History of the St. Louis Browns
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The Major League Baseball team now known as the Baltimore Orioles originated in Milwaukee as the Milwaukee Brewers, and then moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where they played for more than 50 years, where they were known as the St. Louis Browns. This article covers the franchise's history in St. Louis, which began when the team moved from Milwaukee after the 1901 season and ended with the team's move to Baltimore after the 1953 season.
In 1902 the Milwaukee Brewers (of that era) moved to St. Louis from Milwaukee, where it became the "Browns", in reference to the original name of the 1880s club that by 1900 was known as the Cardinals. A new park was built on the site of the old Browns' former home, Sportsman's Park. In their first St. Louis season, the Browns finished second. Although the Browns usually fielded terrible or mediocre teams (they had only four winning seasons from 1902 to 1922), they were very popular at the gate during their first two decades in St. Louis, and trounced the Cardinals in attendance. In 1909, the Browns rebuilt Sportsman's Park as the third concrete-and-steel park in the majors.
During this time, the Browns were best known for their role in the race for the 1910 American League batting title. Ty Cobb took the last game of the season off, believing that his slight lead over Nap Lajoie would hold up unless Lajoie had a near-perfect day at the plate. Browns' manager Jack O'Connor had ordered rookie third baseman Red Corriden to play on the outfield grass. This all but conceded a hit for any ball Lajoie bunted. Lajoie bunted five straight times down the third base line and made it to first easily. On his last at-bat, Lajoie reached base on an error – officially giving him a hitless at-bat. O'Connor and coach Harry Howell tried to bribe the official scorer, a woman, to change the call to a hit – even offering to buy her a new wardrobe. Cobb won the batting title by just a few thousandths of a point over Lajoie (though it later emerged that one game may have been counted twice in the statistics). After news broke of the scandal, a writer for the St. Louis Post claimed: "All St. Louis is up in arms over the deplorable spectacle, conceived in stupidity and executed in jealousy." The resulting outcry triggered an investigation by American League president Ban Johnson. At his insistence, Browns owner Robert Lee Hedges fired O'Connor and Howell; both men were informally banned from baseball for life.
In 1916, Hedges sold the Browns to Philip DeCatesby Ball, who owned the St. Louis Terriers in the by-then-defunct Federal League. Four years later, Ball allowed the Cardinals to move out of dilapidated Robison Field and share Sportsman's Park with the Browns. This move was one of many that eventually doomed the Browns; Cardinals owner Sam Breadon and General Manager Branch Rickey (a former Browns player, manager and general-manager) used the proceeds from the Robison Field sale to build baseball's first modern farm system. This effort eventually produced several star players that brought the Cardinals more drawing power than the Browns.
The 1922 Browns excited their owner by almost beating the Yankees to a pennant. The club was boasting the best players in franchise history, including future Hall of Famer George Sisler and an outfield trio of Ken Williams, Baby Doll Jacobson, and Jack Tobin that batted .300 or better from 1919–23 and in 1925. In 1922, Williams became the first player in Major League history to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in a season, something that would not be done again in the Majors until 1956.
Ball confidently predicted that there would be a World Series in Sportsman's Park by 1926. In anticipation, he increased the capacity of his ballpark from 18,000 to 30,000. Ball was right, as there was a World Series in Sportsman's Park in 1926 – the Cardinals upset the Yankees. St. Louis had been considered a "Browns town" until then; after their 1926 series victory, however, the Cardinals dominated St. Louis baseball while still technically tenants of the Browns. Meanwhile, the Browns rapidly fell into the cellar.
 War era
During World War II, the Browns won their only American League pennant in St. Louis, in 1944. Some critics called it a fluke, as most major league stars voluntarily joined or were drafted into the military; however, many of the Browns' best players were classified 4-F: unfit for military service. They faced their local rivals, the incredibly successful Cardinals, in the 1944 World Series, the last World Series to date played entirely in one stadium. However, the Browns lost the series in six games.
In 1945, the Browns posted an 81–75 record and fell to third place, six games out, again with less than top-ranked talent. The 1945 season may be best remembered for the Browns' signing of utility outfielder Pete Gray, the only one-armed major league position player in history. The 1945 season proved to be the Browns' last hurrah; they would never have another winning season in St. Louis. In fact, 1944 and 1945 were two of only eight winning seasons they enjoyed in the 31 years after nearly winning the pennant in 1922.
 Veeck era
In 1951, Bill Veeck, the colorful former owner of the Cleveland Indians, purchased the Browns. In St. Louis, he extended the promotions and wild antics that had made him famous and loved by many and loathed by many others. His most notorious stunt in St. Louis came on August 19, 1951, when he sent Eddie Gaedel, a 3-foot 7-inch, 65-pound midget, to bat as a pinch hitter. When Gaedel stepped to the plate he was wearing a Browns uniform with the number 1/8. With no strike zone to speak of, Gaedel walked on four straight pitches, as he was ordered not to swing at any pitch. The stunt infuriated American League President Will Harridge, who voided Gaedel's contract the next day.
After the 1951 season, Veeck made Ned Garver the highest-paid member of the Browns. Garver remains the last pitcher to win 20 games for a team that lost 100 games in a season. He was the second pitcher in history to accomplish the feat.
