Orioles welcome back cartoon bird as they unveil 2012 uniforms

Forced into retirement after the worst season in club history, the goofy, grinning cartoon bird logo has been dusted off, altered slightly and will be returning next season to Orioles hats for the first time since 1988.

The Orioles officially unveiled their 2012 uniforms and caps on their website Tuesday morning with two notable changes: a switch in hat logos from the ornithologically correct bird to the cartoon one and the inclusion of an orange jersey, which will be worn during all Saturday home games next season.

It's the first time the club will wear orange jerseys during games since 1992, the year that Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened.

The popular cartoon bird will return on two hats: a black one with an orange bill and a multipaneled one with a black back, white front and orange bill. The only games in which the Orioles won't wear the hats will be Fridays, when they'll continue to sport the black "O's" cap.

"We're always looking for ways in which to enhance the strength of our brand. And we feel that a change to the hat, adding a version of the cartoon bird, was a way in which to do that," Orioles director of communications Greg Bader said. "We find it has widespread appeal among many demographics, many age groups. … And it's a logo, it's a mark, that has a lot more character and personality than the ornithologically correct bird."

Reaction to the changes among fans was largely positive.

"I'm very happy with the new uniforms, specifically the return of the cartoon bird," said Eric Sauter, 22, of Ellicott City. "I think it's pretty clear that for many years, the cartoon bird has been a fan favorite. It's never hard to spot a cartoon bird hat as you walk downtown. It will be nice to see the players finally sporting these on a consistent basis. For those who want to go a little deeper with it, the cartoon bird takes us back to a better time for the Orioles, and while this won't translate into the successes of those former teams, it's at least a nice reminder of the Orioles' history and legacy."

Still, there was some question as to whether the team made the changes in an effort to distance itself from its recent performance, including a 14th straight losing season.

"I think the Orioles know that many fans connect with the cartoon bird [as a symbol of past success], so it wouldn't surprise me at all if that's the main reason (or one of the reasons) why they decided to bring the cartoon bird back," said Adam Westcount, 22, from Severna Park. "Even if it is just a diversion, most fans are smart enough to know that while new uniforms may be cool, it won't make a difference if the team struggles again in 2012."

Bader said the switch has been in the planning stages for more than a year and was not a direct response to another losing season in Baltimore.

"The timing, really, was going to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the ballpark versus trying to deflect attention from the team performance," he said. "Anytime you make a change, you have an element of detractors that are cynical as far as why a change is made. But there is nothing behind the change other than a desire to provide fans with a look that we think they like and a look that the ballclub is proud of."

Much of next year's public relations and marketing campaigns will focus on the stadium's anniversary, and that will also be reflected in the uniforms. All the jerseys will have a Camden Yards patch on the right sleeve and the Maryland flag logo (with a "Baltimore Orioles" inscription) on the left sleeve.

The gray road jerseys will maintain the "Baltimore" script, but the letters now will be flattened slightly and consistent instead of tapered -- so the lower-case letters will be the same size throughout.

Overall, the Orioles will feature four jersey tops and three caps.

The team will have three jersey choices at home: traditional white, orange (for Saturdays) and black (which will continue to be worn Fridays). They will use the gray "Baltimore" jerseys for most away games but will continue to wear the black "Orioles" jerseys Fridays.

For caps, the ornithologically correct oriole -- which made its comeback in 1989 -- will be retired. The new cartoon bird is plumper than the one used in the 1980s, making it a little more like the 1970 logo. There are a few subtle differences, however. The white trim along the back rim of the bird's hat isn't as pronounced as it was in the old logo, and the bird's hat rim is straighter. The most obvious change is that this version of the bird is wearing an "O's" hat, not the indistinguishable orange or white blotches from the previous logos.

The changes signify that the Orioles are aiming to draw in a younger audience and should boost the team's merchandise sales, said Marc Ganis, president and founder of Chicago-based sports business consulting firm Sportscorp.

"You want to update the uniforms while leaving the tradition intact," Ganis said. "The fact that they are going back to the old cartoon bird tells me that they are trying to target younger fans more. That will also remind fans of the great successes the team had back then.

"People will want to get the current, up-to-date uniforms and caps and other merchandise," Ganis added. "People aren't going to buy one player's jersey three times -- unless there is a uniform change."

Although the Orioles haven't officially worn the cartoon bird in 23 years, at least one player donned it all of 2011. Catcher Matt Wieters used a throwback helmet with the logo while behind the plate last season.

Fans jammed message boards praising Wieters' choice in helmetwear. And though Bader said that didn't have any bearing on the decision, the response to Wieters' choice reinforced the Orioles' sense that fans would embrace a change.

"When we saw Wieters wear that, we thought it was a fun coincidence because there was no planning of that. That this wasn't like a soft rollout; it was something that Matt wanted to do and we found great because it did kind of give a small preview to what fans could expect," Bader said. "And the fact that that created as much interest as it did gave us the belief that, ultimately, the unveiling of the new look was going to be well received."

Baltimore Sun reporter Matt Vensel contributed to this article.