Bad News Browns
First in beer and last in the American League,
the Browns offered comic relief to fans of St. Louis baseball
of the St. Louis Browns 1944 league championship team await their
turn at bat in the dugout during the first game of the Streetcar
Series against the Cardinals. While the Browns won this game, the
Cardinals won the Series. This would be the last time the hapless
Browns took part in post-season play.
St. Louis has long
been a baseball town. But there was once a day when St. Louis fans bled
Brown and not Cardinal red. Fans of the old St. Louis Browns remember
the days when it was fun to root for the underdogs, as the Browns always
seemed to be.
how to lose,” says former Browns
first baseman Ed Mickelson, who drove in the last run before the Browns
moved to Baltimore in 1954. “They
had some pretty good teams but when you get to losing it goes from bad to worse.”
Browns would finish in the American League cellar nine times. They would
lose 100 or more games eight times, including the 1939 season’s
43-111 record that left them 64-1/2 games out of first place.
their losing tradition, the Browns provided comic relief to all those
who followed them. Some of the zaniest stories in baseball history involved
the Browns, including the 1944 “Streetcar Series,” the team’s
one-armed outfielder and a batter with a reported 1-1/2-inch strike zone.
the origins of the Browns can be confusing. In 1875 St. Louis had a team
called the Brown Stockings. They belonged to the National League but
folded after two years.
True characters of the game like one-armed outfielder Pete Gray
made the Browns a fun team to follow even though the team lost 100
games or more eight times. Gray played just one year, 1945, with
the Browns, proving his skills batting and in the field.
In 1882 the name
returned as saloon keeper Chris Von der Ahe discovered baseball was
good for business. His Browns would be part of the new American Association,
which, unlike the National League of that era, approved of both Sunday
play and beer at the games. Those Browns tore up the league, winning
four consecutive pennants from 1885-1888.
In 1891 the team
moved to the National League after the American Association folded.
In 1899 they played as the St. Louis Perfectos until a woman commented
on the lovely shade of Cardinal red that trimmed their uniforms. The
next year the name changed to the Cardinals where it would remain forevermore.
next incarnation of the Browns got their start in the Show-Me State
after the 1901 season when the Milwaukee Brewers, charter members
of the American League, pulled up stakes and moved to St. Louis. The
new Browns lured away several Cardinal stars, including 1901 batting
champ Jesse Burkett, shortstop Bobby Wallace and the Cards’ three
The Browns hit town
with winning ways, finishing second in their first season in St. Louis.
The team made money — until
1916 when owner Robert Hedges sold the team to Philip Ball. The sale
started a slide that would result in one of baseball’s all-time
worst ball clubs. Their slogan became “First
in shoes, first in booze, last in the American League,” a
parody of a tribute to George Washington.
Before they left
St. Louis the Browns would set a bunch of dubious baseball records.
On July 7, 1953, they set the league record for most consecutive defeats
at home, dropping 20 straight. In 1950 the Browns set another
league mark by having the most runs scored against them in a single
game — 29
by the Boston Red Sox. They still hold the record for the most
runs given up in a season opener, 21 against Cleveland in 1925.
Browns’ biggest blunder was to let the Cardinals share
Sportsman’s Park, shown here during batting practice in 1944.
Browns were so bad that even when they won they had trouble drawing
a crowd. In their only American League championship season — 1944 — the
team would set the record for the lowest home game attendance when
only 6,172 fans showed up.
Small wonder the
Browns found themselves second-class citizens in a city devoted to
the National League Cardinals. In stark contrast to the Browns single
Series appearance, the Cardinals have 15 league championships and nine
World Series championships, including the Subway Series in 1944 when
they beat the hapless Browns in six games.
always the case for the Browns. In fact the team had some great years
in the 1920s when the lively ball and the exploits of Yankees slugger
Babe Ruth made the game the national pastime. Their best record came
in 1922 when they won 93 games — one fewer than the Yankees,
who would capture the American League pennant.
That team included
pitcher Urban Shocker, who garnered 41 decisions and compiled a
24-17 record with three saves. The Browns also fielded first baseman
George Sisler, who began his career as a pitcher but proved too valuable
to leave on the mound. The slightly built Sisler swung a mighty
42-ounce bat on his way to a .420 batting average and 105 runs batted
in. His stats include a 41-game hitting streak and a .340
lifetime average that ranks 15th in the major leagues.
The close finish
to the Yankees that year led Browns owner Phil Ball to predict a
World Series in Sportsman’s Park by 1926. Unfort-unately for
Browns fans, it would be the Cardinals who saw post-season action.
Browns fielded some of baseball’s legends like first baseman
George Sisler, who batted .420 during the team’s best season
of the Browns’ biggest blunders was to let the Cards share
Park when their own Robison Park closed. The Cardinals
sold the ball park and used the money to start a farm system that
fed new talent into the team. It was Branch Rickey, who left the
Browns after a falling out with the owner, who created the Cards’ farm
So the Browns found
themselves playing second fiddle to a budding baseball dynasty led
by their former manager. Small wonder the Browns never emerged from
the Cardinals’ shadow.
Their best opportunity
came in 1944, even with a typically mediocre club. Most of the league’s
best players were fighting World War II. The Browns fielded only one
.300 hitter, outfielder Mike Kreevich. They had one man with 20 homers,
shortstop Vern Stephens, who also led the team with 85 RBIs and 109
runs. This unlikely combo led the Browns to a one-game finish
above the Detroit Tigers to nab the AL pennant.
Meanwhile the Cardinals
put together the best record of either league on the way to winning
the National League title, their third straight. With the Cards ending
the season 14-1/2 games ahead of second-place Pittsburgh, the
stage was set for an all-St. Louis World Series.
