O's logo adds another error to stats

April 08, 2009|By LAURA VOZZELLA

If the Orioles really want to turn things around, maybe they should start with their upside-down-and-backward apostrophe.

The team's players sport two caps, one with a bird and one with a typo.

The latter is on the "alternate cap" that's usually worn once or twice a week. It reads "O's," with the apostrophe flipped so the little round part - the "ball terminal," typographers tell me - is at the bottom instead of the top. It should be "O's."

Baseball is a sport steeped in tradition and nitpicky rules. It's also a game premised on getting a little ball in the right spot. Isn't the wrong-way apostrophe a bit like Brian Roberts running the bases clockwise, either because he messed up or just thought it'd look cool?

The Orioles came out with the "O's" logo back in 2005. How the wayward punctuation went unnoticed all these years is a mystery, given the OCD-ish attention to detail lavished on the sport. Paul Lukas, who is devoted to the "obsessive study of athletics aesthetics" as ESPN.com's Uni Watch blogger, reported sheepishly a couple of months back that he'd just noticed it.

"Now, I realize an argument can be made that there shouldn't be an apostrophe there at all, because plurals don't take apostrophes," he wrote. "But you could also argue that the apostrophe is standing in for 'riole,' plus 'O's' is less visually awkward than 'Os' would be. ... But once you've decided it belongs there, how can anyone who got past the third grade orient it incorrectly?"

He added: "And people wonder why America's going down the [toilet]."

Charles Apple, a longtime news designer, took up the matter this week on visualeditors.com and brought it to my attention. (He rightly concluded that I'm The Baltimore Sun's self-appointed Apostrophe Watcher, having come across my rants about "The Ehrlich's" Christmas card.)

Apple shared Lukas' outrage. But on the Sun grammar blog You Don't Say, copy desk chief John McIntyre says grammarians have bigger fish to fry.

"It's just a logo," McIntyre said. "Logos are made by graphic artists, who tend to be more concerned with visual impact than the niceties of all that word stuff. If you can tolerate that idiotic backward R in the Toys 'R' Us sign, then an incorrect version of the apostrophe shouldn't keep you up nights."

Even so, I wonder if the apostrophe was inverted by accident or on purpose, to make some sort of stylistic statement. I wonder because the Orioles did not respond to my phone and e-mail messages. (Sheesh! It's not like it's a busy week over at Camden Yards or anything.)

So I turned to graphics gurus at Maryland Institute College of Art, a place that spent a year pondering the comma in its name before ultimately giving it the boot. Could the O's be up to some "experimental typography" (an actual course of study at MICA)?

"I don't really see a design argument for it," said MICA professor Ken Barber.

But Bruce Willen of Baltimore's avant garde Post Typography studio was open to that possibility.

"Maybe there's a great conceptual reason behind having an upside-down apostrophe," he theorized. Yet even this outside-the-box kinda guy - Willen once rearranged a wall of books in his apartment so the colors on the spines formed the word "home" - couldn't imagine what that great conceptual reason might be.

I wonder if the flipped apostrophe is at the root of the team's problems, Curse of the Grammarians sort of thing. Baseball is rife with superstitions, and the team hasn't had a winning season in the four years since that "O's" logo came out. Then again, the team hadn't had a winning season for seven years before that.

Lukas, the Uni Watch blogger, thinks there might be a connection, if not a curse.

"I do think the same management approach that results in lousy baseball can also lead to lousy grammar and lousy typography."

Cashing in on Schaefer

Maryland tax refund checks have started arriving in mailboxes - bearing William Donald Schaefer's signature, my colleague Dan Rodricks reports on his blog.

"I'd like to say it was our homage to Mr. Schaefer in the week of the premiere of his documentary," said Joseph Shapiro, spokesman for the man whose John Hancock is actually supposed to be there, Comptroller Peter Franchot.

The real reason: during some routine server maintenance, an electronic signature file for the former comptroller got mixed up with the current one. The really important part: The checks are still good.

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