Posts Tagged ‘St.. Louis Browns’

Home Attendance of the St. Louis Browns

December 18, 2013

Back in the day, before there were any residual incomes from television to drive fan interest in the game, baseball had to rely upon gate income and concession sales to cover the cost of very low player and administrative salaries and minimal maintenance of the club’s equipment, uniform, and venue expenses. It helped if an MLB club owned its own stadium.

1944: Just a Dream. Just a Dream. Just a Dream.

1944: Just a Dream. Just a Dream. Just a Dream.

The St. Louis Browns of the American League (1902-1953) did own their own game arena. It was a place known for most of its life as Sportsman’s Park. They also pocketed good side income by serving as landlord to the St. Louis Cardinals of the National League until they sold the place to their highly more successful same-city rivals in 1953, the last year of the Browns’ existence.

It was easy for the Browns to become dependent upon the sale of good ballplayers rather than the attainment of pennants as the unspoken priority plan for economic survival. The club could not draw the fans they needed to pay for a winning team on the field, so, in effect, if not by stated goal, they showcased and sold many of their best talents to wealthy clubs like the Yankees just to pay their bills and stay afloat. As a result, all hope spun as wasted motion in the mud. The St. Louis Browns were going nowhere “up” in the AL standings, except in 1921, when they got there honestly and fell a mere one game short of winning the pennant, and in 1944, when World War II and military draft conspired to leave the Browns with their only pennant winner against inferior competition.

In these 52 annual attendance figures from Baseball Almanac, pay special notice to how bad things got during the Great Depression years. 1935 was their worst year. The Browns drew only 80,922 fans for the season in 1935, To say the least, their per game average of 1,044 fans was both abysmal and unsustainable by today’s financial needs.

It reminds me of pitcher Ned Garver’s favorite line about poor Brownie game attendance during their last generation of air-gasping survival in the years that followed World War II.

“Our fans never booed us,” said Browns pitcher Ned Garver. “They wouldn’t dare. – We outnumbered them.”

St. Louis Browns Attendance1902 – 1953
Year Ballpark Name Attendance

Game Average

Season Total

A.L. Average

1902

1903

1904

1905

1906

1907

1908

1909

1910

1911

1912

1913

1914

1915

1916

1917

1918

1919

1920

1921

1922

1923

1924

1925

1926

1927

1928

1929

1930

1931

1932

1933

1934

1935

1936

1937

1938

1939

1940

1941

1942

1943

1944

1945

1946

1947

1948

1949

1950

1951

1952

1953

Sportsman’s Park (III)

Sportsman’s Park (III)

Sportsman’s Park (III)

Sportsman’s Park (III)

Sportsman’s Park (III)

Sportsman’s Park (III)

Sportsman’s Park (III)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park IV

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

Sportsman’s Park (IV)

3,890

5,474

4,078

4,348

5,054

5,407

7,986

4,757

3,163

2,737

2,727

3,230

3,078

1,891

4,250

2,716

1,985

4,991

5,446

4,623

9,259

5,588

6,972

6,012

3,664

3,198

4,409

3,645

1,975

2,326

1,462

1,152

1,497

1,044

1,203

1,578

1,672

1,399

3,072

2,245

3,386

2,803

6,606

6,273

6,749

4,162

4,330

3,496

3,209

3,815

6,694

3,860

272,283

380,405

318,108

339,112

389,157

419,025

618,947

366,274

249,889

207,984

214,070

250,330

244,714

150,358

335,740

210,486

122,076

349,350

419,311

355,978

712,918

430,296

533,349

462,898

283,986

247,879

339,497

280,697

152,088

179,126

112,558

88,113

115,305

80,922

93,267

123,121

130,417

109,159

239,591

176,240

255,617

214,392

508,644

482,986

526,435

320,474

335,564

270,936

247,131

293,790

518,796

297,238

275,807

293,111

378,004

390,094

367,260

424,846

451,421

467,484

408,836

417,439

407,954

440,851

343,449

304,336

431,486

357,357

213,500

456,780

635,538

577,541

609,294

575,324

656,930

648,356

614,073

576,619

527,649

582,809

585,716

485,412

391,654

365,776

470,451

461,001

522,365

591,979

555,711

533,825

679,224

613,995

525027

462,071

599,770

697,553

1,202,648

1,185,759

1,393,762

1,341,331

1,142,795

1,110,334

1,036,737

870,510

The St. Louis Browns Historical Society

November 20, 2013
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”!

