The Old Ball Game (link)
Last autumn, ConocoPhillips began to pluck the famous orange balls from their posts at Union 76 and Unocal gas stations and replace them with flat, rectangular signs that aren’t even orange. This sent loyal customers and commercial-design mavens into a fury. To fight back, local writer Kim Cooper launched Savethe76ball.com in January. Ray Pedersen, the ball’s designer, soon took notice, and the two joined forces to launch the campaign “Save Ray’s Balls.”
The ball was born at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, when Pedersen was approached to create a marker for 76 at a unique skyride installation. “But hanging a sign on it,” said Pedersen, “would be tantamount to ruining something architecturally beautiful.” Instead, he ran a pole up the center of the base and hung a sign on that. As it spun, Pedersen recalls, “It looked like hell. It was a lollipop. I said, ‘We need a ball … and I’d like to light the damn thing from inside. Everybody looked at me like I was crazy.”
Nevertheless, Pedersen started building the ball. But he was nearly fired for racking up almost $50,000 in expenses. When he saw his boss standing beneath the prototype, waving his arms and pointing at it, Pedersen thought he was “in deep doo-doo.” Much to his surprise, he says, his boss emphatically shouted “Goddammit, we’re gonna put one of these up at every station!”
“They were a beacon,” continues Pedersen. “You could see them all over the place.”
The 76 ball at Dodger Stadium was removed during recent off-season renovations, when fans wouldn’t be present. “It’s like, let’s get rid of this one quick, because when the season starts, people have a chance to notice,” Cooper says. “I was really hoping we could rally to save it.”
What becomes of the fallen balls? Last month, several were discovered in Fresno. Behind a chain-link fence lay at least a half-dozen orange spheres, one facing out as though from a detention camp of other lost souls of signage, damned to a death of rust and cobwebs.
Returning the balls to their rightful posts is possible, but not imminent. Almost 1,500 people have signed the online petition, threatening to buy their gasoline elsewhere if their stations take down the ball.
When ConocoPhillips bought Union 76, it intentionally didn’t purchase the rights to the ball. “It was going to be a little extra to buy, and they just said, ‘We don’t need them,’” asserts Cooper. Those rights now belong to Chevron.
“Once the Conoco people do this, they’re gonna destroy the personality of 76,” says Pedersen. “But that’s their nickel, right? They’re not gonna change.”
–Ryder Palmere (CityBeat)