Before They Were the Cardinals (B.C.)
This is the history Before They Were the Cardinals
It’s hard to imagine the St. Louis Cardinals, which are so rich in history, were not always the Cardinals. As baseball developed and began to spread throughout the Midwest, exhibition games were being played in the 1880’s by men that were looking to make a few bucks.
Promoters saw cities like Cincinnati and Louisville having success in drawing a crowd to watch men play baseball. Money could be made in baseball: but it helped if you had a saloon nearby for the free time before and after the game.
Major League baseball began in the 1880’s with the formation of the American Association. The St. Louis Brown Stockings were part of that formation until a scandal broke out in the mid 1880’s. The Browns began barnstorming around from city-to-city putting on exhibition games among themselves or would find a team willing to play them for money.
Chris Von der Ahe- First Cardinals Owner
The first Browns team was owned by Chris Von der Ahe, a German-American entrepreneur, who had more interest in promoting activities and making money than he did with the outcome of the games. He had a very thick German accent and was made fun of by the media for his inability to pronounce words. He would call the game “paseball” and referred to himself as “bresident” of the team. The team played at the Grand Avenue Grounds which was later renamed Sportsman’s Park. This was located at the corner of Dodier Street and Grand Avenue in St. Louis.
There was a lot of flux in baseball in the 1880’s, therefore, after 11 seasons in the American Association Von der Ahe bought a franchise into the National League and began playing games in 1892. On April 12th the Browns open the season with a 14-10 loss to the Chicago Colts (later named the Cubs).
First Sunday Night Game in NL
The St. Louis Browns played the first Sunday game in the National League on April 17th and lost 5-1 to Cincinnati. There had been other Sunday games but they were not in the National League. They were in the American Association (also known as the minor leagues).
The first season was split in half and the Browns were a poor team with a 31-42 record in the first half and 25-52 in the second half for an overall 56-94 record. They finished 11th out of 12 teams that season and was 46 games behind the first place Boston team. The first year saw the Browns have five different managers. They were Jack Glasscock with a 1-3 record, Cub Stricker 6-17, Jack Crooks 27-33, George Gore 6-9 and Bob Caruthers with a 16-32 record.
Von der Ahe was a showman and many times did several things to market his team. He would have the players dress at his saloon that was located a block or two from the stadium and then he would lead a parade down the street to the ballpark to attract attention.
Von der Ahe stood out in a crowd as he was round bellied short man that wore a stove pipe hat and diamond stickpins along with long, gaudy waistcoats. In St. Louis, he was known as a ladies man. Also, his closest advisers were the Spinks brothers that later founded The Sporting News magazine.
New Sportsman’s Park
The second season (1893) in the National League and 12th in St. Louis found the Browns finishing last with a 57-75 record and 10th place. This was their first season playing in the New Sportsman’s Park. This will be home until 1920. Ted Breitenstein was the workhorse on the mound as he started 48 games and was 19-24 on the season. The team did lead the league in ERA with a 4.06 mark but had trouble scoring runs. Fielding was an issue as they allowed more than two unearned runs per game. This was the first season the pitching rubber was moved to 60’6”.
Six Home Runs in One Game
The 1894 season wasn’t much better than previous years as they finished in 9th place, 35 games behind the NL Champion Baltimore club with a 56-76 record under managers Jimmy Williams and Charlie Comiskey. If there were highlights to the season, it comes from the fact that Roger Connor finished the season with 25 triples. The Browns did hit six home runs in one game (May 10) but lost the game 18-9 to Cincinnati.
Four Managers in 1895
Four managers guided the 1895 team to a lowly 39-92 record and 11th place 48.5 games behind league winning Baltimore. In fact, Browns’ owner Von der Ahe is the manager of record in one game which was a victory for the Browns. Some notables this year are Roger Connor getting six hits in a game that saw the team knock out 30 hits against the Giants. Also, Tommy Dowd hit for the cycle to become the first player in franchise history to accomplish this feat.
The Browns went 40–90 during the season and finished 11th in the National League but it is anger that becomes the key in 1896. Owner Chris Von Der Ahe isn’t happy that one of his players is also an actor in a play when he should be preparing for the upcoming season. The player, Ted Breitenstein, goes to a labor board and holds out for a bit to finish his acting season. He goes on to win 18 of the Browns 40 games but still is sold for $10,000 to Cincinnati at the completion of the season. This is not be the last time a Browns/Cardinals player has a dispute with ownership and gets traded or sold.
