We begin this month's '56 of the Month post with a Panini card.
Yes, a Panini card. I can't get much farther from a 1956 Topps card than shiny, metallic Panini Prizm.
But there's always a reason on NOC. This card, and the '56 Topps card I'm about to show have something in common.
As you know, the Dodgers wear red numbers on their uniform fronts. It is one of the most famous uniform accents in the history of professional sports, as there is little red (outside of the shooting baseball in the logo) in the entire Dodgers' makeup.
But Panini's cards illustrate the front number in blue, which is quite jarring for Dodgers collectors, and I would think, faithful baseball followers. The red number is as part of the Dodgers uniform as pinstripes on a Yankees uniform.
Because it is such a fixture in Dodgers' uniform history, my guess is it is off-limits for depiction by Panini, which does not own a Major League Baseball license. Logos are off-limits and the red uniform number, I guess, is treated as a logo, too. I don't know how else you would explain the blue.
So, it's well-established: red number on the uniform front, iconic and eye-catching, blue number on the front drab, jarring and never happened.
OK, time to show the 1956 Topps card:
I'm sure you've spotted it right away.
That's a blue No. 19 on the front of the Dodger infielder.
Let's get the ID out of the way first. The Dodger infielder is Jim Gilliam. No. 19 is famous in Dodger lore as Gilliam's number is the only retired number of a player not inducted into the Hall of Fame in Dodgers history. Gilliam died the day before the Dodgers clinched the pennant in 1978, and his uniform number was retired just before Game 1 of the World Series.
But why is the number blue??????
The Dodgers began wearing red numbers on the front of their uniforms at the start of the 1952 season. They were supposed to debut them for the 1951 World Series, but Bobby Thomson and some dirty sign-stealers interrupted that. The front uniforms were red -- as opposed to the blue uniforms on the back -- because color TV was starting to filter into the mainstream and Dodger management figured red stood out more than blue. The entire account was revealed a couple of years ago.
So, by 1955 -- supposedly when this play happened (most of the action on 56 Topps are illustrated black-and-white photos from the 1955 season) -- the red numbers on the front were firmly established. There weren't any blue numbers.
And there weren't any blue numbers before the Dodgers started red numbers. Take a look.
So, um, why the blue number on this card?
I don't know. I'm assuming there wasn't any legal issue at the time. Who ever thought to be that litigious then? Gilliam's 1955 Topps card shows him with a red front number. Yet Clem Labine's '55 Topps card shows him with a blue front number.
And how about these 1956 Topps cards?
All of them are shown wearing blue front numbers.
I'm tempted to believe that if the numbers were depicted in blue that often then maybe there were actually blue numbers at some point. Or maybe the artists just weren't up on the proper coloring and assumed that a team that wears blue would have blue numbers across the board.
Or maybe -- wouldn't this be vindication for Panini -- they actually weren't allowed legally to show red numbers.
(I'm going to go with the "artists were clueless" possibility until told otherwise).
I probably should mention something about Roy McMillan since it actually IS his card.
McMillan was the glue to the Reds' infield in the 1950s, a multi-Gold Glover who once held the record for most double plays turned in a season. After his career he served as interim manager twice, once for the Brewers in the early '70s and then once for the Mets after Yogi Berra was fired in 1975.
The first cartoon strip is interesting to me. A softball player, huh? I actually grew up playing baseball with a tennis ball in the backyard before graduating to hard ball. It was pretty jarring making the transition. I wonder if that was that way for McMillan, although the cartoon states "it's all the same to me!"
As for the last cartoon, McMillan would never be mistaken for someone to win a batting title. His average started downward in the late '50s and he ended up with a career .243 average.
Also note the reference to "Redlegs" on these '56 cards. That was leftover from the red scare of the '50s. The switch to "Redlegs" began in the 1954 Topps set and did not return to "Reds" until the 1960 set.
(Lot of talk about red and blue in this post. The 4th of July is around the corner).