Browns at Heart

May 18, 2013

Maybe it was the orange signage in the background at PNC Park that framed their comical losing play. Maybe it was the growing possibility that the Houston Astros may soon go places with season losses that even defied the creative losing capacities of the old St. Louis Browns. Maybe it’s the new orange-tinged Astros uniform scheme that reminds of the Browns. Maybe it’s the fact that both the Browns and the Astros have shown a preference for minor league talent rosters. Maybe it’s the Astros fan fear that the Astros will eventually sell off any player who gets too good to play cheap. Maybe it’s just the way the Astros keep coming up with new ways to lose games. Who knows?

Whatever it is – it’s ringing the connection bell between the Houston Astros and the old St. Louis Browns pretty good.

Are the Astros sort of mutating into something like the “Browns at Heart”?

What follows the art pictorial of last night’s dumb and dumber 5-4 loss to Pittsburgh is a parody of that ancient Frank Sinatra song, “Young at Heart”. The lyrics below will fit that tune as they also pursue the possibility that the Astros may be in motion in 2013 to now becoming the “Browns at Heart”.

With 2 outs in the 9th, Elmore & Paredes of the Astros team up on a dropped pop fly that allows the Pirates to score the winning run from 3rd. Are they "Browns at Heart"?

With 2 outs in the 9th, Elmore & Paredes of the Astros team up on a dropped pop fly that allows the Pirates to score the winning run from 3rd. Are they “Browns at Heart”?

Browns at Heart (a parody set in motion to the tune of that old song, “Young at Heart”

Fairy tales – don’t come true – it won’t  happen for you,
If they’re Browns at Heart.
For it’s hard – you will find – to see fertile of mind,
If they’re – Browns at Heart.

Astro minds – hit extremes – with impossible schemes,
Try to laugh – as your dreams – fall apart at the seams,
And life gets more frustrating – with each passing day,
But you can’t watch ’em on the TV – anyway.

Don’t you know – they’re not worth – every treasure on earth,
If they’re Browns at Heart.
For as old – as you are – it’s just bending your bar,
To see – Browns at Heart.

And if you – should survive – past their loss 105,
Look at all – they’ll deprive – out of being alive!
And here is the worst part – you had a head start,
If you paid your hard-earned bucks on – Browns at Heart.

Worst. Big League Teams. Ever.

May 28, 2011

The Cleveland Spiders and their rope-providers, Frank & Stanley Robison. This photo actually was taken of the 1895 Spiders in the year they won the Temple Cup. Those better days melted away completely in 1899.

In the history of major league baseball seasons extending to a minimum of 140 games, a few clubs have distinguished themselves to the nth degree of failure and notoriety, but none more so that the 1898 Cleveland Spiders.  Their “Arachnidish” record of 20 wins and 134 losses for a paltry .130 winning percentage and a twelfth place cellar finish in the National League, some 84 games behind the pennant winners is not likely ever to be broken, even if a new horrible club comes along with only eight legs total to stands upon.

The 1898 Spiders brought a new unbreakable shade of bold to the word “bad” also with their 24-game team record consecutive losing streak, their ML record 27 one-month losses in July, and their 6 double-digit losing streaks are hard to top for notoriety, but the Spiders managed to do so by dropping 40 of their final 41 games of the 1898 season.

So, how did so much out-of-the-norm terrible performance happen in 1899? It isn’t hard to  figure – and it’s also the heart, body, and soul reason why the result of this season-long spider stomp led to a change in the ownership rules that should have been obvious from the start. You see, the 1899 Cleveland Spiders and the 1899 St. Louis Perfectos were both owned jointly by two brothers, Frank and Stanley Robison.

