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)
Thanks to the good folks at Los Angeles Magazine (April issue, not yet online) for the swell piece on the campaign to Save the 76 Ball.
We are tickled to see our Ray's balls next to the Bettie Page feature, and further tickled by the ConocoPhillips spokesperson's amusing claims that they had heard nothing about any campaign to Save the 76 Ball--really? so the calls from the BBC, LA Business Journal, Brandweek, KTLA, KABC and Daily Telegraph didn't go through?--and that anyway, they had heard many more complements than complaints about the new signs.
Nice work, PR flack! That's what the boss men want to hear!
...now the stockholders, on the other hand, might be interested in knowing that as of today, 1493 people have signed the petition supporting the retention of the balls, most pledging not to purchase gas from your stations unless an orange sphere flies high above!
Take special note of signatory Charles Vaughan (#1440), who proclaims "$300 in personal gasoline expense a month and well over $1000 for my company is now being spent at Exxon." Ouch! That's a pretty expensive side effect from a failed re-branding attempt!
So c'mon, let's Save Ray's Balls! It's not too late!
A reader writes to say: Someone correct me if I am wrong (but I believe I remembered this correctly!) -- the original Union 76 fiberglass BALLS (NOT DISKS) were manufactured ONLY in my hometown of Galva, Illinois (population 12[?]).
Just FYI (a little fun factoid): one Spring (I was, perhaps, nine years old), Galva was hit by a tornado, and the 76 balls (which were usually neatly lined up in rows OUTSIDE of the factory) were blown all over the town! My next-door neighboor was gifted by Mother Nature with one, and we rolled around inside of it until the fiberglass worked its nastiness on us!
I also remember someone a few blocks away cutting one in half for his dog to use as a doghouse! (I hope the dog escaped the wrath of the fiberglass!) I may have that wrong (I was young!), but I am fairly certain that Galva is the ONLY place where the infamous orange balls were manufactured! I'd like to know more information, if anyone has any!
Thanks! Sharon (Johnson) Palmer
P.S. Galva is sister city to Gavle, Sweden!
Intrepid 76 Ball Fan J. Eric Freedner has made a startling discovery near Fresno, CA, a discovery that bodes well for those of us who believe ConocoPhillips needs to REPLACE the 76 Balls that they've taken down from their poles. He reports:
Well, I had a feeling I would find the "missing" 76 balls and... here they are!
A whole bunch of orange balls is now in the yard of Nelson Sign Service on Golden State Highway (Old Route 99) in Fresno, California.
These weren't here a few months ago! What do they plan to do with them? Spheres take up a whole lot more space than flat signs so I have a feeling Mr. Nelson won't keep them around forever...