A better bird

Like its old team, mascot was a winner

Baltimore ...Or Less

April 06, 2003|By Chris Kaltenbach

Being an Oriole fan used to be so wonderfully simple. Just like the Hartzell bird.

The Orioles would play a game, usually win, and before you knew it, October had come and the O's were playing for the flag.

And every morning on the front page of The Sun, that little bird would be there, his expression telling us immediately whether the good guys had won or lost.

Artist Jim Hartzell's death last week at age 93 was sad in so many ways, not least in that it reminded us that those worry-free days of yore are gone. It takes work now to be an Oriole fan.

Hartzell's bird was a deceptively simple, ornithologically incorrect sketch of an Oriole with an outsized beak, spindly legs and prominent tailfeathers. Any kid could draw him, though no one but Hartzell could put just the right twinkle in those oval-shaped eyes.

The bird made its debut in 1954, the year the perennially hapless St. Louis Browns brought major league baseball back to Baltimore. Adopted as the official team logo, he was everywhere: programs, yearbooks, schedules, patches, tie clips. Beginning in 1967, the year after the team won its first World Championship, he was on this newspaper's front page.

Over the next 12 years, the O's and the bird would prosper together, the team reaching the World Series four times, never dropping out of contention. It was a great time to be young and an Oriole fan.

The bird left The Sun's front page in 1979. The Orioles remained in contention a few more years, even won another Series. But the dynasty was soon finished.

Today, the O's struggle to field a contender, and fans are more likely to complain about the team than embrace them. The logo is now a stark, ornithologically correct Oriole. Its expression is passive, certainly not happy. Things have changed.

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