Before the 1899 season, the Robison brothers, who already owned the Spiders, also bought the old St. Louis Browns from St. Louis brewer Chris von der Ahe. Then, because they really wanted to succeed in St. Louis and weren’t all that thrilled with fan support in Cleveland, anyway, the Robisons moved all their best players from Cleveland to St. Louis, leaving the Spiders spinning for talent with a few scraps from the bottom of the barrel.

After 1899, the rules changed and ownership of more than one team by the same individual or group became illegal. The SPiders disappeared in 1900, but a new club resurfaced that same season in the American League as the Cleveland Lake Shores under new singular-team ownership. The example of the 1899 season was all the lesson in the primary peril of joint ownership that baseball apparently needed.

The 1899 Perfectos finished in fifth place with an 84-67 record, but these were not the 20th century famous American League losers also known as the St. Louis Browns. These NL Browns were renamed the “Perfectos” for 1899 before moving on in 1900 to the identity that would seal their forthcoming place in baseball history forever as the St. Louis Cardinals. – When the original American League Milwaukee Brewers also moved to St. Louis in 1902 as part of the fledgling-fresh American League,, they picked up the old “St. Louis Browns” moniker for their own taunting new identity. The new AL Browns soon embarked upon a history of losing, over time, that would almost make any old Spider feel un-squashed by comparison.

The rest of the biggest baddies roster follows below. Notice how often the name “Philadelphia” appears on the list. Maybe it’s no wonder that the City of Brotherly Love has mutated over the years into a “culture of contempt” among fans that is unrivaled by any other major league city.

The Worst Single Season Teams of All Time:

Season

Franchise

League

Wins

Losses

Pct.

GB

1899

Cleveland Spiders

National

20

134

.130

84

1890

Pittsburgh Alleghenys

National

23

113

.169

66½

1916

Philadelphia Athletics

American

36

117

.235

54½

1935

Boston Braves

National

38

115

.248

61½

1962

New York Mets

National

40

120

.250

60½

1904

Washington Senators

American

38

113

.252

55½

1919

Philadelphia Athletics

American

36

104

.257

52

1898

St. Louis Browns

National

39

111

.260

63½

2003

Detroit Tigers

American

43

119

.265

47

1952

Pittsburgh Pirates

National

42

112

.273

54½

1909

Washington Senators

American

42

110

.276

56

1942

Philadelphia Phillies

National

42

109

.278

62½

1932

Boston Red Sox

American

43

111

.279

64

1941

Philadelphia Phillies

National

43

111

.279

57

1928

Philadelphia Phillies

National

43

109

.283

51

1915

Philadelphia Athletics

American

43

109

.283

58½

1911

Boston Rustlers

National

44

107

.291

54

1909

Boston Doves

National

45

108

.294

65½

1911

St. Louis Browns

American

45

107

.296

56½

1939

Philadelphia Phillies

National

45

106

.298

50½

1937

St. Louis Browns

American

43

111

.279

56

1945

Philadelphia Phillies

National

46

108

.299

52

1938

Philadelphia Phillies

National

45

105

.300

43

1926

Boston Red Sox

American

46

107

.300

44½

2004

Arizona Diamondbacks

National

51

111

.315

42

Jerry Witte: Remembering a Best Friend

April 28, 2011

Jerry Witte and the Scouts, Buff Stadium, 1951.

Not that I ever forget him. He was my great childhood baseball hero with the Houston Buffs, my late-in-life best adult friend, my palling around the old Houston East End buddy, my best company in late summer afternoon baseball conversations on Oak Vista Street, the booming loud and smiling patriarch of the seven daughtered Witte family, the sometimes cantankerous partner to Mary Witte in a marriage that stretched  this one man’s  affection over a half century of loving dedication to God, marriage, family and the simplest most powerful connections to life, the biggest hunter  I ever met, but an even bigger collector of raw or slightly used building materials, a gardener with a Kelly green thumb, and a Telephone Road area driveway fly swatting champion of unparalleled success.

