There’s an Optical Illusion Hidden in the MLB Logo

Righty or lefty?
Righty or lefty? /, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Like all great symbols, the simplicity of Major League Baseball’s logo is what makes it so effective. It’s just the colorless silhouette of a batter, a bat, and a baseball against a blue and red background. Or, rather, it’s two organic shapes—one blue and one red—whose negative space forms the portrait of a baseball player and his accoutrements.

But the logo is actually less simple than it looks: because you can’t tell if the batter is a lefty or a righty. If you see the player with his back to you, as though he’s standing between you and home plate, then he’s batting right-handed. If his front is facing you, however, with home plate between you two, then he’s a southpaw

The spare outline lacks any detail that can definitively clarify the perspective, which is exactly how designer Jerry Dior intended it. In fact, he didn’t want anything about the model to be discernible, from handedness to race (though we can at least infer gender, as all MLB players have been men and also because Dior referred to his illustration as “he”). In short, the logo was meant to represent any and every player in the MLB.

Who’s the Player in the MLB Logo?

Harmon Killebrew at the 1970 MLB All-Star Game in Ohio
Harmon Killebrew at the 1970 MLB All-Star Game in Ohio. / Focus On Sport/GettyImages

The most prevalent theory is that the image depicts Harmon “Killer” Killebrew, a right-handed first baseman mainly known for hitting home runs for the Minnesota Twins through the 1960s and early ’70s. Dior, who passed away in 2015, said in no uncertain terms that this wasn’t the case. “It’s not any specific person,” he told journalist Paul Lukas in 2008. “I did a couple of variations based on photographs I had. It was sort of composite of what I had in front of me.”

But Dior couldn’t remember which players were in the photos, so it is technically possible that Killebrew was one of them: The logo was created in 1968, during the slugger’s heyday.

The very next year, the National Basketball Association asked Alan Siegel, who had overseen the MLB project at marketing firm Sandgren & Murtha, to come up with a similar design for their sport. Siegel obliged, keeping Dior’s color choices but adapting the format and shape to accommodate a basketball player. Unlike the MLB logo’s ambiguous hitter, the NBA logo’s silhouetted dribbler isn’t a composite image: Siegel based it on a specific photo of former Los Angeles Laker Jerry West. (And no, West doesn’t get royalties.)

NBA logo in 2022
The NBA logo in 2022. / Nic Antaya/GettyImages

The MLB logo has remained basically unchanged for the last half-century and inspired countless other athletic logos during that time. Dior never condemned the copycats. “I think it’s great,” he said. “Like they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I started something, and I didn’t even realize it!”