Remembering the St. Louis Browns.

Ned Garver won 20 games for a club that lost 102.

A lifetime ago, before there was a major league club in Houston, those of us who grew up here had to pick one of the sixteen existing clubs to follow. We were all first Houston Buffs of the AA Texas League fans, of course, but we weren’t boondocks-dumb to the fact that the best brand of baseball was the variety played in either the National or American leagues, in most cases. We also were ego-loaded to the idea that a club like our ’51 Buffs could most likely take a team like the Pirates, the Senators, the A’s, or the Browns in a best of seven series any day of any October week during that era.

I had two favorite big league clubs, one from each major league. Not surprisingly, the first of mine was the St. Louis Cardinals of the National League. The Cards were the major league parent of our Houston Buffs and they were loaded with former Buffs who had stampeded their ways to the big time through the gates of Buff Stadium. My other club was an American League entry, but it wasn’t one that many fans chose to follow, even from among those people who lived in the city that had been its home since 1902.

How could you not like the only club that ever sent a midget into a real game as a batter?

The St. Louis Browns were simply awful most years. The rest of the time they were downright terrible. Except for their great club of 1922, the one led by Hall of Famer George Sisler to a one-game-short miss of the 1922 American League pennant, the 1944 Browns were the only club in franchise history to win an AL pennant. It wasn’t much to shout about. Any time you have to give an assist to a guy like Adolph Hitler for creating the manpower shortage that opened the door for the Browns to walk into their lone lucky title break its – well, its flat out embarrassing.

The Browns won the 1944  American League title at the wire over the Detroit Tigers and then lost the World Series in six games to their same neighborhood Cardinal rivals.

"Never look back. Something might be gaining on you." - Satchel Paige

I came aboard as a Browns fan during the 1951 season, mainly because of one man. That was the year that Browns pitcher Ned Garver won twenty games (20-12, 3.73) for a team that finished in last place with a record of 52-102. It was a case of unfortunate underdog misidentification, but my admiration for Garver’s achievement against the odds, plus the presence of the great Satchel Paige on their roster, plus Eddie Gaedel (see photo of midget batter), well, the short of it is simple. These all sucked me into accepting the Browns as my club in the American League.

It was a short-lived romance. After two more seasons in St. Louis (1952-53), the Browns departed the Mississippi River city in favor of a 1954 reincarnation on the east coast as the Baltimore Orioles. It was a move that rang the bell on other franchise relocations to soon come, and I hated it as deeply as though I had grown up with the Browns in St. Louis. As if I need now any help with compiling further reasons to dislike her, the Baltimore mayor who led the Browns transformation to Orioles just happened to have been the father of current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Several years ago, I wrote a parody version of “Casey at the Bat” to express the meter and merit of my sadness over the Browns’ last game in St. Louis. In the nostalgic spirit of the season, and in memory of that long ago 1953 moment in Sportsman’s Park (renamed Busch Stadium), here’s what happened on September 27, 1953 in St. Louis, Missouri:

The Lost Hurrah: September 27, 1953
Chicago White Sox 2 – St. Louis Browns 1.

(A respectful parody of “Casey At The Bat” by Ernest L. Thayer in application to the last game ever played by our beloved Browns.)

by Bill McCurdy (1997)

The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Brownie nine that day;
They were moving from St. Louis – to a place quite far away,
And all because Bill Veeck had said, “I can’t afford to stay,”
The team was playing their last game – in that fabled Brownie way.

With hopes of winning buried deep – beneath all known dismay,
The Brownies ate their cellar fate, but still charged out to play.
In aim to halt a last hard loss – in a season dead since May,
They sent Pillette out to the mound – to speak their final say.

The White Sox were that last dance foe – at the former Sportsman’s Park,
And our pitcher pulsed the pallor of those few fans in the dark.
To the dank and empty stands they came, – one final, futile time,
To witness their dear Brownies reach – ignominy sublime.

When Mickelson then knocked in Groth – for the first run of the game,
It was to be the last Browns score, – from here to kingdom came.
And all the hopes that fanned once more, – in that third inning spree,
Were briefly blowing in the wind, – but lost eternally.

For over seven innings then, – Dee bleached the White Sox out,
And the Browns were up by one to oh, – when Rivera launched his clout.
That homer tied the score at one, – and then the game ran on.
Until eleven innings played, – the franchise was not gone.

But Minnie’s double won the game – for the lefty, Billy Pierce,
And Dee picked up the last Browns loss; – one hundred times is fierce!
And when Jim Dyck flew out to end – the Browns’ last time at bat,
The SL Browns were here no more, and that was that, – was that!

Oh, somewhere in this favored land, the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, – and little children shout,
But there’s no joy in Sislerville, – the Brownies have pulled out.

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2 Responses to “Remembering the St. Louis Browns.”

  1. Shirley Virdon Says:

    Bill and I saw Ned Garver during the summer at a golf tourney in Cleveland. He looks great and is 90+. I don’t remember his exact age. He remembers everything and has lots of stories to tell. My brother was always a Brownie fan and I was a Cardinal fan——There were many arguments as we followed both teams during each season! The 1944 World Series provided many lively dissertations on which team would win! We were fortunate to be able to attend one game.

    Merry Christmas to you and your Family!

  2. Fred Davis Says:

    Bill: Thanks for the wonderful story. Sorry I missed the Brownie reunion this year. Wasn’t feeling well. Hope to make the next one. I hope the St. Louis guys will be putting out a newsletter or website update describing what happened this year.
    Have a happy new year.
    Brownies forever!
    Fred Davis

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