Fall Classics—World Series Program Covers for the Ages
From the inception of the modern World Series through 1973, participating clubs created and printed their own individual game programs. These were designed to appeal to fans attending the game (as opposed to mail order or offsite retail sales) and the cover graphics were usually attention-getting and special. By today's standards they were priced at a pretty elevated rate when compared to game tickets. A bleacher seat for the 1938 Fall Classic at Wrigley Field, for example, would have set you back $1.10 at the box office and a program to that game would have cost a quarter. That same bleacher ticket to the 2016 World Series at Wrigley retailed for $200 each, whereas the program went for a mere $15—I'll leave it to you to figure out the math.
Colorfully eye-catching illustrations and inspired graphics ruled the roost from the late 1920s right up through the '60s. Top notch illustrators were commissioned to flex their painterly muscles, and the results were often dazzling.
Here's a small selection of some of my personal favorites—not a carefully curated assemblage, but rather a handful that represent varied illustrative and graphic styles and eras. October is always the most special month of the year for baseball fans. This brief trip back to the golden age of the World Series program helps reinforce that specialness and reminds us of the fact that every World Series represents a single link in a long and historic chain that goes back to the earliest years of the twentieth century.
1963 New York Yankees vs Los Angeles Dodgers
The gigantic and stately ORIGINAL Yankee Stadium, bathed in glorious October daylight. Flags, bunting, Dodger blue and Yankee pinstripes, all wonderfully illustrated and accompanied by midcentury sans serif letterforms that convey a time and place like no other. The alternating red and blue colors within "World Series" add a subtle kiss of wonderfulness that vaults the whole thing to elite status.
1933 New York Giants vs Washington Senators
Spectacular High Deco illustration, grounded by two slashing panels that parallel the player's bat and cap brim for a harmonious and powerful composition.
1949 New York Yankees vs Brooklyn Dodgers
A masterwork by the masterful Henry Alonzo (Lon) Keller, the man who created the Yankees' top hat logo for Larry MacPhail in 1946. Keller is credited with fourteen different Yankee World Series program covers between 1939 and 1951.
1936 New York Yankees vs New York Giants
Illustrator Grant Powers captured a very specific moment in time here. The Yankees and Giants faced off against each other in a Subway Series, their first such matchup since 1923, and a buffalo nickel would have covered the fare between the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium.
1965 Los Angeles Dodgers vs Minnesota Twins
I dare you not to smile at this one. Despite their two-to-one advantage in this delightful illustration, the Twins lost to the Dodgers in an epic seven game Series.
The genius behind this artwork was Karl Hubenthal, a prolific and immensely talented illustrator who began his storied career as a disciple of the legendary sports cartoonist Willard Mullin. Hubenthal was a familiar presence to LA newspaper readers and sports fans for more than three decades. He also created the Minnesota Vikings Norseman logo in 1961.
1966 Los Angeles Dodgers vs Baltimore Orioles
Back-to-back Karl Hubenthal classics for back-to-back Dodgers World Series appearances. The figures and the shadows behind them are incredibly realized, but the painterly and vividly rendered background is what makes this piece sing. Look at just about Rembrandt portrait and you'll see a similar scumbling technique—a series of loose brushstrokes that add interest and luminosity to the work. This also helps propel the foreground art forward. Masters learn from masters, and the connection here is there for the taking.
1938 Chicago Cubs vs New York Yankees
Otis Shepard's airbrush yielded this first ballot Hall of Famer, a work that came one year after he redesigned both the Cubs' uniforms and Wrigley Field itself. Shepard is surely the most influential graphic designer in the history of baseball, having served as a member of the Cubs' Board of Directors for seventeen years.
This heroic artwork is made perfect by Shepard's having rotated everything counter-clockwise, an Art Deco design trick that he employed frequently. All elements here are well-grounded and geometric, and the colors are minimal and flat. The slight rotation adds some tension to the composition and helps to capture the viewers' eye while retaining both legibility and message.
1969 New York Mets vs Baltimore Orioles
Willard Mullin was known as the "Dean of Sports Cartooning," and his work was a constant New York newspaper presence for more than thirty years. His career coincided with a truly storied era for New York sports, and his "Brooklyn Bum" served as a beloved and familiar visual symbol for the Dodgers, even after they moved west. The National Cartoonist Society named Mullin “The Sports Cartoonist of the Century” in 1971.
Everything here is hand-drawn, right down to the price of the program and the newly introduced Major League Baseball logo. This is classic Mullin, late in his career, still at the top of his game. The messaging would have been unmistakable to the viewers of 1969: seven years after having been born, the Mets, once laughing stocks, were now mighty and ascendant.