All these things were simply the veneer of the deeper soul that was Jerry Witte, one of the best men that God ever put down here to walk the earth as an honest-to-goodness everyday hero. In baseball and in life, Jerry Witte was tough, honest, and dedicated to the goal of giving everything he did his best shot. Whether it was playing the game of baseball, landscaping an entire property as the head of his own post-playing career company, or simply chewing the fat with friends, you could always count on Jerry Witte to give it his most earnest effort.

Today marks the ninth anniversary of Jerry’s departure from the Earth. Depending upon what we know is true (He actually passed away on April 27, 2002, which is how all the Internet baseball stat sites show it.) or when it was recorded (The death record lists his final date of life as April 28, 2002 and that’s how it is marked on both his grave marker and in his autobiography.), Jerry Witte passed away on either April 27th or 28th of 2002.

We will be thinking especially hard of you today, Jerry, and all in the name of our love for the influence you still are in our lives. Years ago, I wrote these feelings in the following way on page 324 of your post-mortem published autobiography. I could not improve today upon anything I said then:

OUR FAREWELL TO JERRY WITTE, on The Day of His Funeral, May 1, 2002.

I’ll never see a summer sky,

And fail to think of you.

For all the love you brought to life,

Each day came shining through.

 Your wife and seven daughters,

Were the center of your world,

But your spirit spread beyond the nest,

To others – it unfurled.

And we are all the richer now,

For the luck of meeting you.

You gave to every life you touched,

A friendship – blood-red true.

You rose from salt that made this world,

A place that honored labor.

You worked for everything you had,

With integrity – as your saber.

You never wasted precious time,

On the stuff that doesn’t matter.

You saw through fame and fortune,

As the path of growing sadder.

Instead, you gave your giving heart,

To those who needed love.

And we were captured on the spot,

Like pop flies in your glove.

And on this day we say farewell,

Our hearts hold this much true,

We’ll always have that special gift,

– The gift of knowing you!

Godspeed

Bill McCurdy, May 1, 2002

A Kid From St. Louis, Pecan Park Eagle Press, 2003.

Jerry Witte was born on July 30, 1915 in St. Louis Missouri. He played professional baseball from 1937 to 1952, finishing his career as the Houston Buff first baseman from June 1950 through the end of the 1952 season. Jerry had two brief exposures to the big leagues with the St, Louis Browns in 1946-47, but mainly played out his game over the years as one the great home run hitters in minor league history, including a 50 homer season for the 1949 Dallas Eagles.

Beautiful 317-page hard-cover copies of Jerry Witte’s autobiography are still available for $25.00, which includes shipping within the USA. If you are interested, please endorse your check to me, “Bill McCurdy,” and send it, along with a clearly typed mailing address, plus any personal signing instructions for me as Jerry’s co-author to: Bill McCurdy, PO BOX 940871, Houston, TX 77094-7871.

If you have any further questions, I am easily reachable through my e-mail address:

houston.buff37@gmail.com

Early Houston Buffs and Browns Connection?

March 28, 2011

West End Park, Home of the Houston Buffs, 1907-1927. Published by permission of the City of Houston Public Library, Houston, TX.

Thanks to another little article from the Houstorian, some new/old/recycled questions and answers about the Houston Buffs and West End Park are again recycled and now come at us hard as researchers, loudly begging for further exploration. As we move further into our new SABR Chapter major research project, “Houston Baseball, 1861-1961, The First One Hundred Years,” this is the sort of thing that our team will need to explore with effort that goes way beyond quick and easy, incomplete conclusions.

The Houstorian article, for example, concludes that in 1909,  “the (Houston) Buffaloes were part of the St. Louis Browns farm system,” and it seems to be a conclusion based largely on the fact that, by 1910, “the following Buffaloes were playing for the St. Louis Browns: Roy Mitchell (P), Jim Stephens (C), Frank Truesdale (2B), Patrick Newnam (1B), Hub Northen, Joe McDonald, Art Griggs, Dode Criss, Alex Malloy, and Bill Killefer.” From what I was able to confirm through the minor league data files at Baseball Reference.Com, the Houstorian’s conclusion are correct as to the joint participation of most of these players as both Buffs and Browns.

