been consistently Ds. The script D is strong, bold and instantly known throughout time as Detroit since it has been on the team hats and helmets since 1922. The first Blackletter D was seen in 1904 and by 1921 the D we all recognize was put into place until 1934 which for some reason it changed to a Tiger image after they became the AL Champions. It wasn’t until 1994 that the Blockletter made a comeback, including an updated and aggressive looking tiger illustration coming through the letter D. The logo was then “refreshed” without the tiger in 2006. Keeping it simple is what makes this a great logo.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Primary (2005-Present)
The complicated name history of the Angels is hard for many people to understand if they aren’t from California. The logo has changed quite a bit, sometimes dramatically, since the 1960’s. This current version comes almost a decade after the Disney Era of Angels ownership. After the success of Angels in the Outfield in 1994, the team redesigned their identity with a often ridiculed periwinkle blue that was designed by Disney (and looked like it). That logo lasted for about 4 years. After the Angels reached the World Series in 2002, the team was sold again and along with it came another redesign of the logo that resembled the 1986 to 1992 version. What this 2005 version does is strip away the unnecessary baseball diamond and improves the readability of the A with a solid navy outline. This logo is strong with a simple halo at the top that makes it stand out.
Chicago Cubs Primary (1979 – Present)
This iteration of the Chicago Cubs logo is easily one of best. It has been a continual evolution that started with this 1919 version of the logo. Looking at the logos over time you can almost imagine how they have morphed into its current design. The giant C has become rounder and more geometric while the outlines are thicker. Perhaps the 2015 Chicago Cubs logo will look like this:
Seattle Mariners Primary (1993 – Present)
The Seattle Mariners logos prior to 1993 were a very very dull version of their nickname, “M’s” with a baseball behind it. Talk about dull. Before this the logo had a pretty neat looking trident creating the M which was smart and related to the name in concept. So in 1992 it came time to finally update the team and give them something to stand out after nearly 20 years of blue and yellow. This newer redesign of the team smartly loses the trident and the boring reference to their nickname and instead focuses on the baseball, centered as part of a nautical compass. The team’s name suddenly makes more sense in this context and the simple concept and execution of the logo brings it to life. The side note here is that I prefer the logo variation that goes on the hats that balances the vertical and horizontal compass pieces to be the same length.
Cleveland Indians Primary (1951-1972, 1980-2013) Alternate (2014)
Oh Chief Wahoo. You’re gone from us now as the primary logo. This doesn’t really surprise me (or anyone) as the team has been backing off from displaying the Chief . It is more or less officially no longer a primary logo identifier of a questionably racist but definitely culturally insensitive time period.
In 2014 we’ve made some great social strides, yet the Indians and their die-hard fans are called racist for their logo. What is incorrect for sure is the usage of the definition of racist (which is: “having or showing the belief that a particular race is superior to another.”). I would hardly go so far as to say that the Cleveland Indians team fully believe this since Wahoo has been all but removed from the stadium and overall branding already. Now the truth of the matter is that having a silly looking Native American as your logo and icon is culturally insensitive and insulting. The worst part about everything is that it is dividing people into extreme positions of which the Pro-Wahoo fans are ironically making it worse, while others make fairly reasonable statements. Controversy loves to be in the news unfortunately which puts these rather fair minded individuals more forgotten than listened to.
So after prefacing it, there is three reasons this logo is on my list:
1) Chief Wahoo has lasted for decades and connected with many fans because he has always embodied the fun and positive feelings those fans associate with Cleveland baseball. His giant smile and bright eyes feel fun and non-aggressive as a logo and icon.
2) Because of the Chief’s redskin and general silliness, he has actually kept the conversation regarding treatment of Native Americans in the news. America’s history with Native Americans should not be a conversation that ever goes away in our increasingly social world.
3) Chief Wahoo will disappear or be reinvented in the near future. As a designer this sounds like a great opportunity to work together with Native American organizations to see what would be the best way to move forward together rather than being at odds. The process of collecting information, interviews and all of the potential reference material needed would be amazing (like the Discovery we do here) and could really bring the truth to light and hopefully result in the best logo in baseball.
Solutions for Chief Wahoo might actually be a chance to lead the way and forge a path into how to do something that actually honors the people it is named after rather than saying so. In any case, the conversation is topical and important outside of the game of baseball to keep alive. So I stand by the fact that this logo is important.
Major League Baseball (1969-Present)
In 1968 Jerry Dior worked as a graphic designer at Sandgren & Murtha in New York City. The agency was tasked with creating a logo for the upcoming centennial celebration of Major League Baseball. What is interesting, and something I can relate to, is that Mr. Dior created this logo quickly and knew it was the right solution. In an interview with ESPN he said “No, I just went through some magazines and tried to figure out some ideas. I really don’t know how the process worked — I just did it, y’know? It was fast. I think I spent just an afternoon on it.”
Quick or not, this ground breaking logo has been emulated by flanking an athlete with blue and red has been endlessly in application for various leagues throughout the world. In fact the iconic NBA logo of Jerry West was purposefully created to have a similar look to the MLB logo because NBA Commissioner J. Walter Kennedy wanted to be part of the All American feeling it portrayed. As it goes, Jerry Dior’s work was never officially celebrated for decades and he never collected any royalties for its continued use for over 40 years. In fact, it took the League until 2009 to finally acknowledge that he created the logo but did so in proper celebration at Yankee Stadium. I personally respect Mr. Dior’s work and recognize this as one of the greatest marks created.
UPDATE: Thanks for all of the feedback and sharing. I’m happy to see the passionate commentary across a lot of site and I do regret not being able to include some other noticeably great logos (some mentioned in the comments). As a graphic designer I wanted to stick to reviewing these marks based on creative elements and overall impact. It is worth mentioning that I know there is 11 logos here. The MLB logo is for the league and I couldn’t leave it out from this list.