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by Orient-Express

A Counterclaim on the Origin of the Yankees’ Logo


The New York Times
October 16, 2009

Could the New York Yankees’ famous “bat in the hat” emblem — perhaps the most famous logo in sports — have first been scrawled on a bar napkin around 1947 at the “21″ Club, for a team owner who had bellied up to the bar?

That is the claim put forth by the family of Sam Friedman, an artist employed at “21″ during the ’40s and ’50s, a time when Dan Topping, a co-owner of the Yankees, was a regular patron.

“Topping said, ‘I love it — that’s exactly what I’ve been looking for, that’s my new logo,’ ” said Jack Friedman, 64, who claims that his great-uncle Sam Friedman created the logo. “It was all done on a napkin at the bar at the ‘21′ Club.”

Sam Friedman died in the 1960s and, outside his own friends and family, was never recognized as its creator. The emblem has long been credited to Henry Alonzo Keller, a prolific sports illustrator who lived in Bronxville and worked in New York City designing programs for the Yankees and hundreds of other teams and sporting events.


The family of Henry Alonzo Keller dismisses the bar-napkin claim.Family members of Mr. Keller, who died in 1995 and was known as Lon, dismiss the bar napkin claim and maintain that their father designed the logo.

Jay Keller, a son of Lon Keller, said the family did not have any documentation of any transaction with the Yankees regarding the logo. Neither do the Yankees. But Jay Keller did provide a copy of the Yankees Daily Scorecard for 1976, which recounted that Mr. Keller, at the request of another Yankee co-owner, Larry McPhail, created an early version — simply the team name below a top hat — for the team’s 1946 spring training roster. Mr. Keller revised the logo into the current design for the 1947 season publications. The publications never included illustrator credit.

“Back then, people were not copyrighting stuff — nobody did that in those days,” Jay Keller said, adding that the Yankees own the logo and that the Yankees may have paid his father “maybe a couple hundred bucks up front.”

Jack Friedman, who lives and works in Dallas as a real estate consultant and author, said: “Uncle Sam never asked for a fee or royalties — he knew if the Yankees paid him a penny every time the logo appeared on a pennant or program, he would have been a rich man.”

On Thursday, the Yankees press office referred questions to Tony Morante, the team’s director of stadium tours and a history maven. Mr. Morante said Mr. Keller had always been recognized as the creator. He said he did not have access to any documents as hard proof, at least not immediately.

The man whom Jack Friedman called Uncle Sam (actually his father’s uncle) was a portraitist at “21″ during the ’40s and ’50s. As a contributor to the club’s Iron Gate yearbook (which “21″ is reviving this year, by the way, its 80th anniversary), he would create illustrations of such V.I.P. patrons as Ed Sullivan and John Steinbeck. One day, Mr. Topping — who was a regular patron, along with his second wife, Sonja Henie, the Norwegian figure skater and actress — told Sam Friedman he wanted a logo that included the Yankees name, a bat, a ball and patriotic-themed top hat, but that the ad agencies he had already asked had produced nothing satisfactory. So goes the Friedman family story.

Sam Friedman took out a pen and swiftly sketched a design on a cocktail napkin. He elongated a leg of the K in the word Yankees and made it a bat with a top hat on top. He drew the circumference of a baseball around it, said Jack Friedman, who provided a copy of a scrap upon which his great-uncle wrote the word “Yanks,” which he says strongly resembles the cursive of the logo.

“It’s Uncle Sam’s handwriting — anyone can see that,” he said. He said the Yankees showered Uncle Sam with gifts for years, including autographed baseballs and platters and a pocket watch with the logo emblazoned on the back, along with the initials S.F. The team provided game tickets and invited Sam Friedman annually to spring training in Florida. Jack Freidman said that Uncle Sam designed jeweled pins for the wives of Yankee top management, with rubies, diamond and sapphires forming the logo.

Jack Friedman said the story was told frequently in his family. After reading Mr. Keller’s obituary in 1995 crediting him with the logo, Jack Friedman wrote to George Steinbrenner, the team’s principal owner, contesting the claim.

“My purpose in writing is simply to preserve a family legend,” he wrote. “We assert no ownership or claim of any nature.”

He received back a letter on Yankees letterhead signed “Media relations dept.” which noted that Mr. Keller has long been given credit.

“Since Dan Topping is no longer living, it is not possible to verify the informal input other people may have contributed to the design,” the letter read. It suggests contacting recipients of the jeweled pins: “Hopefully they can recall the circumstances leading to the design of the Yankee logo.”

The Keller family, meanwhile, also knows something about lost credit. Jay Keller, 70, retired computer sales executive now living in DeLand, Fla., said that his father also helped design the original New York Mets logo — a baseball encircling a bridge connecting a skyline of the city’s five boroughs — but never received credit. On Thursday, a Mets spokesman said the logo probably had its roots in a design contest held among fans but there was uncertainty as to who exactly designed it.

“Maybe it s gone by the wayside,” Jay Keller said. “My dad doesn’t need it on his résumé anymore.”


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