What makes a great sports logo?
"I personally look for balance and harmony," said Todd Radom during an impromptu interview at last week's Baseball Winter Meetings in National Harbor, Maryland. "What makes it successful is that the proportions and balance and use of negative space -- I'm getting really wonky here -- all that needs to work. You can't have teeny tiny words and a large image embedded in the same thing. You generally cannot put a circle within a square. And also, usability -- this is not a fine art. It's generally a very collaborative process."
Radom would know. Over his decades-long career as a graphic artist, he's designed a wide variety of logos for the NFL and NBA. But his first love is baseball, and it's within our national pastime -- in both the Major and Minor Leagues -- that he's made the greatest impact.
Radom, who grew up in Yonkers, New York, had a genetic predisposition to his eventual line of work.
"I'm a fourth-generation working artist," he said. "So this goes way back. I'd been interested in design, and while it wasn't necessarily destiny, I started specializing in sports 25 years ago. I've always been fascinated by the aesthetics of sports, especially baseball, since I was a kid. I have doodles in a scorecard from 1976, or something like that, of all the teams in the American League. So it's something that goes very deep."
After attending college at New York City's School of Visual Arts, Radom landed a job at Penguin Books.
"I was making a good living doing book covers. And being the kind of baseball fan that I am, pumping out hundreds of book covers a quarter, I got all the sports books," he said. "I did books by Thomas Boswell, Bill James. I accrued a portfolio, and back in those days you would literally drop your portfolio off. Once a week companies would say you could do it. I dropped my portfolio off at Major League Baseball, early in 1992, and they were just professionalizing their creative services department. This is on the cusp of digital. And I got noticed. I got called back in and said, 'Not only do I execute, but I'm also a customer. I care deeply about the history of this game and the visual culture of it.' I've been doing stuff with them ever since."
Radom's work in Major League Baseball has included various All-Star Game logos, commemorative marks and the Anaheim Angels' 2002 update. But it was in 1992, the same year he broke into MLB, that Radom landed his first Minor League Baseball job.
"My first job in sports as a professional designer was the logo for the Knoxville Smokies," he said. "I still have the sketches -- marker on tracing paper mounted up and then faxed away."
| "I've always been fascinated by the aesthetics of sports, especially baseball, since I was a kid. I have doodles in a scorecard from 1976, or something like that, of all the teams in the American League. So it's something that goes very deep."
-- Todd Radom
One of Radom's favorite projects, Minor League or otherwise, was designing the Brooklyn Cyclones' logo in advance of their inaugural 2001 season.
"As a native New Yorker and a guy who loves history, to be a part of that was a great thing and I think it's aged well," he said.
More recently, Radom has worked on a triumvirate of league-specific logos: the Appalachian and Southern Leagues in 2015, and a new Northwest League logo unveiled earlier this month.
"A league logo is a different kind of animal," he said. "Team logos are very merchandise driven -- they are destined to have a limited shelf life. Tastes change; styles change. League logos are corporate vehicles. There's not a tyranny of marketing attached to them. So they need to stand the test of time and, of course, you're not designing for one specific city or community. By the same token you're creating this thing that needs to be built to last -- it's got to be structurally sound and speak to a number of different places and people. So it's been an interesting challenge these last couple of years, to say the least."
Radom said that he enjoys working within the Minors because "your work is really appreciated by the people who have commissioned it in a way that it's sometimes not for big projects, that have a lot of fingers in the pie."
He hasn't played a part in Minor League Baseball's ongoing trend toward irreverent team identities, however, the bulk of which have been designed by San Diego-based Brandiose. Nonetheless, he has no particular objection to the Baby Cakes, Rumble Ponies and Jumbo Shrimp of the world.
"It's Minor League Baseball," he said. "It supposed to be fun."
At this point in his career, virtually all of the projects that Radom works on come via preexisting relationships or the recommendations of others.
"I am heavily restricted from leveraging a lot of what I do, particularly for certain leagues, so word of mouth is very important," he said. "Having been in this business a long time, you've got a couple of things to deal with. Navigating the process is something in and of itself, because it is a process. It's a meandering road anytime you do this kind of stuff. I have never in my life put a logo out there and said 'This is it.' There are always stakeholders involved, and these need to be structurally sound. Especially for teams. There are a staggering number of places and platforms where this stuff is applied to."
He continued, "I always say, particularly to younger designers, 'Your work is only as good as the weakest link in the chain. There is some licensee who is producing your work in only one color, and they're not doing a good job of it. It's got to be bulletproof, and that goes beyond aesthetics. So it's structural; it's almost building a house. I am a trusted contractor. And sometimes I'm Winston Wolfe from Pulp Fiction -- I come in and clean up a big mess and no one knows I've been there."
To do such work requires patience and fortitude, but the end result often makes the effort worthwhile.
"You have to have thick skin, and it's humbling because any success with this stuff is built upon a mountain of failures," he said. "But it's great. I mean, the ultimate is go to Cooperstown and see one of my sleeve patches on someone's jersey. It's the coolest thing in the world."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.