Friday, January 13, 2017

A Short History of the St. Louis Browns, 1902-1953

© 2012 Emmett McAuliffe

Although the name "St. Louis Browns" will forever be associated with futility, that certainly was not the plan originally.  The “Brownies” began play with the fresh hope and optimism befitting a new century, and a brand-new league, the American League. Founded in 1901 by Ban Johnson from the remnants of a 19th century minor league (the old Western League), the “Junior Circuit" began play without teams in both New York and St. Louis. But it was unthinkable to compete against the National League without these two major cities in the fold. And St. Louis was the fourth-largest city in America and about to host a World's Fair.  Within two years, Johnson moved the Baltimore franchise to New York to become the Yankees and moved the Milwaukee Brewers to St. Louis. Although “The St. Louis Brewers” would have been a fitting nickname for the country's number-two brewery town, and Browns president Ralph Orthwein was a cousin of the Busch family by marriage, the name Browns was still etched in the minds of St. Louisans from the days when an earlier St. Louis Browns, owned by a thick-accented German saloonkeeper named Chris Von Der Ahe, dominated the old American Association, winning four consecutive pennants and competing in the first version of the World Series against the National League. The nick-name "Browns" had become identified with St. Louis Baseball (just like the "Reds" with Cincinnati and "the Orioles" with Baltimore). Thinking perhaps that the diamond the old Browns played on must have had some magic too, they purchased Sportsman's Park on Grand Avenue, which would later be known as Busch Stadium, which by 1902 had dilapidated to a shoot-the-chutes operation and a race track. In the beginning, the Browns spent freely, luring star players from the National League Cardinals to "jump" leagues and signing Christy Mathewson. They introduced the first PA announcer, electronic scoreboard and retractable roof (made of canvas tent). In 1909, they rebuilt Sportsman's Park using the then-novel material called steel.
And for a while, the innovating (and heavy spending) paid off. In their first season, the Browns finished in second place (one of only two second-place finishes in their history). In 1904, they flipped one of those former Cardinals who had been lured away, Jesse Burkett, to the Red Sox for George Stone who would win a batting championship for the Browns (a rarity in Browns history reserved only for guys named "George"). In the year referred to by baseball historians as Crazy '08, the Browns purchased perhaps the wackiest player ever to make the Hall of Fame: Rube Waddell who came in and led the league in K/9 for the 8th straight time and gave the Browns a neat 19 wins on their way to their best total ever, 83.
As Waddell's legal problems mounted (he went through two divorces while with the Browns) and his skills dropped, so did the Browns' fortunes. The Browns went down in the second-division for a decade. But popularity-wise, it didn't matter much. The Cardinals were down too, and had failed to deliver a pennant since they brought National League baseball to town back in 1892. In 1914-15, both teams had to battle a third rival: the Federal League St. Louis Terriers. But the Browns had a more modern ballpark than the Cardinals. For at least two-decades, St. Louis was referred to as an "American League town" and St. Louisans, as strange as it may sound today, bled "Brownie brown" more so than "Cardinal red."
But then, the Cardinals got revenge for the Great Roster Raid of 1902.  In 1920, the Cardinals convinced the Browns to let them share Sportsman's Park. Cardinals attendance immediately doubled. Meanwhile, Branch Rickey a former Browns catcher back in the "aughts", who had risen to Browns General Manager, could not get along with new Browns owner (former Federal League owner Phil Ball), and was ankling the Browns to move to the Cardinals. The Cards' owners sunk the money that they saved on stadium upkeep into the idea Rickey had originally germinated with the Browns: the minor league "farm system".  In the late teens and 20s, the resurging Browns, with squads featuring names like Urban Shocker, Ken Williams, Jack Tobin, Baby Doll Jacobson and Gorgeous George Sisler could not quite top a talent-rich American League with names like Ruth, Cobb, Foxx, Speaker and Walter Johnson.  Meanwhile, Branch Rickey's farm system was starting to pay dividends and the Cardinals were cleaning up on the weak National League talent.  In 1926, it was the Cardinals and not the Browns who brought St. Louis its first baseball championship since those storied days of the American Association Brown Stockings.
Then, the Great Depression hit, and the St. Louis sports fans' dollar was stretched thin.  Unlike Chicago with the Northside and Southside team, the Browns and Cards played in the same park.  Increasingly, St. Louisans preferred seeing winning baseball, albeit of the National League variety, and started to gerrymander their visits to Grand & Dodier to when the Cardinals were in town. Browns attendance sank like a rock. Competing with the Cards' famous "Gas House Gang" became an increasingly daunting task for a Browns team owned during the depression, not even by a man but by a man's estate (that could find no ready buyers).  A downward-spiral had taken hold.  It was somewhere about this time that the image of the bitter, downtrodden, accursed, (but always-loyal!) Browns fan became etched in the national consciousness.  
1902 St. Louis A.L.
