To be fair, graphic designer Todd Radom’s first-ever book, Winning Ugly, isn’t only about the foul designs of baseball uniforms in the sport’s history. The book has highlights too, even if it celebrates the most talked-about designs of all-time.
New York-based Radom, one of the world’s foremost sports-centric graphic designers, having worked with multiple Major League Baseball teams, along with designing Super Bowl logos and countless other sports logos in his time, fell into authoring a graphically driven book—as a designer, he wouldn’t want it any other way—after writing an editorial about ugly baseball uniforms for the New York Times in Spring 2017. One year later Winning Ugly finally “gets birthed out into the world,” releasing where all books are sold on May 15.
Editor’s Note: Radom landed a spot on the HOW 100: a listing of 100 of the most talented and influential creatives working today. The complete list will be published soon—stay tuned!
“I have always been very cognizant of the fact that this is very visible work I have been engaged in all these years,” he tells HOW. “Viewed through the lens of somebody subjected to quite a bit of scrutiny, sometimes good and sometimes bad, the backbone of the book lies in the fact that people have always cared about this stuff. From the earliest days of the professional game, we find that people were talking about the good and bad of uniforms in the 1860s.”
As a student of the history of the game of baseball, specifically the visual culture of it, Radom finds that baseball uniforms have not only informed his visual worldview, but have also been part of his life for as long as he can remember.
While Radom doesn’t shy away from words in his new book, writing roughly 40,000, he knows the driver of “Winning Ugly” remains the visuals. “All the words in the world will not equal the visual of a brown and yellow San Diego Padres jersey from the late 1970s,” he says. “I felt it really should be very, very visual. Let words frame the thing, but I’m a visual guy, so it made all the sense in the world.”
Radom structured the book from Skyhorse Publishing in nine chapters, which he called nine innings, a catchy play on the baseball theme, capturing differing eras of uniform history in each. And while the Skyhorse team tackled much of the interior design, it wasn’t without Radom’s own graphical touch. Having designed thousands of book covers in his days working in publishing, he did his own. And he created chapter pages and even extra illustrations sprinkled throughout.
With about 140 total images—he used the help of a baseball historian’s collection to photograph some old-school uniforms—Radom did have to backfill some uniforms himself. In all, he has about 20 original illustrations inside, some renderings of how a uniform likely looked and others artistically driven examples of a team’s history.
“I pride myself on being a DIY kind of designer, working in the trenches as I have,” he says. “It was only fitting that at the end of the day I had to go and get this done in the only way that I could at the end of the project.” One example is an image of the 1901 Baltimore Orioles. There are no clear visual depictions known to exist, so instead he researched the uniform and illustrated it himself.
It was that research that drove him throughout the project, whether writing or illustrating. “I do quite a bit of research professionally because I deal with historic marks for Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball and have for 25 years,” he says. “That research part is something I really love, and it allows me to time travel down a rabbit hole.”
The writing came naturally too, as he was familiar with the material and was excited to share tidbits that might not have otherwise been known. Throughout the book Radom discusses historical changes, the materials and fashions of the day dictating the on-field designs and even how formative designs were in shaping the future of uniforms. He discusses color, marketing, trends and the 1970s revolution of flamboyancy.
But throughout the project, Radom let the Padres guide him—the front-cover font even mimics the font from the ugliest of San Diego eras. Using a quote from Padres star Tony Gwynn when talking about that brown and yellow—“It may be ugly, but it is our ugly”—Radom knows that fan allegiances remain intensely subjective, common in much of the design world. Intensely subjective, but also intensely supported.
“I approach the whole thing, as this is winning,” he says. “It may be ugly, but it is winning.”
Tim Newcomb covers sports design for HOW. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.
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