The St. Louis Browns Historical Society

Stan the Man with Bill the Fan St. Louis, 2003

Stan the Man with Bill the Fan
St. Louis, 2003

The St. Louis Browns Historical Society and Fan Club was established in St. Louis back in the early 1980s by history professor/writer/fan Bill Borst and a few other ancient pelicans of St. Louis baseball history. Over the years, it grew into an annual dinner and greet-and-meet for former Browns players and their surviving fans from the 1902-1953 period in which the Browns existed as the winners of one WWII-aided pennant in 1944 and a coal bin full of last place finishes in the American League.

In the end, even the Barnum and Bailey mind of final owner Bill Veeck could not spare the Browns from themselves. Midget batters didn’t work. “Fan Manager Night” didn’t work. And even having a 20-game winner like Ned Garver pitch for them in a 102-team loss, last-place 1951 season didn’t work. The Browns were doomed in their  heart-to-heart competition with their National League neighbor and ballpark tenant, the St. Louis Cardinals. The Browns didn’t have anybody close to the talent of the Cardinals’ great Stan Musial, but who did, back in the day? Even if they ever came close to raising or acquiring a great one, the Browns could not have kept him. They had to survive by second division loser club economics – meaning simply, that any talent of any great merit had to be sold to the Yankees or one of the other elite rich clubs just to pay the bills that their low attendance gates were not supporting.

We made quite a few of these annual functions in St. Louis between 1996 and 2007. I started going with good friend and former Browns first baseman Jerry Witte through the long period of our work on his autobiography, “A Kid From St. Louis” (2003) and I still maintain my annual membership in support of the organization, even though it’s been six years since my last trip to St. Louis. I had friends in St. Louis prior to my involvement with the Browns, but my affinity for the city and its stock of knowledgeable baseball fans simply exploded like hydrogen once St. Louis locked in as an annual destination.

Ned Garver loves teasing the large crowds that continue to show up for these walks through the time-warp back into the 1940s and 1950s. Once he began his dinner talk from the podium with this statement and question: “It’s great to see the large crowd of supporters who’ve shown up tonight to spend time with us former Browns. – Where were you when we were actually playing baseball in St. Louis?”

Garver also loved to brag on Browns fans in his dinner speeches: “Our fans never booed us players. They wouldn’t dare. We outnumbered them.”

As the old song goes, “now the days dwindle down to a precious few.” And I can only count the good times that I had with some of the game’s and world’s greatest people.

My two favorite moments were these: “Getting on an empty elevator at the hotel in St. Louis to go to an afternoon players reception in 1996. Then quickly catching the door for one other passenger who wanted on. It was Stan Musial. And all of a dad gum sudden, I’m like a dumbfounded kid, trapped in an elevator with my all-time biggest living baseball hero. I didn’t want to do the crazy, “Oh Boy! I’m your biggest fan, Mr. Musial” thing. But neither did I want to seem distant and unaware of who he was. – What to do?”

For the two-floor ride, I said nothing. Then, as we were getting out of the elevator, I extended my hand and said something cooler, like, “Mr. Musial, I’m Bill McCurdy from Houston. I think we’re headed to the same place, but I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to meet you.” Musial thanked me and we then just small-talked our way to the door where he was quickly swallowed up by smiles, cheers, hugs, and applause. We got to talk a little later on – and upon four or five occasions over the years to come, we talked some more, like old friends and neighbors. Stan was so humble and decent to all of us baseball nobodies. Watching him talk with people was like seeing my parents talk with the kinds of down-to-earth neighbors we had when I was growing up in the Pecan Park section of southeast Houston after World War II. Nobody was pretending to be bigger than anyone else.

My other big moment came in a later year when I just happened to catch Don Larsen sitting in the hotel lobby and he spent the better part of an hour taking me along with him on a personal trip through his perfect game in the 1956 World Series. I felt like a beneficiary in some kind of “Make-A-Wish” program for aging baseball fans. Larsen was wonderful. I asked him what was going through his mind on that last called strike three pitch to Dale Mitchell to nail it all down in the 9th as he released the ball from his hand.

“That’s funny,” Larsen smiled, as he answered. “No one’s ever quite asked me about it like that.”

He pondered, but very briefly.

“I just thought, ‘Here goes nothing!’,” he said.

And nothing it was. Plenty of nothings for the former Brown as he found his way into baseball history as a New York Yankee.