Veeck also brought Satchel Paige back to major league baseball to pitch for the Browns. Veeck had previously signed the former Negro League great to a contract in Cleveland in 1948 at age 42, amid much criticism. At 45, Paige's re-appearance in a Browns uniform did nothing to win Veeck friends among baseball's owners. Nonetheless, Paige ended the season with a respectable 3–4 record and a 4.79 ERA.
Veeck believed that St. Louis was too small for two franchises and planned to drive the Cardinals out of town. He signed many of the Cardinals' most popular ex-players and, as a result, attracted many Cards fans to see the Browns. Notably, Veeck inked former Cardinals great Dizzy Dean to a broadcasting contract and tapped Rogers Hornsby as manager. He also re-acquired former Browns fan favorite Vern Stephens and signed former Cardinals pitcher Harry Brecheen, both of whom had starred in the all-St. Louis World Series in 1944. Veeck also stripped Sportsman's Park of any Cardinals material and dressed it exclusively in Browns memorabilia, even moving his family to an apartment under the stands. Although the Browns fielded consistently losing teams during this time, Veeck's showmanship and colorful promotions made attendance at Browns games more fun and unpredictable than the conservative Cardinals were willing to offer.
Veeck's all-out assault on the Cardinals came during a downturn in the Cardinals' fortunes after Rickey left them for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1942. Indeed, when Cardinals' owner Fred Saigh was convicted of massive tax evasion late in 1952, it looked almost certain that the Cardinals were leaving town, as most of the top bids came from non-St. Louis interests. However, Saigh accepted a much lower bid from St. Louis-based brewery Anheuser-Busch. Brewery president Gussie Busch jumped into the bidding specifically to keep the Cardinals in St. Louis. Veeck quickly realized that with Anheuser-Busch's wealth behind them, the Cardinals now had more resources than he could ever hope to match. Reluctantly, he ceded St. Louis to the Cardinals and decided to move the Browns. As a first step, he sold Sportsman's Park to the Cardinals. This would have likely been necessary in any event, as the 44-year-old park had fallen into disrepair and even the rent from the Cardinals didn't bring in enough money to bring the park up to code.
Veeck attempted to move the Browns back to Milwaukee (where he had owned the Brewers of the American Association in the 1940s), but the move was blocked by the other American League owners, seemingly for reasons that were more personal than business-related. An undaunted Veeck then tried to move the Browns to Baltimore. He got in touch with Mayor Tommy D'Alesandro and attorney Clarence Miles, who were leading an effort to bring the major leagues back to Baltimore after a half-century hiatus. However, he was rebuffed by the owners, still seething by the publicity stunts he pulled at the Browns home games.
After the season, Veeck cut a deal with Miles which would see the Browns move to Baltimore. Under the plan, Veeck would sell half of his 80 percent stake in the Browns to Miles and several other Baltimore investors, with Veeck remaining as principal owner. Despite being assured by American League president Will Harridge that there would be no problem getting approval, only four owners voted aye – two short of passage. Reportedly, this was due to Yankees co-owner Del Webb drumming up support to move the Browns to Los Angeles.
Miles and D'Alesandro realized that the owners were simply looking for a way to push Veeck out. Over the next 48 hours, Miles lined up enough support from his group of investors to buy out Veeck's stake entirely for $2.5 million. With his only leverage--ownership of Sportsman's Park--gone, Veeck had little choice but to agree. The other owners duly approved the sale, and Miles was immediately named president and chairman of the board. His first act was to request permission to move the team to Baltimore, which was swiftly approved.
Unlike other clubs that relocated in the 1950s, retaining their nickname and a sense of continuity with their past (such as the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, New York/San Francisco Giants, Boston/Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves, and Philadelphia/Kansas City/Oakland Athletics), the St. Louis Browns were renamed the Baltimore Orioles upon their transfer, implicitly distancing themselves at least somewhat from their history. It was also unique in that, unlike the other teams, the Browns/Orioles moved eastward instead of westward geographically. In December 1954, the Orioles further distanced themselves from their Browns past by making a 17-player trade with the New York Yankees that included most former Browns of note still on the Baltimore roster. Though the deal did little to improve the short-term competitiveness of the club, it helped establish a fresh identity for the Orioles franchise. To this day, the Orioles make almost no mention of their past as the Browns.
The Orioles finally cut the last ties to the Browns era in August 1979. In 1936, the Browns sold 20,000 shares of stock to the public at $5 a share—an unusual practice for a sports franchise even today. In 1979, new owner Edward Bennett Williams bought back those shares, making the franchise privately held once again. Although the buyout price is not known, it is assumed that given the Orioles' prosperity over their then 25 years in Baltimore, the owners made a handsome return on their investment.
The Browns, along with the Washington Senators, were mostly associated with losing, as both franchises seemed to be the American League's perennial doormats. The Senators became the butt of a well-known vaudeville joke, "First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League" (a twist on the famous "Light Horse Harry" Lee eulogy for George Washington: "First in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen"). A spin-off joke was coined for the Browns: "First in shoes, first in booze, and last in the American League."
In the movie "Going My Way", Bing Crosby wears a sweat shirt with St. Louis Browns across it and takes the 'boys' to see them play.
Many older fans in St. Louis remember the Browns fondly, and some have formed societies to keep the memory of the team alive; it is not uncommon to see sporting goods stores in the St. Louis area stock Browns shirts and hats.