Houston may have had some kind of working agreement with the Browns in 1909. That factor needs further research. It is rash, however, to conclude that the Buffs were part of the Browns “farm system” in 1909. Back then, major league clubs did not own minor league clubs. That kind of ownerships was viewed as sinister to the idea of a level playing field among all big league clubs. Further study of the Browns-Buffs arrangement in 1909 is needed. That’s the only true and safe end we may now touch based on what we know, so far.

Here’s a link to the Houstorian article that stirs up historical information like a first scratch in the ground of artifacts:

http://houstorian.wordpress.com/2009/02/14/100-years-ago-february-14-1909/

If you are a member of SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research, or if you think you might be interested in joining us in the biggest research challenge in Houston Area Baseball History as a new member of SABR, please get in touch with me, Bill McCurdy, @ houston_buff@hotmail.com

We are in the early stages of organizing our research work plan for scouring all available resources that will provide us with the best information we can find on the growth and evolution of baseball in the Houston area from the time of its first organization in 1861 as the “Houston Base Ball Club” through its last season as the minor league Houston Buffs in 1961.” If you have a passion for baseball, time for research, the patience and eyes for studying old newspaper and other public records on microfilm at the library, please consider joining our team. The final product will be a scholarly published historical work on the full history of baseball in Houston prior to the coming of the major leagues in 1962. Profits from this book will be dedicated to the support of SABR and its other programs in the Houston area – and everyone who does the research and writing that makes it possible will get their names credited to this legacy work on a major aspect of Houston and Harris County history.

If you have the time, the passion, and the patience for it, we need your help now.

The Houston Baseball History Project Wants You!

Gaedel Redux Implodes

December 9, 2010

AUGUST 19, 1951, EDDIE GAEDEL BATS; ONCE WAS ENOUGH.

A while back, I wrote a column on Eddie Gaedel, the only midget or dwarf to ever bat in the big leagues. The link to that WordPress piece is:

https://bill37mccurdy.wordpress.com/2010/04/24/the-ballad-of-eddie-gaedel-2/

Well, it seems this past summer it happened again. Sort of. Some folks up in Missouri ran out of fresh ideas and decided to commemorate Gaedel’s iconic moment by sending a 16-year old dwarf to bat for the Ricer City Rascals in an independent league professional game played in O’Fallon, Missouri against the Oakland County Cruisers.

You can check out the original story, plus pictures, that both cover this event by linking on to the St. Louis Browns Blog Spot and checking out the story as it was reported by St. Louis Browns Fan Club President and Editor in Chief, Bill Rogers. Just scroll down to August 20, 2010 and select the story entitled:

River City Rascals Salute St. Louis Browns Historical Society & Eddie Gaedel Anniversary

The St. Louis Browns BlogSpot link is http://thestlbrowns.blogspot.com

Your visit t0 the site also will be a fine opportunity to check out some of the other historic stories that Bill Rogers and Company have assembled about the old Browns, the same Browns that left St. Louis fifty-six years ago in 1954 to become the Baltimore Orioles. One of the stories even includes the language of haste we know as “breaking news.” You’ve got to believe, at first,  that any news that could be breaking over a half century beyond the funeral of the club must have been keeping in a freezer somewhere. Just read it and come to grips with the fact that even urgency is locked into the perception of the beholder. I’m sure there must be at least one centenarian remaining alive in Boston for whom the news of Babe Ruth’s sale to the New York Yankees still strikes sharply to the quick point of pain.

At any rate, for $25.00 a year, membership in the St. Louis Browns Fan Club is one of the best hidden values in baseball. Give it a look and some thought.

Meanwhile, the abortive attempt to recreate the Eddie Gaedel experience failed in troubled River City. Nick Hagan played the part, and the club even replicated all the moves that the Browns took back in 1951, right down to bringing Hagan out in a cake-shaped container prior to the game.