By 1940, The Browns had become firmly synonymous with losing.  But this was all to change …  however briefly.  In 1942 the Browns had a winning record for the first time since the 1920s.  World War II was beginning to wreak havoc on the rosters of major league baseball as players became soldiers.  The Browns sensed an opportunity. In 1944, it looked like their moment had arrived, as the Browns won their first nine games of the season.    Owner Donald Barnes, skipper Luke Sewell and a GM named Bill DeWitt had assembled a deft wartime mix of grizzled veterans, 4-Fs and weekends-only pitchers whose first duty was a war plant.  But as the ’44 season wore on it looked like it was going to be another tale of heartbreak for the beleaguered Browns fan.  On Friday, September 29, 1944 the Browns found themselves in second place, facing the New York Yankees  for a season-ending four-game series.   The Browns had won seven of their last eight games, but that was not good enough.    Could they somehow sweep the storied Yankees,  who had won the pennant more times than they could count, and secure the top rung of the ladder for the first time in their history?  Only 6,000 showed up  for the Friday doubleheader which the Browns swept.    On Saturday, attendance almost tripled as 17,011 saw the Browns shut out the Yanks for the second straight game.   On Sunday, the attendance would double to a nearly 36,000 – over capacity.  The excitement was described as “near delirium”, as St. Louis fans beheld a sight they thought they would never see:  the Browns playing a last-day game not to go home but to go on.  It wouldn't be easy. True to form, the pinstripes jumped ahead 2-0,. That lead which held through three.   18 more outs and it would be another also-ran finish. But the Browns tied it up in the fourth. Then took a two-run lead in the fifth!  The crowd howled with every Yankee out from there on.  (Not as baying hounds but as a dog finally having his day.)  Two homers by "nights and weekends only" outfielder Chet Laabs, a dinger by All-Star shortstop Vern Stephens and an inspired pitching performance by a bottle-challenged veteran named Sig Jakukci gave the Browns their first pennant-clincher in history.
As the fans ran onto the playing field field and mobbed their victorious Brownies, the irony dawned: the Browns would have to share the “St. Louis love” with their tenants the Cardinals, who were on their eighth title.  And in order to gain their first-ever world championship, the Browns are going to have to get past the likes of Stan Musial and Marty Marion.  Oh what a revolting development.  
Nevertheless,  the city founded as a French fur trading post in 1764, which had the World's Fair in 1904, now had the World's Series in 1944 - all to itself.   A "streetcar" series! But who would the city root for?  Which team would have the "home-field advantage" when both were playing in their home ballpark?  Musial noticed that more fans were rooting for the underdog Browns than his Cardinals.  After jumping out to a two games to one lead, the Browns crumbled, and dropped the series four games to two.  It was a pitchers duel, in icy October temperatures … and the Browns had the short end of the stick.  
Despite losing the World Series, the team had confidence going into spring training in 1945 that they had essentially the same group of guys and the rest of the American League was, if anything, weaker due to the draft.  But as the Browns tried to repeat, the national spotlight was on them for a different reason:   the bringing up from the minors of a .333-hitting outfielder named Pete Gray.  This would normally not be controversial except this .333 hitter had lost an arm at age six when he was thrown from a truck. The Browns fell behind in the standings early in the season as the one-armed Gray struggled to hit major league curve-balls. And although they recovered to within 3-1/2 games back at the Labor Day milepost, they could finish no better than third place. In the Fall of '45, the Browns surrendered possession of the AL crown for the last time (and missed a chance at a Browns-Cubs World Series!).
As the boys of summer marched home from "over there", the Browns resumed their role as the shirttail cousins to the Yankees and Tigers.  As America rebuilt from the war, it was also time for the Browns to sink some money into infrastructure.   A ballpark renovation in the Browns top farm club San Antonio was quoted at $300,000 but ended up costing $720,000.    Despite the attendance boost from playing winning baseball, the Browns were poor ... again! .... and had to start unloading expensive contracts or selling off players for cash just like they had during the Depression. Stephens and Jack Kramer (who had 0.00 ERA in the World Series) were sold to the Red Sox. (Kramer promptly went 18-5 for the 'Sox).   Many more were to follow. On occasion, the players hired in to replace the players sold-off were less than savory: like Blackie Schwamb, a scary, six-foot-six, beanpole of a guy who threw the ball as hard as anyone in baseball but had a long police record, and after a half-season with the Browns was convicted of separate robberies and a murder.  
Yet the Browns scouting/farm system of the postwar period, was above-average for baseball at the time. Featuring scouts such as Jim Russo (who would later become known as “SuperScout”), the Dewitt-led front office was doing many things right, even on a shoe-string budget. It churned out many players who would go on to be All-Stars: perennial stolen base leader Bob Dillinger, World-Series Perfect Game pitcher Don Larsen, Yankee starters Bob Turley and Ryne Duren, and Tito Francona. The Browns narrowly missed signing Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle (for want of $500 in bonus money and a rain-free day, respectively). Tommy Lasorda spent his first major-league spring training with the Browns. Two Brownie farm products won rookie of the year titles: Roy Sievers and pugnacious catcher Clint “Scrap Iron” Courtney.  One product, 5’ 10” righthander Ned Garver, pulled off a feat that some say will never be repeated:  winning 20 games for a team that lost a 100 games and finished in last place. And last but not least, although he was far from an All-Star, a 30-year old pitcher who was languishing in the International League, was plucked by a Browns scout and became the only major league pitcher in the modern era to throw a no-hitter in his first start: Bobo Holloman.
Into these post-war fiscal woes stepped a brave war veteran: new Browns owner Bill Veeck. Veeck had served three years in an artillery unit in World War II and had lost his leg. His amputation got progressively worse and had to undergo 36 operations. He was a five-pack-a-day smoker who jocularly used a cup cut into his wooden leg for an ashtray.  None of this seemed to slow him down. He fathered nine children, six of them after age 47 by his second wife. Upon purchasing the Browns in 1951, Veeck announced in “High Noon” fashion that St. Louis was not big enough for two major league baseball teams and that he was prepared to run the Cardinals out of town.  It seemed an impossibility to run the more popular, more successful and better-funded team out of town.  But if he and his new wife, an Ice Capades promoter, worked hard, and got a couple lucky breaks, Veeck figured, “It could happen”.  In order to be on 24-hour call, Veeck moved his family into a specially-built apartment underneath Sportsman’s Park (that would later be occupied by a young August Busch III.)  Veeck worked 20-hour days, read a book a day, and would speak at a community group nearly every night that the Browns didn’t have a night game in an attempt to resell the Browns to St. Louis. And in his “downtime” he would cook up wacky promotions to make the ballpark “fun”, as he put it.  Like Grandstand Manager’s night where the fans used placards to make strategic decisions in place of the manager.  His ultimate gimmick was in 1951 when, on a the ruse of celebrating  the 50th anniversary of the American League, he had a midget named Eddie Gaedel pop out of a giant birthday cake and then proceed to take a spot in the lineup as a pinch hitter. Wearing elf-like shoes and a 1/8 as his uniform number, Gaedel walked on four straight pitches.  He was then pulled for a pinch runner and rode off into the history and was hardly heard from again. Veeck even took the "show" to the fans' living rooms, allowing home games to be televised every day.
Veeck’s showmanship worked for a while.  Browns attendance for 1952 increased dramatically during an era when baseball attendance was in a slump.  Even the play on the field improved with the Browns upping their record by 12 games on the win side and pulling themselves out of the basement.  A wheeler-dealer, Veeck acquired several future All-stars: Vic Wertz, 20-game winner Virgil Trucks, Dale Long, shortstop Billy Hunter (another future Yankees first-stringer) ... and even one Hall of Famer: Satchel Paige.
In April 1952, Veeck got just the kind of break he was looking for: Cardinals owner Fred Saigh had been indicted for tax evasion.  The Cardinals might have to be sold.  In the off-season of 1952-3, it became clear that Saigh was going to jail and that the Cardinals would have to be sold.  But no credible St. Louis-based buyer appeared.  Rumors swirled that the desperate Saigh would be selling the team to Houston interests.  It looked like Veeck might actually pull it off and get St. Louis and Sportsman’s Park all to himself.  But then, in a pique of civic pride, Saigh took less money to sell the team to Anheuser-Busch.  The era of corporate-owned baseball teams was dawning and the era of the entrepreneur-owner without an independent fortune, like Veeck, was beginning its decline.  And Veeck knew he could not compete against a corporation. In 1953 the Browns opened the season winning five of their first six games. But in June, Veeck had to sell opening day starter Trucks to the White Sox just to raise $75,000 cash. (Trucks would end up winning 20-games that season.) Then Veeck sold the whole team for cash .... to Baltimore interests, at the end of the season.  
The Baltimore owners did not keep any of Veeck’s wacky promotions, retired the whimsical elf “Louie” from the jerseys, released Satchel Paige and sold off his bullpen rocking chair, and changed the name from Browns. The Braves, Giants, Dodgers and A’s would move and keep their historic names.  But the name Browns will forever be associated with St. Louis … and baseball of a simpler era.  
1953 St. Louis A.L.
Post Script from the Author.
The "shoulda, woulda, couldas" of the Browns staying in St. Louis are legion:
  • What if the Browns had kept Christy Mathewson rather than returning him as a peace offering (and maybe the Browns win four pennants instead of the Giants)?
  • What if Branch Rickey and (the inaptly named) Phil Ball had gotten along?
  • What if George Sisler's Browns had nipped the Yankees and won the pennant in 1921, thereby winning the race to deliver St. Louis its first Worlds Series championship?
All of these could have had an influence on which St. Louis team stayed and which one moved, although they are considerably "up river" from the date of the Exodus of 1954.  