Today the ranks of the surviving former members of the St. Louis Brown have shrunk to these twenty-four. Here they are, from oldest to youngest, with their birth dates and projected ages for 2013:

1)   Chuck Stevens, 07/10/18 (95)

2)   Tom Jordan, 09/05/19 (94)

3)   Dick Starr, 03/02/21 (92)

4)   George Elder 03/10/21 (92)

5)   Neil Berry, 01/11/22 (91)

6)   Johnny Hetki, 05/12/22 (91)

7)   Jim Rivera 07/22/22 (91)

8)   Don Lenhardt, 10/04/22 (91)

9)   Don Lund, 05/18/23 (90)

10)                   Tom Wright, 09/22/23 (90)

11)                   Billy DeMars, 08/26/25 (88)

12)                   Ned Garver, 12/25/25 (88)

13)                   Frank Saucier, 05/28/26 (87)

14)                   Johnny Groth, 07/23/26 (87)

15)                   Al Naples, (8/29/26) (87)

16)                   Ed Mickelson 09/09/26 (87)

17)                    Don Johnson, 11/12/26 (87)

18)                   Roy Sievers, 11/18/26 (87)

19)                   Hal Hudson, 05/04/27 (86)

20)                   Billy Hunter, 06/04/28 (85)

21)                   Joe DeMaestri, 12/09/28 (85)

22)                   Bud Thomas, 03/10/29 (84)

23)                   Don Larsen, 08/07/29 (84)

24)                   J.W. Porter, 01/17/33 (80)

All things end in time, but the older Browns are holding on pretty good. After all, it’s been over 60 years since any of them played in that last season of 1953. By 1954, some were destined also to become original members of the first Baltimore Orioles club.

If you are interested in learning more about the St. Louis Browns or their supportive society beyond the little I’ve been able to share with you here, please check out their website:

http://www.thestlbrowns.com/

And have a great “hump day”!

Tags:

6 Responses to “The St. Louis Browns Historical Society”

  1. Tom Hunter Says:

    Bill: Since the Cardinals and Browns shared Sportsman’s Park, what happened during the 1944 World Series? Did they switch locker rooms for “home” and “visitors” games? I heard somewhere that Billy Southworth and Luke Sewell shared an apartment in the ball park; when one club was on the road, the other team was at home, so there was no conflict–until the ’44 Series. Can you clear this up?

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Tom:

      Courtesy of this quote from an unidentified SABR source, here’s how SLBHS President Bill Rogers explains it: ““In a move to cut expenses during wartime, and to ease a housing shortage, Sewell and his family shared an apartment with Southworth at 3754 Lindell Boulevard. Since both teams shared Sportsman’s Park, neither team was at home at the same time. When the Browns went on the road, Edna and the couple’s daughters went home to Akron, and they would return to St. Louis when the Browns had a homestand. Since both families couldn’t share the apartment during the World Series, they flipped a coin. Sewell won the toss, and Southworth looked for a temporary residence.”

      We don’t know where coin-toss loser Southworth stayed during the Series.

      As for the dugouts, we think the home team used the 3rd base bench and the visitors the 1st, and using the home and visitor clubhouses in alignment with their statuses in each game.

  2. StLouisLawyer Says:

    Tom there was an apartment underneath the stands that owner Bill Veeck moved his wife and six children into in 1951. Whether the managers lived there or not I don’t know, but it makes sense that the apartment was there before Veeck. August A Busch III, as a man in his young 20s, also lived there, after the ballpark was purchased by Anheuser-Busch in April 1953. According to JW Porter, Veeck had the apartment “tricked out” like a Hugh Hefner pad with slide out cabinets, intricately wired hi-fi system, circular bed, etc.

    It is difficult to imagine anyone letting their son live in that fire trap, especially a brewing heir. But on the flipside, Sportsman’s Park was very much in a residential neighborhood, like Wrigley field is today.

  3. tom murrah Says:

    Bill, once again many thanks for a superb column. Nice jersey in the
    photo! I’ve enjoyed my membership in the Browns’ Historical Society, but it was tough to lose Matt Batts this year. My buddies and I got to play teen-age ball for him in San Antonio in 1958 shortly
    after he hung up his spikes and catcher’s gear. He played part of the
    1951 season with the Browns and was there when Eddie Gaedel got
    to pinch hit. Mr. Batts was good to play for “way back when.”

  4. Wayne Williams Says:

    I have been a member of the Browns Historical Society since the late 90’s. One of my best memories is wandering into the bar at the Westport Hotel about 11:00 p. m. Don Larsen was sitting at a table with three other Browns fans and I joined them. Baseball was the talk for the next three hours until the bar was closed. One of the things Don Larsen said was that Dale Mitchell offered slightly at the last pitch and it should have been a swinging strike three. Good memories Bill about the Browns. The year of this meeting was 2003, the 50th anniversary of the last Browns time. All the former Browns present were introduced at the Cardinal/Oriole game and the Orioles were throwback uniforms.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Wayne, Thanks for bringing up Larsen’s comment about Mitchell twitching enough on the last pitch to have been a swinging third strike to end the game. He said it, all right. I was one of those fans in the bar with him when you joined us. If you remember, too, Don Larsen wasn’t ready to fold ’em when the bar had to ask us to leave at 2 AM closing. – Heck! I wanted to stay – and I wasn’t even drinking.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: