Beer & Baseball
Posted by Bob Skilnik on May 2, 2007
In the 1870s, Chris Von der Ache, a saloonkeeper in St, Louis, noted that every time the St. Louis Brown Stockings pulled into town, sales of beer in his saloon skyrocketed. It didn’t take a genius to realize that there was something brewing between sports enthusiasts, in this case, baseball fans, and beer drinking. In 1880, he tried to get permission to sell his lager beer directly to fans in Sportsman’s Park, where the Browns played, but was rebuffed by the team’s owners. A year later, he purchased a controlling interest in the team and began selling beer directly to baseball fans at Sportsman’s. It was the beginning of an American duo that still reigns bigger today than ice cream and apple pie, ham and eggs or the double charms of Morganna, the “Kissing Bandit.” It began the courtship of baseball and beer.
Brewer Jacob Ruppert took the next step in bringing this duo together when he and Tillinghast L´Hommedieu Huston purchased the New York Yankees for $460,000. On January 3, 1920, just thirteen days before National Prohibition fell over the land, the Yankees purchased the contract of Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox for $125,000 and a loan of $350,000 against the mortgage on Fenway Park. The engagement between baseball and beer had begun.
In 1953, the St. Louis Cardinals, descendants of von der Ache’s Brown Stockings, were in trouble. More precisely, Fred Saigh, the Cardinals owner was. Convicted of income tax evasion, baseball commissioner Ford Frick demanded that Saigh sell his team. Under the auspices of Anheuser-Busch, owner Gussie Busch and his brewery stepped forward and offered Saigh $3,750,000 for the team. This was actually about a half million less than had been offered by some out-of-town investors. Shyster that he was, the disgraced lawyer and Cardinals team owner still wanted the baseball team to stay in St. Louis under the control of a local investor and took A-B’s lower bid. It was a public relations coup for Gussie and his brewery. A-B had saved the St. Louis baseball team and kept them from the hands of “outsiders.” The brewery owner seemingly took the high road when it was suggested that the only reason Busch and his board of directors bought the Cardinals was to use the aging Sportsman’s Park as a conduit through which to pump out barrels of the “King of Beers” to St. Louis baseball fans. “I am going at this [the purchase] from the sports angle and not as a sales weapon for Budweiser Beer,” he told reporters at a news conference after the brewery had sealed the deal for the Cardinals.
Things became a bit rocky for Gussie a year later when a Colorado senator introduced a bill that would have made ownership of any sports team by a brewery or distillery subject to antitrust laws. The attack seemed to really be aimed at Busch, especially after Colorado Senator Edwin Johnson called Gussie “…a personable and able huckster” and accused the beer baron of not really understanding the history and tradition of baseball, but instead, charged that Busch looked at the sport as “…a cold-blooded, beer-peddling business…”Johnson was right. Shortly after A-B bought the Cardinals, Busch decided that it was time to get out of the aging Sportsman’s Park. He cut a deal with Bill Veeck, who owned the rival St. Louis Browns at Forest Park, to buy the Brown’s stadium for $1.1 million. Veeck grabbed the money and moved his team to Baltimore.
Gussie floored everyone when he announced that he wanted to rename the stadium at Forest Park to “Budweiser Stadium.” Baseball commissioner Ford Frick was furious at the idea of renaming the park after a beer brand, his opinion bolstered by a local Protestant church group that also found the idea of naming a ball park after an alcoholic beverage repugnant. Busch realized he had created a PR nightmare but admitted that it wasn’t until it was pointed out by his advisors that the Wrigley family hadn’t named the old Weegham Park “Juicy Fruit Stadium” but rather Wrigley Field, that he acquiesced to renaming Forest Park to “Busch Stadium.”
There was another problem that resolved itself at the end of the baseball season when the broadcast contract between the Cards and rival St. Louis brewery, Griesidieck Brothers, ran out. Busch demanded that all the advertising signs be stripped from Busch Stadium and ordered the erection of a single neon sign of the sprawling A-B eagle over the scoreboard. The marriage of baseball and beer had begun.