But more apropos perhaps is the near miss of Mantle and Berra. I would like to think that the St. Louis city fathers would never have allowed a team that featured home-towners Berra, Turley and Sievers, Missourian Long, plus "the Mick" (from the other side of the Oklahoma state line from Joplin, MO) in center-field, to leave town.  Then add Lasorda into the mix (Veeck wanted to keep him but could not afford the option price).  You could have had a 1950s version of the Gas House Gang! Add-in a cross-state, intra-league rivalry with the Kansas City Athletics in 1955, and the fact that the Cardinals of the 1950s were mostly dead-wood, and surely the turnstiles would have begun spinning again.  That team would have won a lot of ballgames and had a lot of fun doing it, with a fillip of local pride: "Game over? Will it be spaghetti and meatballs at the Berra house on the Hill or sauerkraut and brats at the Sievers, Mick?"

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

These Three Played Big League Ball Before Pearl Harbor Day

As we pause to remember the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor bombing, it is worthwhile noting that there are only three men living who were active major league players at the time. Hence, there are only three men left who played before World War II, which some call the "Golden Age" of baseball.

They are
Fred Caligiuri of the Philadelphia A's
Chuck Stevens of the St. Louis Browns (and benefactor of the St. Louis Browns Historical Society)
Bobby Doerr of the Boston Red Sox (Hall of Famer too).

Unsurprisingly, these three men are (in reverse order) the three oldest living Major League baseball players.

All three served in World War II.
Bobby Doerr
Chuck Stevens


Sunday, November 27, 2016

When Browns Games Were on TV Everyday

Check out these listings from the St. Louis Post Dispatch August 30, 1953. A complete Browns Sunday doubleheader with the Senators on Sunday, an entire home series with the Yankees and Tigers Wednesday through Sunday. Complete with pre-game shows "Rookie of the Day" and "Stars from the Coaching Box" with Milo Hamilton and Bill Durney every day, home and away.

