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The history of the World Series program

Oct 19, 2011, 9:10 AM EDT


Last winter I wrote a guest piece for Baseball Prospectus about a concept I call “metafandom.” In the intro, I described one of my most prized possessions: a poster I’ve had since I was a kid — and which is framed and hanging on the wall 10 feet from where I sit as a write this — with the cover of all of the World Series programs from 1903 through 1981.

It was a free giveaway from the Lipton Tea Company in 1982. I got mine — and about 10 extra copies of it people left laying around and which my brother and I snagged — at Tiger Stadium sometime in the first half of the 1982 season. It’s a gorgeous poster, reproducing what were, for the most part, the gorgeous covers of those Series programs.

And they were not just gorgeous. They were influential on me. I used them to memorize all of the World Series participants. And, in some small ways, to learn a bit about popular art styles of the 20th Century. I mean, is this cool or what?

Over at the New York Times there’s a great story about the World Series programs, and a slide show with closeup versions and stuff. It’s great fun and, for me at least, it gives life to something that has always been important to me. The only sad part? This passage which explains why the covers got so blah starting in 1974:

In 1974, the league started producing a single program for both teams. The content inside was expanded to include material on all four teams in the postseason. The price was doubled to $2, and steadily escalated until 2003, when $15 was charged for the first time.

I get why they did this — the programs are big sellers now and they want them ready more than two days in advance — but they became so generic after that. A picture of the World Series trophy, maybe. Some illustration of a non-identifiable player in a plain uniform throwing a pitch to no one. Lots of AL and NL logos. They all look like the cover of baseball video games too cheap to enter into a merchandising agreement with the league and the union.

But I still have my poster and 1903-1973, and that’s pretty cool.

  1. shaggylocks - Oct 19, 2011 at 9:47 AM

    Do you have a picture of the poster that you can share? Man, that really takes me back. I remember being a kid and just becoming absolutely absorbed with things like that. For me it was spending hours looking at my baseball cards, but I could have easily have gotten lost in a poster like that, too…

    • Craig Calcaterra - Oct 19, 2011 at 9:57 AM

      Here’s a bad pic of it I took with my phone last night:

      You can usually find one on eBay if you search for “Lipton World Series program poster” or something like it.

  2. Old Gator - Oct 19, 2011 at 9:47 AM

    Borg versus…Cubs!??!

  3. halladaysbiceps - Oct 19, 2011 at 9:51 AM

    I haven’t bought a baseball program at a game in years. When they started to charge 10+ dollars for a program, I decided it wasn’t worth the cost. Now it’s 15-20 dollars for a program, which is ridiculous.

    • Old Gator - Oct 19, 2011 at 10:11 AM

      I wait for the old programs to show up online, then print them out on my color ink jet printer. Given the current cost of inkjet printer cartridges, that enables me to save maybe a dollar or two over the original retail cost of the program.

      • yankeesfanlen - Oct 19, 2011 at 10:38 AM

        Let’s set up Occupy Office Depot, we’d actually have a cause! What? It’s raining there? Never mind.

  4. Kyle - Oct 19, 2011 at 11:16 AM

    What an awesome poster. This program in particular is so very cool:

  5. foreverchipper10 - Oct 19, 2011 at 3:05 PM

    I wouldn’t mind a World Series program from 1995. Oh, what a glorious year that was (when I had just turned 12 that October.)

  6. archybunka - Oct 21, 2011 at 5:34 AM

    Hello Craig

    Like you Craig, I had one of these posters back in the day. The poster graphically illustrates the creativity of the program covers the individual teams would present, and the mundane, corporate and disappointing covers MLB pushed out there.
    Even though I am not a Mets fan, I have to admit the 1969 Mets featured a cover by the late cartoonist Bill Gallo that was really cool.
    Surely, MLB can do better than this.

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