In the earliest years, the programs included little more than team photographs, brief player profiles and, of course, advertisements, said Tom Shieber, senior curator at the Baseball Hall of Fame. The covers of the programs in the Hall of Fame collection from 1903, 1909 and 1925, which all involved the Pittsburgh Pirates, included no references to the World Series. The programs were printed by the home teams (or their concessionaires, like Harry M. Stevens) and, with a few exceptions, everyone charged a dime.
The price held until 1913, when the New York Giants charged 25 cents for the first time. The cover that year showed John McGraw, the manager, shaking hands with a Revolutionary War patriot, an allusion to the Philadelphia Athletics, the American League opponent. "Congratulations, John!" it reads, "Five Championships in Ten Years!"
Gradually, the program covers became more elaborate. In 1917, months after the United States entered World War I, the Giants chose an illustration of President Woodrow Wilson throwing out the first pitch. It includes the inscription, "A big enough boy to enjoy the national game — and — a man big enough to guide our country through its greatest crisis."
A photograph was included on the cover for the first time in 1924. When teams played each other in consecutive years, as the Yankees and the Giants did between 1921 and 1923, the covers looked very similar. The covers during the Depression sometimes show steely-faced players in an Art Deco design.
In 1938, the Chicago Cubs experimented with a type of laminated program that, Shieber said, has withstood the years well. The next year, the Yankees chose a likeness of Lou Gehrig, the first time a recognizable player was included. In 1942, the program cover urged fans to buy war bonds. Few programs from this and earlier eras exist, partly because fans contributed many of them to the paper-collection drives for the war effort, according to Chris Ivy, the director of sports auctions at Heritage Auctions in Dallas.
That, of course, has driven up the value of those programs that remain. Last year, a program from the 1903 World Series sold for $96,000, Ivy said.
Prosperity returned after the war, and teams started charging 50 cents for World Series programs in 1947. In 1960, the Yankees used a wraparound photograph of the team on the program's cover. In 1966, the Baltimore Orioles became the first team to charge $1.
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.
So many World Series programs are printed these days that there is a good chance that someone who buys one never attended any of the games. But it was that connection that made the older programs, which could be bought only at the stadium, so appealing and meaningful.
"This is the most obvious keepsake, especially because you kept score in it," said Shieber of the Hall of Fame. "In a sense, it was autographed by you and it had a tie to a moment."