Von der Ahe installs Waterslide
The Browns are bad in 1897 and attendance is weak. The team is solidly in last place. On May 23rd, Von Der Ahe has a waterslide installed at the park to attract fans and families to the park. It becomes a success and is more popular than the team.
On Sept. 2nd, the team won their last game of the season with a 4-3 win. The Browns go on to lose 18 games straight to finish the year. They also lose 100 games and win only 29 to finish a remarkable 63.5 games out of first place and 23.5 behind the team ahead of them. Von der Ahe tried his hand at managing again (lifetime was 1-0) and promptly fired himself after 14 games that saw the Browns finish 2-12 under his guidance.
Stadium Burns Down
Von Der Ahe has more troubles in 1898 as the Browns park burns down during a game (April 16) against the Chicago Orphans and also destroys his saloon. The day after the fire (April 17) many fans, players and carpenters (about 150) decide to rebuild the park and are insistent the team will not miss a game. The next day, the Chicago Orphans take a 10-1 win as many players are worn out from staying up all night trying to get the park in order. They committed 11 errors in the game. Ownership is furious and didn’t understand they were up all night trying to get the stadium back in shape to play. Several people were injured in the fire which resulted in lawsuits being filed. Between re-building the stadium and paying off his other creditors, it spelled the financial ruins of Von der Ahe. This will lead to his eventual exit from the ownership. In a trial, he lost the team and it was sold to G.A. Guner for $33,00 and then re-sold to brothers Stanley and Frank Robison after the completion of the season for $40,000. The Robison’s also owned the Cleveland Spiders and transferred their best players like Cy Young, Jesse Burkett and Bobby Wallace to St. Louis. The first thing they do is rename the team to the Perfectos and change the colors to red.
Summation of Von der Ahe
This article tried to sum up the tenure of Chris Von der Ahe as Browns owner:
In a small saloon on the outer section of [St. Louis,] Chris von der Ahe, once a noted baseball magnate, is tending bar. Twenty-five years ago Von der Ahe owned the St. Louis Browns. Under the management of Charles A. Comiskey, who played first base and drew a $4000 salary, the Browns won four consecutive championships in the American Association and piled up a fortune for the quaint old Dutchman. As the Browns traveled over the circuit year after year Von der Ahe spent his money lavishly, entertaining hosts of friends and becoming known everywhere as a good fellow. But when Comiskey left him in 1890 to manage the Chicago Brotherhood Club Von der Ahe lost his all and troubles began to multiply. The Browns were taken into the 12-club National League, where competition was brisk. Von der Ahe soon found himself with a losing team and a shrunken bank account. In time he was forced to the wall and rival magnates employing methods peculiar to base ball, took the St. Louis Club away from him. Von der Ahe, almost penniless, could not afford to make a fight and was driven into bankruptcy. He had retired to a life of seclusion, but managed to scrape enough money together to buy a saloon, which failed. Meanwhile Comiskey after a series of ups and downs, got hold of the Chicago Americans – the White Sox – and coined a million. But Von der Ahe has never asked him for a dollar. -Sporting Life, August 24, 1912
New ownership brings new hope
The season (1899) opens with excitement with new ownership and some wins but it ends with disappointment. The first winning season in St. Louis is in the books with a 84-64 record. After the season, a reporter from the St. Louis Globe, William McHale, overhears a fan talking about what a pretty cardinal color the red on the Perfectos uniform is and decides to give a suggestion to the Robison brothers to name the team Cardinals. After some consideration, the name is changed!
The practice of transferring players was outlawed by MLB after this season as the team benefited from a large number of players who were transferred to the team from the Cleveland Spiders, which were also owned by the Robison brothers. With their star players in St. Louis, the Spiders were bad (20-134) and had their worst season ever. Also, the first place Brooklyn Superbas did the same thing as their owner also owned the Baltimore Orioles and he transferred players from one team to another. After the 1899 season, such arrangements were outlawed by major league baseball.
This was Before Cardinals.