Wonder if any other MLB team in '53 was giving their fans as much free baseball as the Browns were? Teams were worried about the invention of television. If you could watch the games at home, why would you ever come to the park? Before that, they were even worried about live radio cannibalizing tickets.  The Cardinals only televised a couple of road games in 1953 (on KSD-TV).

But the Browns' management was in a position to experiment. Ticket sales were not great anyway. Why not try to make money through TV advertising? Another way in which the Browns revolutionized the game.

Found on St. Louis Post Dispatch powered by

Courtesy St. Louis Media History Foundation.

ps in Game One of that doubleheader, Don Larsen outdueled Connie Marrero 3-0. Connie died recently at age 102. Don recently visited St. Louis and went to new Busch Stadium and to old (old) Busch Stadium.

pps When WTVI signed off the last Browns contest at 4:15 pm Sunday, September 27 (vs. White Sox), and threw it over to the "Your Doctor" program, that would be the last regular-season broadcast that St. Louisans would see from Sportsman's Park.  Although the Cardinals had allowed a smattering of home games on KSD '49-51, as of the '52 season, only a few road games were provided.  The Cardinals did not allow a single home game to be broadcast again until 1982 (Busch Stadium II).

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

1886 Browns-Reds Trade Was the ...

First Trade in MLB History

There has to be a first for everything. On this day, in 1886, the first ever trade in Major League Baseball occurred between the Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Browns in the American Association.

Trades are quite commonplace these days. Teams will  make a swap of players in order to improve their Major League roster, or to add depth. Sometimes, these deals are a matter of finding a change of scenery or to unload a bad contract. In fact, trading between teams is so common that some deals can go by unnoticed.
Yet, that was not always the case. It was on this day in 1886 when the first trade in MLB history took place between the Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Browns. In that swap, the Reds sent hometown kid Jack Doyle to the Browns for fleet footed outfielder Hugh Nicol.
It was a trade that paid dividends for both teams. Doyle had appeared in only one game for the Reds, but found a role with the Browns. In his four years with the team, he was their primary catcher, becoming one of the few catchers of his era that could swing a bat. While his .241/.303/.316 batting line with the Browns may not seem impressive, it was enough to make Doyle one of the top catchers of his day.
Nicol also performed well after the swap. In what was the greatest stolen base performance of the 1800’s, he swiped a record 137 bases in 1887, and followed that up with another 103 steals the following year. Although he did not hit well, with a .234/.330/.281 batting line in his four seasons in Cincinnati, he stole 345 bases.
While Doyle would go on to play until 1898, Nicol’s career was over in 1890. There were, interestingly enough, a few parallels to both player’s careers. Both Nicol and Doyle spent four seasons with the teams that traded for them, and both players were out of the Majors at age 32.
In the end, this swap achieved what every trade aims to accomplish. Both teams got a valuable player, helping them move forward over the next few years. The Browns received a solid catcher who helped solidify the position, while the Reds received a speedster to jumpstart their offensive attack.
Trades may be commonplace now, but it was not until this day in 1886 until the first one took place. Given the success of the players involved, both the Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Browns had to be happy with the returns.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Longevity 'R' Us: Half of Top 20 Living Players are Browns or O's

Four out of Five Doctor's Agree:  Playing for a cellar-dwelling baseball team adds to your life expectancy.

Of the current list of Oldest Living Baseball Players, half played for the Browns or the Orioles.

(please note that #1 on the below list, Eddie Carnett, recently passed).

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Brown Baseball Uniforms, a Rarity, May Be Returning Soon

Great article (via Hardball Times) on the rarity of the color brown in baseball.
1934 home and away uniforms, the first with orange

"But the team on the extreme southern tip of California wasn’t always just another navy blue team in a sea of navy blue. There was a time when the Padres had the extremely unusual color scheme of brown-and-gold.
When San Diego entered the National League with this color scheme in time for the 1969 season, it marked the return of brown to the baseball world for the first time in 15 years.
"The aptly named St. Louis Browns were in the American League from the early 1900s until 1953. The Browns started out as a strictly brown-and-white team in 1902 and stayed that way for 32 years. By the 1934 season, the Browns had infused orange into their color scheme and orange would remain a major part of their identify until the team’s final two seasons of existence.
"Then, orange was pushed to the wayside as a tertiary color in favor of white becoming the secondary color once again. This became a fact of life for the Browns for the 1952 and 1953 seasons. In 1954, orange returned to the franchise’s color scheme, but this time it was the primary color along with black — but this is because the St. Louis Browns were now in a new city with a new nickname. You know them now as the Baltimore Orioles."

Read the entire great article here

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

87 y.o. Don Larsen Takes the Mound Again at Sportsman's Park

North St. Louis, Mo.  -  Don Larsen rekindled old memories, walking around Sportsman's Park on September 10, 2016.   Don pitched over 100 innings at the field in 1953 for the St. Louis Browns.  "Sportsman's" is now a youth football field. 

Don Larsen, 1956 World Series Perfect Game pitcher
In the background of this shot, is the YMCA building on Grand Avenue, where a lot of Cardinals and Browns, and newly-arriving rookies, crashed. Still a YMCA. Larsen was visiting fans in the St. Louis area and took time to visit the location along with a Cardinal ball game that evening.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Bobblehead Night Fans at the Ballpark with Don Larsen

Don Larsen (center), baseball's only perfect game pitcher in a World Series, waving to fans at the September 9, 2016 game at Busch Stadium.  

Larsen was signed by the St. Louis Browns and played in St. Louis during the 1953 season. His perfect game was when he was with the New York Yankees on October 8, 1956 against the Brooklyn Dodgers. No other player in the 114 year history of baseball has achieved this feat. 

Pictured below left to right is Bill DeWitt, Jr., Cardinals Chairman, Ed Wheatley, STL Browns Fan Club, Don Larsen waving along side of Eddie Gaedel family members.

Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI
The gathering capped the night recognizing the Eddie Gaedel bobblehead night. The Cardinals gave away 30,000 bobbleheads to fans. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Joe Demaestri, All-Star, dies, age 87. Down to 17 Browns.

This write-up courtesy of Uncle Mike:

    Joe DeMaestri, 87, from San Francisco. A shortstop, and like Billy DeMars also a survivor of another defunct team: the Philadelphia As.  "Froggy" played 81 games for the Browns in 1952, before playing for the A's from 1953 through 1959, including the move to Kansas City in 1954-55. He was an All-Star in 1957. He was a throw-in in the trade that brought Roger Maris to the Yankees. He was sent in to replace Tony Kubek after his injury in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, and his last major league appearance was on the next year's Series, winning a 1961 World Series ring.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Neil Berry, member of last Browns team passes. Now just 18.

Former Detroit Tiger and Kalamazoo life-long resident Neil Berry dies

John Tunison | jtunison@mlive.comBy John Tunison | 
Follow on Twitter
on August 27, 2016 at 2:30 PM, updated August 28, 2016 at 8:44 AM
Neil Berry.jpgNeil John Berry in a photo used for his obituary 
KALAMAZOO, MI -- Neil Berry, a Kalamazoo athletic standout in the 1930s who later played for the Detroit Tigers and other MLB teams, has died.
Berry was a life-long resident of Kalamazoo. He was 94.
Berry was a utility player with the Tigers for five years, starting in 1948. He played second base, shortstop and third base.
Later, he played for the Chicago White Sox, the St. Louis Browns and Baltimore Orioles in 1953 and 1954.
Berry was a top high school athlete in the Kalamazoo area in the late 1930s and attended Kalamazoo Central High School. He was on Central's football team that won the state championship in 1938.
He also excelled in basketball and was on Central's state championship team in 1937.
Berry later attended Western State Teacher's College, which became Western Michigan University, and played on the freshman football and baseball teams.
His sports career was interrupted when he served in the United States Army from 1943-1945 during World War II.
After baseball, he was in the sporting goods business, then worked to install gymnasium floors and finally as a Kalamazoo County government employee.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Baseball's Browns were St. Louis' colorful, lovable losers

ESPN series on lost teams: Warriors, Trojans, Pilots, Whalers, Expos, Braves, Lakers, Athletics, Clippers ... and our ever-lovin Brownies!

