60 Years of Orioles Orange & Black—and a Confusing Start

2014 marks the 60th anniversary for the Baltimore Orioles. The team, previously the St. Louis Browns, played their first game against the Tigers, in Detroit, on April 13, 1954. They opened at home two days later. Baltimore fielded teams in the National League in the late 19th century. Another Orioles franchise was a charter member of the American League, playing there in 1901-02 before pulling up stakes and moving to New York (they are now the New York Yankees.) The city then hosted the Minor League Baltimore Orioles for half a century before the Browns shifted to Charm City on September 28, 1953. The Baltimore franchise has looked remarkably consistent over the past six decades. Their primary colors have been orange and black since 1954 and their white home uniforms have featured a script “Orioles” for all but three seasons over that span. But for all their visual steadiness, the team got off to a confused start in that first season. The Orioles introduced their new look in mid-February of 1954. The uniforms that the team announced are identical to the ones that saw action that season—a thin, slightly condensed black script “Orioles,” both at home and on the road.

ORIOLES_02.195454 ORIOLES UNI ANNC

However, the club wore a number of different uniforms in Spring Training that year. As seen below, there was orange lettering with a black outline and black lettering with an orange outline—both versions very different from the announced uniforms. One of the variations featured shoulder and front placket trim, seemingly recycled from the International League Baltimore Orioles who had worn similar uniforms in recent seasons.

54_Os_UNIS 03.31.1954_ORIOLES

Even the Sporting News was confused, as illustrated by this item from April 14, citing orange script lettering, trimmed in black.

54_ORIOLES_NEW FLANNELS

When the regular season got underway they trotted out what they had originally planned on. This Baltimore Sun photo depicts the home opener, April 15, 1954.

BALTIMORE SUN OPENING DAY 4.15.54

One attentive Sporting News reader noticed the discrepancy and received the following explanation:

1954 ORIOLES COLOR MIXUP

So what happened here? Scenarios like this were not unusual then. There are multiple examples of prototypes that were brought forth by teams as the real deal in those years, only to change once the season started. What makes this case particularly unique is the fact that the Orioles reverted to the prototype version after only one year, then stuck with it for the next 3+ decades (the team employed block uniform lettering from 1963-65.) This script evolved into what the team still wears today as they celebrate their 60th anniversary in Baltimore.

Os_LETTERING

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5 Responses to 60 Years of Orioles Orange & Black—and a Confusing Start

  1. Ben Fortney says:

    Nice post. I had to pull up the Dressed to the Nines database to figure out what they were wearing when they didn’t have “a script “Orioles” for all but three seasons.”

    Curious if there was a rationale for the switch to the san-serif font other than “modernization.” To my eye Orioles spelled out in all caps just looks odd.

    • Todd Radom says:

      Thanks, Ben. I have a 1963 article which says that the club wanted to tone things down-the old look was “a bit gaudy.” They wanted to emphasize black and they wanted to eliminate some of the “decorative extras.”

    • I too felt compelled to look up those “non-script years.” They went back to script and won a world championship. They may not always play classy, or have classy ownership, but they do always look sharp. (Though they sometimes go a little overboard on orange.)

      • Todd Radom says:

        Plus-1) We all love Camden Yards, and 2) any city that is responsible for Babe Ruth, John Waters, and HL Mencken is OK by me.

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