09/15/09 3:29 PM ET
More than a logo, a legendary icon
Designer of baseball's defining image to be honored
By Corey Gottlieb / MLB.com
It has become baseball's single defining image, a simple silhouette that tells a familiar story about where the game began.
The logo of Major League Baseball for nearly 40 years, it is an icon that has gained universal recognition as the stamp of approval on anything claiming baseball significance.
On Tuesday, MLB officially recognized Jerry Dior as the logo's original designer, acknowledging his innovation.
"I'm glad that we have been able to acknowledge Mr. Dior's contribution to our national pastime," said Commissioner Bud Selig in a release. "[He] created a symbol that has stood the test of time."
Dior will be honored for his design in an on-field presentation at Yankee Stadium prior to Wednesday night's Yankees-Blue Jays game, and again on Friday at Citi Field before the evening's Mets-Nationals game.
With the recognition of Dior as the logo's originator comes the answer to a question that has puzzled fans and journalists alike over the years: On which player is the silhouette based?
"People have said my design was based on Harmon Killebrew, but it wasn't," said Dior. "Mine wasn't based on anyone -- just a nondescript figure with a bat."
So much for the speculation.
"I didn't model it after any one player," Dior said. "It was intentionally ambiguous in every way, including righty vs. lefty. I was only told to create a nondescript figure, and that's what I did."
Far from nondescript, Dior himself is defined by an understated eloquence that can be traced to his Brooklyn roots.
As do so many boyhood stories, Dior's begins in the bleachers of a crowded ballpark. A 10-minute ride on the subway took Dior, his brother and his parents to Ebbets Field. It was there that many of his fondest memories were built, there that he was forced to endure the one-part-glory-two-parts-heartache formula that defined the 1930s and '40s Dodgers.
And yet, baseball would ultimately become secondary for Dior, an interest overshadowed by his one true passion: the world of art.
"I was always interested in drawing and sketching," said Dior. "Art was my passion, and my parents were supportive of that. I always knew that was what I wanted to do."
And so art was what he did -- first at Lincoln High School, then on a scholarship to the Art Students League of New York. In 1964 he entered the professional world as a graphic designer for the marketing firm Sandgren & Murtha, devoting the majority of his work to projects for pharmaceutical- and food-packaging companies.
Four years later the firm was commissioned by Major League Baseball to create a logo for use in the following season's centennial celebration, when the league would honor the best players in its then-100-year history. Along with another designer, Dior was handed the assignment.
It was then, in one of those fleeting, wish-I-could-remember-it-better moments, that Dior put pen to paper and created the image that would resonate for generations.
"I went with the silhouette because it was simple and easy to reproduce," said Dior. "I thought it had a good identity -- but I never imagined it would become what it has."
It would have been difficult for anyone to imagine.
Chosen by a committee that included ex-Yankees president Mike Burke and former Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, Dior's vision was unveiled that fall. Framed by the words "100th Anniversary," it appeared on uniforms for the first time during the 1969 season.
Since that point it has gradually -- and literally -- been woven into the fabric of the sport, establishing for baseball a palpable and enduring visual identity. The image has transcended dramatic shifts in both technology and design aesthetic over the past four decades, flying straight and true as a kind of denominational flag for all things baseball.
"This is one drawing on one afternoon, maybe a week's worth of work from start to finish" recalled a still-awestruck Dior. "Sometimes you slave over a project and there's a lot of back and forth, but this thing was smooth as silk -- it was like gangbusters in there, and that was that."
Dior's description bears the mark of something archetypal -- a certain seamlessness in thought and production. Over the years the logo has become visually synonymous with the sport itself, an image that somehow manages to signify tradition, integrity and innovation despite its innate simplicity.
"It's a part of baseball, I think," said Dior. "It's become something really special."
So special, in fact, that it has served as the creative inspiration for various other logos. It was the basis for the NBA's design, in particular, and has influenced the images that now represent various other major sports.
That a nondescript figure sketched in one afternoon could have such a far-reaching effect is almost unprecedented, particularly as its influence extends into today. Where baseball is concerned, Dior's design has become the graphic symbol of a growing industry, providing the sport with a collective presence that extends across multiple forms of new media.
However, the logo's impact on Dior's personal life is a story told in different terms. It is not about technology or industry, nor is it about recognition or grand gestures.
For Dior it is about perpetuity, the one truly surviving image that stands as a testament to 40 years as a designer.
"Every other design I've done has been dropped or changed or updated over the years," he said. "This is the only thing I can point to that hasn't changed in 40 years. It's the proudest I've ever been of my work."
Coupled with that notion is Dior's desire to leave a "footprint" that his family can look at with admiration. The retired designer relishes his role as husband, father and grandfather, and speaks candidly about how much it will mean for them to see him honored.
"I've been with this thing so long, and it's been such a roller coaster, that at this point I just care about my family getting to share in it," he said.
When Dior steps onto the field at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night, they'll get to do just that.
Corey Gottlieb is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.