Eddie Gaedel's pinch-hitting appearance -- he walked, of course -- was just one of the stunts Bill Veeck pulled when he owned the St. Louis Browns. AP Photo

With the Rams rebooting in Los Angeles, presents a series exploring the remnants departed teams have left behind in the cities they abandoned.
St. Louis has been jilted by the professional sports world yet again.
The Rams have returned to Los Angeles, reuniting with their ex after a two-decade fling in the Gateway City. St. Louis enjoyed a Super Bowl victory and five postseason appearances from 1999-2004, but the divorce ingloriously capped a decade of playoff-free football for the city's NFL fans.

Worse, the Rams are the fourthmajor sports franchise to abandon St. Louis. The NFL's Cardinals bolted for Arizona in 1988. The NBA's Hawks relocated to Atlanta in 1968. MLB's Browns pulled up stakes for Baltimore after the 1953 season and became the Orioles. That doesn't even count the decommissioning of the Spirits of St. Louis prior to the ABA-NBA merger in 1976.
The baseball Browns played 52 seasons in St. Louis, not far off the sum of the Rams (21), football Cardinals (28) and Hawks (13) combined. That fact alone makes the Browns unique among franchises to defect from St. Louis -- but it's a colorful legacy as lovable losers that places them in a sentimental category of their own.
"It's not just that they're bad -- they're comically, lovably, absurdly bad," said sportscaster Bob Costas, who lived in St. Louis for years and still owns a home there. "So I think the reason why they're remembered nostalgically isn't just because they once existed and then left, or because they were bad. It's because they were interestingly bad."

More than six decades after their departure, traces of the star-crossed Browns remain in St. Louis.
A display of Browns memorabilia exists as part of the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame exhibits at Scottrade Center, home of the NHL's Blues. It contains vintage photos, uniform articles, a bat used in the 1944 World Series, a baseball used in the team's final game and a custom pair of cowboy boots bearing Browns logos that belonged to onetime owner Donald Barnes. The centerpiece is a video documentary about the team's history, narrated by Costas, who helped fund the display.
A sign at the Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club commemorates the site where Sportsman's Park stood in various iterations from 1881 to 1966. It lists star players who competed there and notes World Series contested at the location. There are still approximately 20 living former Browns players. Chuck Stevens, 97, is the oldest. J.W. Porter, 83, is the youngest.
The Browns held primacy over the rival Cardinals early in the 20th century, serving as landlords in Sportsman's Park to their National League counterparts. In 1922, the Browns enjoyed a landmark season, winning 93 games but finishing one game behind the New York Yankees for the American League pennant. That year, future Hall of Famer George Sisler established a franchise record by batting .420, and Ken Williams became the first major leaguer to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in the same season.
But it wasn't long before the Cardinals would take over the town, and they won their first World Series in 1926 by defeating the Yankees in seven games. From that point until the Browns departed for Baltimore, the Cardinals won eight NL pennants and five World Series. Meantime, the Browns topped the .500 mark just five times in the next 27 seasons -- and three of those came during World War II, when MLB's ranks were depleted of star players.
The Browns' only AL championship came in 1944 with a wartime roster. They won two of the first three games in the World Series, only to lose in six games to, of course, the Cardinals.

While the Cards were writing history, the Browns had to settle for footnotes. Pete Gray, who had lost his right arm in a childhood accident, played 77 games as an outfielder in 1945. Roy Sievers, a St. Louis native, was named 1949 AL Rookie of the Year and later became an All-Star for the Washington Senators and Chicago White Sox. Then there's the unlikely tale of Bobo Holloman, who pitched a no-hitter in his first career start on May 6, 1953, only to be permanently demoted to the minors 2 1/2 months later.
It was during the Browns' final three seasons, under the eccentric ownership of Bill Veeck, that they established themselves as a team for the ages. Veeck and the Browns created myriad spectacles during the second half of the 1951 season alone. A sampling:
  • July 2: Veeck purchases the club.
  • July 14: The team signs legendary Negro Leagues pitcher Satchel Paige, thought to be 45, although his true age was debatable. Paige would compile an 18-23 record in three seasons with St. Louis -- pretty good for a team that lost 292 games during that span.
  • Aug. 19: Eddie Gaedel, at 3-foot-7 and 65 pounds, draws a walk as a pinch hitter in his only career plate appearance. Detroit Tigers catcher Bob Swift is reputed to have offered this sage advice to pitcher Bob Cain prior to the encounter: "Pitch him low."
  • Aug. 24: The team holds Grandstand Managers Night, whereby fans made actual game decisions by voting with flash cards.
  • Sept. 30: On the final day of the season, Ned Garver becomes the first pitcher in modern baseball history to win 20 games for a team that lost at least 100. He remains the only major leaguer to do so.

