Ever wonder where those red numbers on the front of the Dodgers’ uniforms came from? Paul Lukas of the Uni Watch blog (a must read for uniform nerds) has finally gotten to the bottom of the issue, with a little help from an old 1952 Sporting News story discovered by uniform designer and historian Todd Radom.
Apparently, the red-numbered uniforms were made for the Dodgers to wear in the 1951 World Series to make the players more recognizable on television for viewing fans who might only get a brief glimpse of the front of a player before he passed out of camera range. Only the Dodgers didn’t actually make it to the World Series that year.
The Dodgers, then based in Brooklyn, led the National League for much of the season and carried a 13-game lead as late as August. But the New York Giants caught fire late in the season, and forced a three-game playoff series to determine the National League pennant. In the deciding game, the Giants’ Bobby Thompson launched a dramatic ninth-inning home run off Dodger reliever Ralph Branca to win the pennant, a play that has been immortalized as the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World”.
So the Dodgers decided to use the red-numbered jerseys as their standard home uniform for the 1952 season. The rest is history.
Lukas followed up with the Dodgers’ graphic design director Ross Yoshida to learn more about why the team decided to go with red numbers, specifically. Yoshida provided several different reasons that he had heard over the years.
For example, it is rumored that Walter O’Malley, team president at the time, got the idea for front-of-the-uniform numbers from watching football. In addition, the color red was used as a nod to the red in the baseball of the team’s logo and because it would be easier to see at a distance, since the front numbers would be much smaller than the blue numbers on the backs of the uniforms.
It’s all pretty interesting, and makes one wonder how the modern L.A. Dodgers look might be different if the Dodgers had made that 1951 World Series and used the red-numbered jerseys as a postseason specialty.