When the Rascals then came in to take their first at bats in the bottom of the first, “Gaedel” was then announced as the pinch hitter for the first man due up. Here’s where the script changes.

This “Gaedel” (Hagan) was about four inches taller than the original. He also took only four pitches, as did the iconic midget, but three of those were called strikes. Historic justice prevailed. Nick Hagan had to take the long walk back to the dugout as a strikeout victim. He would not tie Gaedel’s career On Base Percentage (OBP) of 1.000 and waltz airily away into the record books with a perfect stat record of his brief achievement.

Terrific. That’s what the folks in River City get for being short on new ideas. Had it worked, we might have been forced to hear about annual walks to vertically challenged batters in the boondock leagues of this country – and maybe even bracing ourselves for the reintroduction of some other far-from-original ideas. How about building a new domed stadium with a roof that cannot be opened, but one that will work as a cookie-cutter venue for sports of all kinds? How about starting a newspaper, one that comes with a sports section and plenty of sports writers?

Mike Blyzka: One of the Last Old Browns.

April 22, 2010

Mike Blyzka lost his first 9 pitching decisions in 1947.

Mike Blyzka lived with a little noted, but no less important distinction in baseball history. As a right handed pitcher, Mike worked for both the last 1953 St. Louis Browns club and the first 1954 Baltimore Orioles team. All he did to attain that quiet “honor” was to have been on the roster at the time the decision was made to sell the Browns to Baltimore interests and then make it through the mild ripple of player transactions that followed as fanfare for the people of Baltimore that “the Orioles are coming home to their ancient big league roost! – even if they have to land in the lower branches of the big league tree with a bunch of ex-Browns flapping their wings and gasping for air.”

The news of the Browns move came down hard upon me in Houston. You see, as a 7th grader,  I had become a converted Browns fan in 1951 due to the incredible season that pitcher New Garver put up as a 20-game winner for a last place three-digit loss Browns club. Garver had gone 20-12 with a 3.73 for a last place Browns club that finished 8th with a record of  52-102. And I was always hooked on throwing my support to deserving underdogs. Garver stood out as such to me.

You may know the famous story that spawned on the heels of Garver’s incredible year. When Garver sought a substantial reserve clause era raise for his efforts in his new 1952 contract, Browns owner Bill Veeck turned him down, supposedly explaining that “we could’ve finished last without you.”

At any rate, Mike Blyzka arrived in time to go 2-6 for the 1953 Browns and then 1-5 for the 1954 Orioles in 70, mostly relief appearances. His 3-11, 5.58 ERA record for those two seasons turned out to be his major league career. As a seven-season minor leaguer (1947-50, 1955-57), Mike Blyzka posted a career sub-major league record of 63-60 with a 4.18 ERA.

I never really dug into Mike Blyzka’s record until years later, when I got to know him a little better as a person. Starting in 1996, and moving through 2003, I saw Mike Blyzka every year at the annual reunion dinners for the St. Louis Browns in St. Louis. Mike came religiously each spring as a former Brown. I came each season as a member of the St. Louis Browns Historical Society. It was through these laid-back conversations at breakfast and just sitting around the hotel lobby that I even learned a little of all that Mike Blyzka overcame to fulfill his dream of pitching in the big leagues.

By the time I met Mike, his health was bad and he lived alone in retirement in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He didn’t get around too well so I drove us places on a few eating and shopping expeditions away from the banquet hotel. Other old Browns like Red Hayworth often came with us. It was a joyful time to see old and new St. Louis through the eyes of men who had been such a big, but quiet part of the city’s baseball history.

In 2003, the Cardinals wanted to honor the history of the Browns by playing a uniform throwback game at old Busch Stadium II against the Baltimore Orioles playing as the 1944 Browns. They had a hard time talking the current Oriole players into going along with the plan, but that is not surprising. The Orioles have spent over a half century doing all in their power to forget the idea that their club ever played as the St. Louis Browns. Somehow they managed to overcome resistance and get it done, and they played the game on a Saturday in June that followed a Friday night game in which the last Browns club was honored.