"In a weird way, it was almost better for the long-term memory of the Browns that we didn't win any pennants except the asterisk pennant of 1944," said Emmett McAuliffe, vice president of the St. Louis Browns Historical Society. "It almost cements us in the public mind."
Don Larsen is known best for the perfect game he threw as a Yankee in the 1956 World Series, but he began his career with the Browns. He was a rookie during the team's woebegone 1953 season, and he closed out the final Browns victory by pitching two innings in relief of Paige. That game, a 7-3 win at Detroit on Sept. 22, also turned out to be the final victory of Paige's career.
Larsen recalls traveling by train on road trips and the willingness of veterans to help him acclimate to the majors. He also remembers participating in spring training in San Bernardino, California, alongside a young left-hander named Tom Lasorda, whom the team eventually couldn't afford to keep under contract.
Larsen compiled a 7-12 record in 1953 and threw a team-leading 192 2/3 innings. He also hit three homers and drove in 10 runs. The team infamously went 54-100 that year while drawing only 297,238 fans -- an average of 3,860 per game.
"Of course, we didn't do all that well," Larsen said. "We didn't draw for crap, but I liked St. Louis. I enjoyed it, especially with the guys we had. It was my first year. They all treated you well, and we were just trying to do our job the best way we could and hang in there."
Larsen remembers Veeck, who once lived with his family in an apartment under the Sportsman's Park grandstands, regularly mingling with players. Larsen can picture Veeck and catcher Les Moss regularly playing cards during the owner's frequent visits to the trainer's room to receive treatment on his right leg, which was injured and amputated at the knee in World War II.
"I liked him very much," Larsen said of Veeck. "He was a good man. I think the other owners didn't like his showmanship, per se, but I think he tried to give something back to the fans."

The Browns Historical Society curates the Scottrade Center display and has since become de facto caretakers of a trove of memorabilia and countless recollections of the bygone franchise. It holds an annual reunion luncheon for players and fans, although only two former Brownies -- Porter and Sievers -- were able to attend last year's event. The group, also known as the Browns Fan Club, published a three-part book titled "Ables to Zoldak" of the team's historical numbers years before statistics were readily available online.
Although the ranks of the living Browns are inevitably shrinking, the historical society dutifully endures "to keep the memory alive of this odd duck," McAuliffe said.
"When we started in 1984, there were a couple hundred living Brownies," McAuliffe said. "It was mainly an effort by us to get as many of them as could come back, kind of like a college reunion. We would get dozens of Brownies back then. As the players have gotten older and there's gotten fewer and fewer, it's turned into like a last man's club."
St. Louis is widely considered second to none as a baseball town, so McAuliffe pitches a wild idea. Maybe the city could lure a relocated or expansion team to share Busch Stadium and become the new Browns. If a rekindled team attracted even half the 3.52 million who attended Cardinals games last season, it would outpace the 2015 totals of four MLB clubs. So what if ...
"No, no, no, no," Costas said, bringing reality back into focus. "That is a sweet notion that comes from a good place and has no practical justification."
Unlike the Rams, the Browns never won a championship. But unlike the Rams, the Browns had a spirit that leaves them remembered fondly by the city they left behind.
"It's one thing just to suck and to fail," Costas said. "It's another to fail colorfully, nobly and unforgettably -- which brings up the question: Did they really fail? Here we are [talking about it] 60 years later. ... Their place in history exceeds their accomplishments about 10 times over."