Beauty in the Details—Finding Art in Vintage World Series Tickets

Before bar codes, before StubHub, before we printed tickets out at home and were forced into joylessly scanning them ourselves upon entering a stadium, we had tickets. Real tickets. Pasteboards, ducats, rain checks.

And these tickets were, more often than not, chock full of copious and wonderful details, customized letterforms, and all sorts of archaic references that are seemingly frozen in time. How about background patterns? Like banknotes, these were included in order to fend off potential counterfeiters in the days before photocopiers, much less scanners.

Oversized, beautifully designed World Series tickets still exist today. I have the ticket stubs to the more than 30 World Series games that I have attended, dating back to 1977, and some of the more recent examples are some of the best, colorful and stunning pieces of art. But I get the feeling that the days of actual World Series are numbered, not only because of changing technology but also because of our own wants, needs, and desires for convenience and portability.

Consider this. On October 30, 2013, I was at Fenway Park in Boston, where I saw the Red Sox win the World Series at home for the first time in 95 years. Exiting the ballpark into a raucous sea of celebration, I spotted a piece of paper on the ground. It was an electronically-generated ticket to the game, a souvenir of a historic moment, trampled under foot, sadly discarded. Or not so sadly discarded, because it was an ugly mess, at best. QR code. Bar code. Six or seven dense paragraphs of five point type, informing the bearer that the paper in question is a revocable license, and that the user accepts the risk of injury. See where I am going here? Function sweeps form in four games, Series over.

The earliest World Series tickets were no better than the sad piece of barcoded paper that I have just described, utilitarian in nature, devoid of visual specificity or charm. Things began to change in the late 20s. By the mid to late 40s they really hit their stride. Each participating team was responsible for their own designs until 1974, when MLB took over with a standardized design for both American and National League champions.

Here are some pieces of Octobers past, all much more enjoyable to look at than a QR code.

1940 Cincinnati Reds

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There’s an abundance of charm contained within the typographic details of this 1940 ticket from the Cincinnati Reds. Script type on a curve is always an unconventional choice, but this example retains legibility, despite the all the funkiness. Note the fact that the letters are straight up and down until you hit the “n” in “Championship.” Then, like a downward roller coaster, they descend from there. The Reds defeated the Detroit Tigers in seven games, their first World Series championship since 1919.

 

1950 Philadelphia Phillies

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Phillies? Yes, the Philadelphia Phillies represented the National League in the 1950 World Series. They got their butts handed to them by the New York Yankees. But what’s really interesting about this ticket is what lies beneath. Look at the lettering in the background. The Phillies also declare themselves to be “Fighting’ Phils,” and “Whiz Kids” here. The team could also have added “Blue Jays” into the mix had they printed these at the beginning of the calendar year.

 

1935 Chicago Cubs

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There’s some fantastic Art Deco typography here, along with two great lockups—look at the “Chicago Cubs” thing at right, almost a logo unto itself.

 

1967 St Louis Cardinals

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The pennant illustration conveys all the information one would need, albeit in a very formal way for the NL champions from the Summer of Love. How about a “World Series” here? The Gateway Arch is depicted too, it was brand new then.

 

1969 New York Mets

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The 1969 World Series belonged to the Miracle Mets and their mascot, Mr. Met. 1969 also marked the first appearance of the MLB silhouetted batter logo on a World Series ticket; it was created in conjunction with that year’s centennial celebration of professional baseball.

 

1972 Oakland A’s

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In 1972, the Oakland A’s made the wise choice to highlight their mascot, Charlie O., on their World Series ducats. As I wrote in the Sporting News:

A mule had been suggested as an Athletics mascot as early as 1959, reportedly by a Kansas City councilman of the Democratic persuasion. The A’s had utilized an elephant as their trademark starting in 1902, when they were the Philadelphia Athletics. A Republican symbol would clearly not cut ice in heavily Democratic Missouri — enter “Charlie O.,” the Missouri mule, introduced in April of 1965.

Another noteworthy visual lies to the left of Charlie O.—the MLB “bannermark,” a logo that was used alongside the MLB silhouetted batter emblem during the term of commissioner Bowie Kuhn. This logo last appeared on World Series tickets in 1976.

 

1949 Brooklyn Dodgers

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There are at least nine or ten different typefaces nestled within this charming 1949 ticket to Ebbets Field. Balance, symmetry, and minimal color usage all combine to prevent it from falling into utter chaos. The Dodgers dropped the World Series to Yankees that year.

 

1947 New York Yankees

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The Yankees’ classic top hat logo was created by legendary artist Lon Keller in 1946. The Bombers would have to wait until the following year to use it on a World Series ticket. The emblem would appear on World Series tickets fourteen more times over the following seventeen seasons.

 

1931 Philadelphia Athletics

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The 1931 World Series saw a rematch of the previous Fall Classic, and it featured the Philadelphia Athletics and the St. Louis Cardinals. There are several items of note here. Shibe Park, was, of course, the home ballpark of the A’s. The club referred to their stadium as “Greater Shibe Park” after renovations were undertaken in 1925. There’s lots to chew on here from a visual perspective, the most obvious being the logos of the participating clubs. Typographic overprints and the wonderful “S” letterforms within the club names help complete the picture.

The Sports Show, on view at SVA Chelsea Gallery in New York

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This represents a career highlight for me—I am co-curator of “The Sports Show,” on view at the SVA Chelsea Gallery, 601 West 26th Street, 15th floor, from August 22—September 19, 2015. The exhibition brings together more than 30 leading artists and designers who graduated from SVA in commercial design and advertising, film and video, illustration and cartooning, motion graphics, painting, and photography.

In assembling the more than 140 works in this exhibition, our intent was to showcase aesthetic excellence and achievement across a wide range of creative disciplines and subjects, all united by the theme of sports. The results include images of figures both unbelievably famous and utterly anonymous. Familiar sports—baseball, basketball, and football—are included, along with more niche pursuits, like surfing, roller derby, and putt-putt golf.

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In addition to their shared theme, all the works in “The Sports Show” are united by the fact that their creators attended SVA. This exhibition spans the entire history of the College, from its earliest days as the Cartoonists and Illustrators School—represented by the newspaper cartoons of Bill Gallo—to the present time, as seen via motion graphics, and online media. Taken as a whole, these works speak to the changing face of media consumption and technology, as well as to the evolution of SVA from a small trade school, which enrolled 35 students in 1947, its inaugural year, to the diverse, vibrant and influential creative community that it is today.

Special thanks to SVA, the SVA Alumni Society (where I have long served as a board member,) and particularly to my co-curator, SVA’s director of Alumni Affairs and Development, Jane Nuzzo. SVA Galleries director Francis Di Tommaso and his team have brought the whole thing to life, and they deserve much credit. The initial vision of “The Sports Show” came from SVA Executive Vice President Anthony P. Rhodes.

Participating artists and designers:

Rafael Alvarez
Jayson Atienza 
Elizabeth Baddeley 
Elisa Bates 
James Bennett 
Katie Biese 
Andrew Christou 
Mickey Duzyj 
Amy Elkins 
Charles Fazzino 
Brian Finke 
Latoya Flowers 
Nathan Fox 
Sarah A. Friedman 
Naoki Ga 
Bill Gallo 
Michael Halsband 
Kelly King 
Graig Kreindler
Marc Levine 
David Levinson 
Clay Patrick McBride 
Tal Midyan 
Frank W. Ockenfels 3 
Al Pereira 
Hanoch Piven 
Todd Radom 
Kevin Reece 
Yuko Shimizu 
Linda Shirar 
Denise Vargas 
Jason Vogel

 

Branding systems for licensing programs—an immersive visual experience

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I have worked on all kinds of significant and immersive licensing initiatives for the better part of a quarter century now, both in sports and out.

Eight years ago, my friends at Minor League Baseball approached me about a new licensing program that they wanted to kick off—the Minor League Baseball Hometown Collection. The concept was (and is) a sound one—protecting intellectual properties, resurrecting vintage logos, uniform lettering, and headwear marks, and creating brand new vintage-looking art—all as a way to generate revenue, of course, but also a strong statement in terms of telling a story, a celebration of the rich history of the Minors, told in loving visual detail.

We started out with a primary logo, of course. We then quickly pivoted to creating artwork for individual Minor League teams, most of them long defunct. The appeal to licensees and stakeholders was obvious right off the bat (see what I did there?)

My services include brand consultation and overall program branding, as well as research and digitalization of historic art, and design of retro-inspired theme art for individual franchises.

All authentic art is carefully researched and digitized in order to maintain its original visual integrity, with an eye for accuracy and detail. The retro-style art is rooted in the aesthetics of a certain place and time, a great opportunity to flex my design muscles and love of vintage design, especially typography.

This is an ongoing project, with many hundreds of visual pieces for dozens of franchises already being leveraged by MiLB and its stakeholders.

Some jobs can be categorized as sprints, others as marathons. This is a marathon.

Over the years, I’ve assisted other sports leagues and time-honored consumer brands (such as Kellogg’s and General Motors) in protecting their visual heritages and leveraging crafted visual assets for long-term profit.

Do you have such a brand? E mail me —I’d welcome the opportunity to work with you.

Sports Logo Case Study #11—the 1915 Phillies, MLB’s First True Team Logo

The 11th in an ongoing series of entries about vintage sports identities. Sports fans, as I have often said, are the most ardent brand loyalists on the face of the earth. There are stories to be told here at the intersection of art, commerce, history, and fandom.

2015 marks the 100th anniversary of what I consider to be one of the first—if not the first—true team logos in the history of Major League Baseball.

What makes this a “true logo?” Simply put, it was used across a wide variety of platforms to promote the team as part of a cohesive strategy. Although we are bombarded by logos and corporate symbols today, this was very rare in the world of MLB before the late 1940s. Some of the most familiar icons associated with MLB clubs were either a) used solely on uniforms or b) developed much later than this one.

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1915 PHILLIES PRESS PINThe logo made its debut during the 1915 World Series, which the Phillies lost to the Boston Red Sox.

The symbol first appears in the form of a medallion, designed by venerable Philadelphia jeweler J.E. Caldwell & Company. Part of a credential given to members of the press, an example of this rare keepsake sold at auction for more than $15,000 in August, 2013.

Located in the shadow of Philadelphia’s City Hall, J.E. Caldwell & Company had a great source of inspiration close by from which to draw. From its perch high above Philadelphia, the 37 foot tall, 26 ton statue of William Penn atop City Hall has been a visible civic landmark since the turn of the 20th century.

An engineering marvel, Philadelphia’s City Hall was the tallest building in the world from 1901-08. It remained the tallest building in the city of Philadelphia until the late 1980s.

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The logo features a Penn statue that has come to life, backed up by a chaotic scene involving nine other players. Abundantly detailed, the mark simply reads “Philadelphia National League Base Ball Club.” Two things are noteworthy about this. The first involves the fact that “Phillies” is nowhere to be seen. The second involves the use of the antiquated two-word “Base Ball,” which began to fade from use in the years following World War I.

What’s also striking to me is the fact that this is a fun logo! There’s a certain level of goofiness involved in this huge local icon having come to life, very out of character given the visual landscape of Major League Baseball at this time.

1925 PHILLIES SEASON PASSThough rarely seen in the years immediately following its launch, the club again featured the insignia in medallion form ten years later, this time as a solid gold season pass. The logo was used on team letterheads starting in 1926, and was seen on scorecards, schedules, and roster guides from the late ’20s up until the early ’40s.

 

1933 PHILLIES

1938, the Phillies changed their uniform colors to yellow and blue in honor of the tercentenary celebration of the 1638 Swedish landing in what is now Wilmington, Delaware. That season the club elevated their logo to star status, placing in on the sleeves of their uniforms for the first and only time.

1938 PHILLIES PATCH

1938 PHILLIES PROGRAM

It should be noted that the Phillies fielded some truly awful teams during these years. The club’s average attendance for the entire decade of the 1930s was around 3,000 fans per game. They switched stadiums in the middle of the 1938 season, moving from Baker Bowl to the Athletics’ Shibe Park. Modern sports marketing was being pioneered at this time—in 1935 the Cincinnati Reds hosted MLBs first night games. The Chicago Cubs employed graphic designer and marketing expert Otis Shepard, eventually named to the club’s Board of Directors in 1945. The underfunded Phillies, a bare-bones organization with little vision or budget for promotion, phased out the Penn logo in 1940-41.

The club underwent an identity of crisis in the early ’40s, officially changing their name from Phillies to “Phils” in 1942, then reversing course the following season. The team became “Blue Jays” a year after that, although that nickname never took hold in the public imagination.

1942 PHILS

Now long forgotten, the Phillies’ William Penn logo served as the primary visual representation of the franchise for a quarter century. 100 years after it was introduced, it deserves a second look.