It would have been a whole lot easier, it seems to me, if someone in the Cardinals organization had remembered that Mike Blyzka, Don Lenhardt, and a handful of others present that weekend had also played in 1954 as original new Orioles, but nobody mentioned the fact.

Oh well. Michael John Blyzka is our main subject here today. Born on Christmas Day in 1928 in Hamtramck, Michigan, Mike signed originally with the Chicago White Sox as an 18-year old (BR/TR) pitcher. He was assigned to pitch for Class D Lima, Ohio in 1947, where something happened that could have ended the career of a lesser man. – Mike lost his first nine decisions in professional baseball.  Assigned elsewhere in mid-season with an 0-9 record as baggage, Blyzka proceeded to finish at Class D Madisonville with a 2-6 mark, leaving him with a 2-15 start to his professional baseball career and a ticket over to the St. Louis Browns organization in 1948 via a minor trade.

Mike took those early lemons and brewed up some lemonade.

Pitching for the Browns club at Class D Belleville, 19-year old Mike Blyzka posted a 12-9 mark with a 3.37 ERA. He also led the Illinois State League with 192 strikeouts in 1948. After posting 28 total wins at Class C and A ball in 1949-50, Mike got swooped up for military service in Korea in 1951-52, but he was ready for his Browns debut when he returned to baseball in 1953. Such as it was, he will, or should be, remembered for his part in history.

Mike Blyzka and admirer. Mike was a true gentleman with a quiet sense of humor.

Mike Blyzka did nothing to call attention to himself, but he possessed a delightful sense of humor about aging and the inevitability it brings to the table. On that last time I saw Mike Blyzka in  St. Louis, one of the girls in the hotel restaurant decided to play with Mike about going out on the town when she got off work. Mike played along with the joke, even though he knew there was nothing to it, and always sticking to his story that he appreciated the invitation, but but that he couldn’t make it due to other commitments.

As we were leaving the restaurant after breakfast, Mike offered the following: “You know, Bill, I might have taken her up on the invitation, but I think I’d rather live to see the game tomorrow.”

Mike Blyzka passed away at his home in Cheyenne on October 13, 2004.

God rest your soul, Happy Mike. And long live the Browns.

The Ballad of Eddie Gaedel.

December 22, 2009

In further deference to the spirit of this off-season, and to the fact that time is short as we run smack dab into Christmas in only three more days, here’s another parody I wrote ten years ago about the time on August 19, 1951 that St. Louis Browns club owner Bill Veeck sent a vertically challenged person (a so-called “midget” back in the pre-PC days) into a game against the Detroit Tigers. It only happened once, but it turned a memory that shall last forever. Here it is again for your last minute Christmas shopping pleasure or displeasure, “The Ballad of Eddie Gaedel”, as sung to the tune of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”:

The Ballad of Eddie Gaedel
(sung to the tune of “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer”)
by Bill McCurdy, 1999.

Bill Veeck, the Brownie owner,
Wore some very shiny clothes!
And if you saw his sport shirt,
You would even say, “It glows!”

All of the other owners,
Used to laugh and call him names!
They wouldn’t let poor Bill Veeck,
Join in any owner games!

(chorus)
Then one humid summer day,
Bill Veeck had to – fidget!
Got an idea that stirred his soul,
He decided to sign a – midget!

His name was Eddie Gae-del,
He was only three feet tall!
He never played much baseball,
He was always just too small!

(chorus)
Then one day in Sportsman’s Park,
Eddie went to bat!
Took four balls and walked to first,
Then retired – just-like-that!

Oh, how the purists hated,
Adding little Eddie’s name,
To the big book of records,
“Gaedel” bore a blush of shame!

Now when you look up records,
Look up Eddie’s O.B.P.!
It reads a cool One Thousand,
Safe for all eternity.

Remembering the St. Louis Browns.

December 20, 2009

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.