The colorful history of the St. Louis Browns

The St. Louis Browns were not one of baseball’s best franchise teams, but they certainly were one of  the most colorful in the national pastime.

The Browns became a member of the American League in 1902, the second year of the junior circuit. The franchise came to St. Louis from Milwaukee where they were known as the Brewers. The new owner of the club, Robert Lee Hedges, renamed the club the Browns to distinguish the club from the National League franchise also in town called the Cardinals.

The Browns finished second in their first season; however, that would not be the norm for the club. In its first twenty seasons, the team only had three more winning years. Despite not winning, the club had a better attendance that its cross town neighbors, the Cardinals. Things were so good for the Browns the they built a new ballpark called Sportsman’s Park in 1909. It was only the third concrete-and-steel park in the majors leagues at that time.

The Browns were a franchise noted for the unusual. A case in point is the final game of the 1910 season. Ty Cobb of Detroit was a few percentage points ahead of Cleveland’s Nap Lajoie for the American League batting title. Browns manager, Jack O’Connor, had such a dislike of Cobb that he moved his third basemen, Red Corriden, into the outfield grass every time Lajoie came up to bat. Itt allowed Lajoie a chance to lay down a bunt down the third baseline and get a hit in his first five trips to the plate.

On his sixth at bat, Lajoie reached base on an error. O’Connor pleaded with the women scorekeeper to change the call to a hit. O’Connor even offered to buy the women’s scorekeeper a new clothing if she would change the call. The scorekeeper refused to change the call and Cobb won the batting title by a few thousandths of a point.

Afterwards, the Browns owner fired O’Connor who was banned from the game for life.

Another venture into the obscure for the Browns took place in 1951. The Browns new owner, Bill Veeck, had another horrible team in St. Louis that year. To boast attendance, Veeck had a special promotion on Aug. 19. Prior to the game, a cake was rolled out to home plate. Out of the cake came 3 foot 7 inch midget Eddie Gaedel. Everyone got a kick out of the stunt; however things only got better later in the game.

Veeek signed Gaedel with a contract that day  while not informing the American League. Thus, during the game, Veeck inserted the midget in as a pinch hitter while wearing the number 1/8. with no real strike zone, Gaedel walked on four straight pitches. American League officials were Infuriated with Veeck’s stunt and promptly voided the Gaedel contract the next day.

In all the antics of the St. Louis Browns, it only made it to the fall classic once in 1944 when most major league rosters were depleted due to World War II.  The Browns met its cross town rivals, the Cardinals in the fall classic . It was the only time all games were held in one ballpark because the Cardinals also called Sportsman’s Park its home. The Cardinals won the Series in six games, and thus the only attempt for real glory vanished for the lowly Browns .

After the 1953 season, Veeck sold the club and it was moved in the spring of 1954, 60 years ago, to Baltimore. The club was renamed the Orioles and became a longstanding successful team in the American League. It was a far cry from their original parents, the St. Louis Browns, one of baseball’s worst, but most colorful teams ever.