Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Dying Franchise

One of the saddest things in all of sports is to witness the end of a franchise.

Now unless the franchise is in a defunct or moribund league, such as the several incarnations of world football or women's soccer, only the team dies in a specific city but the franchise moves on to a new city with some of the same identity. One of the inherent beauties of baseball history has been its relative stability.
From 1903 through 1952, a full 50 seasons, its map remained cosmically frozen. Every young fan experienced two eight-team leagues. With few exceptions these easily identifiable teams had the same names for all those years. Only the players changed and that's why fans needed scorecards.

That radically changed in 1953 when the Boston Braves fled the sparseness of Beantown for greener pastures in Milwaukee. When that ran out in 1967, they moved again to Atlanta.
In 1954 the Philadelphia A's left their not so friendly confines for Kansas City. Like the cheers in Milwaukee their welcome swiftly ran out and they moved to Oakland where the Oakland A's are considering another move as I write.

After the 1957 season, both the Brooklyn Dodgers and the N. Y. Giants left Gotham for the sunshine and starlets of L. A. and the wind and rain of San Francisco.
Expansion completely obliterated the stability and security of the baseball map by adding a total of 14 new teams to the major league mix.
I left out one team.
Like Philadelphia, Boston and New York---all cities with more than one team,---St. Louis had another team that for many years was better than the reigning world championing Cardinals. The St. Louis Browns, who chose their cognomen from the history of 19th century St. Louis baseball history, departed the city, not for the West Coast or South but for the East Coast. This change in direction was significant for a number of reasons.
To me it showed a rebellion of sorts against the directional trend in major league baseball. Metaphorically, the Baltimore Orioles severed virtually every connection they had with their St. Louis forbears.
Legend has it that the new team executive burned everything with a Browns' name  or logo on it as if in some sort of purification ritual that would shake them of the Browns inimical past of being first in shoes, first in booze and last in the American League.
Of the original 16 teams, the Browns had the worst record in baseball over these years. In their American League they had a losing record against all of the seven other teams.
They were the last team in both leagues to win a pennant. And that they did that just one time and that was in 1944.
Most of their great ball players had played before the Great Depression.

Of all the moves above, they were the only team that had its total identity removed. I am not counting the short-lived Seattle Pilots, an expansion team, who had moved to Milwaukee in 1970 to become the Brewers from Sick Stadium after their initial season.
Ironically the original Brewers had become the Browns after the former's first major league season in the inaugural American league season in 1901.

As if in some literary time warp, all of the above states categorically that the Browns were not only a moveable feast they were now a team without a city or a county. Baseball had in effect abandoned them and their 52 years of history.
And even worse of their original 796 players, only 30 have survived to this date. Most of these former players are in their 80's and 90's. Only J. W. Porter, who was born in 1939 still remains in his 70's and that should change next year.
So it can said with a saddened accuracy that the St. Louis Browns are a dying franchise. It has taken me a while to realize the depth of hubris and Angst that goes with that statement.
Twenty-eight years ago, I fulfilled a promise I made to nobody in particular--just myself to go to Cooperstown if Pee Wee Reese was ever inducted into the Cooperstown Hall of Fame. In 1984 he was and I did.
After a health-challenging long week of little sleep, poor food and much excitement, I had an epiphany on the tarmac of the Albany Airport. Two things clicked in my head. I was traveling with the late Ron Gabriel, an old friend from my days in the Society of American Baseball Research.  (SABR) He was the self-appointed president and CEO of the Brooklyn Dodger Fan Club.
The second idea came from the HOF Yearbook, which pictured Rick Ferrell, along with fellow inductees, Pee Wee, Harmon Killebrew, Don Drysdale and Luis Aparicio. Ferrell’s picture showed him in his 1929 rookie uniform with the Browns. All the other inductees were having their respective numbers retired.  I thought it a shame that Ferrell's Browns' number would never be retired.

Of course the Browns did not have a number that year and so it would have had to be more symbolic than anything else.  But it was the idea that bothered me.
When I returned to St. Louis, I called a friend and we decided to organize a meeting of interested old Brownie fans, to one start some sort of club to honor this team that was in the process fading behind the woodwork of history.

The meeting took place in the Mid-County YMCA of which I was a board member on October 4, 1984 with 28 people in attendance, including Ed Mickelson, the last player to knock in a run in St. Louis Browns history. The Browns Fan Club (BFC) eventually grew from that small seed to over 500 members, many of them former players.
Later we registered as an official historical society since our goal has always been to resurrect and maintain the historical memory of a team that even history has nearly forgotten. Since then we have had 30 dinners, roasts and luncheons.  To demonstrate the popularity of the club the last three luncheons have had Hall of Famers, Bob Costas, Tom Lasorda, who could have been a Browns' pitcher in 1953, Whitey Herzog and announcer Milo Hamilton.

In 2012 the club saw its historical exhibit open at the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame. To date the only missing jewel in this crown is a research center for our growing archive of historical materials.
Then maybe this dying franchise will finally enjoy the respect and honor its historical past deserves.

This fan club will not rest until the Browns' past has its historical presence duly recognized.

1 comment:

  1. A lot new franchisors drop down in franchisee set up stage. This is the stage where the new franchisee has compensated their charges and is now coming into the system.

    buying a franchise