In the series opener
the Browns eked out a narrow 2-1 victory behind George McQuinn’s
fourth-inning home run, which would be the
Brown’s one and only homer in
World Series history.
The Cardinals would
take game two in 11 innings, but the Browns weren’t
dead yet. They nailed the Cards 6-2 to
take a two-game lead. The next three games belonged to the Cardinals,
however, who combined for eight runs while holding the Browns to
just two. For the Cardinals it was the eighth World Series appearance
in 19 seasons. For the Browns it would
be the one and only Series in their 52-year history.
pitcher Satchel Paige’s talents were wasted on the 1952
Browns though his antics on the mound made him a natural with
the team. Paige was known to pull all of his fielders in to sit
behind the mound while he casually struck out a batter.
The Browns’ moment
in the spotlight wasn’t over. In 1945 they found
a spot on their roster for outfielder
Pete Gray. Playing minor league ball for Memphis, Gray batted
.333, hit five home runs and tied a league record with 68 stolen
bases — with
Gray lost his right
arm in a childhood accident, but learned to throw and bat
with his left arm. After catching a fly
ball, he would tuck his glove under his
stump, roll the ball across his chest and
throw in one quick motion.
Had the war not siphoned
off most of baseball’s
talent it is unlikely Gray would have had the chance to play with the Browns.
But the determined Gray was capable of great feats. In one doubleheader
at Yankee Stadium, Gray had four hits, scored twice, drove in two and
was perfect on nine chances in the outfield.
He would play 77
games with the 1945 Browns, batting .218 with 13 RBI. But
with the war’s end, Gray was sent back to the minors where he continued
to play until the early 1950s. He died in 2001.
The Browns would
sign some true legends of the game, including player/manager Rogers
Hornsby, who captured seven batting titles
and was elected to the Baseball Hall of
Fame in 1942. They would get Negro League
pitcher Satchel Paige toward the twilight
of his lengthy career.
But of all the Browns
no one will be as famous as Eddie Gaedel, who took just one at-bat
for the club. Gaedel’s appearance
on Aug. 18, 1951, remains one of the most publicized stunts in baseball
the most controversial person associated with the game of baseball
was Browns owner Bill Veeck, who enraged American League officials
with his many stunts.
On that night the
Brown’s flamboyant owner Bill Veeck
staged a huge celebration to boost attendance. He convinced sponsor
Falstaff to let him celebrate the St. Louis brewery’s birthday
party that night, even though no one could say when the true birthdate
Veeck turned Sportsman’s
Park into a three-ring circus. In between games of a doubleheader with
Detroit, a huge cake rolled onto the field from which emerged the 3-foot,
7-inch Gaedel wearing a Brown’s jersey sporting the
number 1/8. But the grins
left the faces of Detroit’s players when Gaedel
came in to pinch hit.
park went wild as Detroit’s manager stormed to the plate
to protest. The Browns produced a legitimate contract for Gaedel
and the umpire had no choice but to let him into the batter’s
box. Detroit pitcher Bob Cain (who would later pitch for the
Browns) and catcher Bob Swift held a conference on the mound
to decide how to pitch around Gaedel’s 1-1/2-inch strike
Cain, sporting a
look of utter disbelief, actually
tried to pitch to Gaedel,
but walked him on four straight
while Veeck sweated each
pitch, afraid the littlest
Brownie would try to swing.
Gaedel took his base and
was promptly replaced by
a pinch runner.
Of course, the Browns
wasted Gaedel’s “instant offense,” losing
to find a way to attract fans, Browns owner Bill Veeck once sent
3-foot, 7-inch Eddie Gaedel to the plate to generate some “instant
offense.” No. 1/8 for the Browns had a strike zone measured
at 1-1/2 inches.
The midget stunt
so enraged the American
League officials that
the league president
tried to have Gaedel’s meager stats stripped from the record book. But
with Veeck demanding
a ruling on whether 5-footer Phil Rizzuto, a Yankee Hall of Famer, was a short
ballplayer or a tall midget, the stats stood.
None of Veeck’s
stunts did much to improve attendance for the awful Browns. Mickelson
compares the Browns’ woes to problems the Montreal Expos have
bring up good
the minor leagues
and play them
two or three
players want to earn
and Montreal hasn’t
got the money
to pay them
when they are drawing
5,000 a night.
So they sell
them to keep
Browns had to do.”
At one point
the Browns sold
their ace pitcher
Ned Garver, one
of the few pitchers
to win 20 games while
playing for a team
that lost 100. Other
players, like pitcher Don
Larson, would leave the
Browns and find fame with
other teams. In his rookie year with
the Browns Larson went 7-12. As a Yankee,
Larson threw the only perfect game
in World Series history. He was the
last former Brown to play baseball. His
teammate Bob Turley also ended up with
the Yankees, where he pitched in five World
of owner Bill Veeck’s stunts was to let fans vote on whether
to steal or pull the pitcher during games.
When beer magnate
August Busch bought the Cardinals the Browns’ fate
was sealed. Veeck sold Sportsman’s Park to Busch and signed a lease
with the city of Baltimore.
Veeck’s many stunts, refused
let him move the Browns unless he sold his interest in the team. On Sept.
28, 1953, the Browns played their last game in St. Louis. The next year they
would become the Baltimore Orioles. Fittingly, the Browns lost their last
game before a crowd of 3,174, giving them yet another last-place season.
in St. Louis,
they did give
their faithful a lot
to remember. Today,
by their fan club draw
as many as 200 people
who come from all over
“They still have a great following for being out of here
for so long,” Mickelson