St. Louis Browns

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After only a single season as a bona fide major league club, the Milwaukee Brewers moved to St. Louis and renamed themselves the "Browns", in reference to the original name of the legendary 1880s club that by 1902 was known as the Cardinals. The Browns ranged from mediocre to cellar-dwelling for much of their time in St. Louis. They had two competitive periods, in the early 1920s, when they contended but were not good enough to catch strong teams of that time such as the Yankees and the Senators, and the early 1940s, the war years, when they finally hit paydirt briefly.

In their first St. Louis season, the Browns finished second. After years of prosperity at the gate, in 1916 owner Robert Hedges sold the team to Philip Ball, who had owned the St. Louis Terriers of the defunct Federal League. Ball's tenure, lasting until 1933, was one of failure.

Ball's first major blunder was allowing Branch Rickey, the resident genius in the Browns' front office, to jump to the Cardinals because of a conflict of egos. In 1920 Sam Breadon, who had just purchased the Cardinals, convinced Ball to allow his team to share the Browns' home, Sportsman's Park. Breadon put the money from the sale of the Cardinals' Robison Field into the minor league system, which eventually produced a host of star players that brought the Cardinals far 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 - Ken Williams, Baby Doll Jacobson, and Jack Tobin - that batted .300 or better in 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. 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 1926 the Cardinals dominated St. Louis baseball, while still technically tenants of the Browns. Meanwhile, the Browns rapidly fell into the cellar.

War Era

During the war, the Browns won their only St. Louis-based American League pennant in 1944. Some critics called it a fluke; 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 more successful Cardinals, in the 1944 World Series, the last World Series to date played entirely in one stadium, and lost 4 games to 2.

In 1945, the Browns posted an 81-75 record and fell to third place, 6 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.

Bill Veeck's Browns

In 1951, Bill Veeck, the 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 was to send Eddie Gaedel, a midget, to bat as a pinch hitter (see below).

Veeck also brought the legendary, and seemingly ageless, 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 Brown's 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 locally loved ex-players and, as a result, brought many of the Cards fans in to see the Browns. Veeck signed former Cardinals great Dizzy Dean to a broadcasting contract. He stripped Sportsman's Park of any Cardinals material and dressed it exclusively in Browns memorabilia. He even moved his family to an apartment under the stands. 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 direct assault on the faltering Cardinals almost worked, as the National League franchise began exploring options to leave St. Louis. Instead the Cardinals were bought by August Busch, Jr. of the Anheuser-Busch brewery. Realizing that the Cardinals now had overwhelming resources at their command, Veeck then began to consider moving the Browns. The Browns had been candidates for relocation earlier: in 1941, the Browns had come close to moving to Los Angeles, nearly two decades before big league baseball eventually arrived in California. The American League even drew up a schedule including Los Angeles and had a meeting scheduled to vote on the relocation of the Browns, but the bombing of Pearl Harbor killed the move.

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.

Veeck then tried to move the Browns to Baltimore himself. However, he was rebuffed by the owners, still seething by the publicity stunts he pulled at the Browns home games. Meanwhile, Sportsman's Park had fallen into disrepair. Veeck was forced to sell it to the Cardinals since he couldn't afford to make the necessary improvements to bring it up to code. With his only leverage gone and facing threats of liquidating his franchise, Veeck was all but forced to sell the Browns to a Baltimore-based group led by attorney Clarence Miles. With Veeck "out of the way", the American League owners quickly approved the 1953 relocation of the team to Baltimore. The team immediately took on the nickname "Orioles", a name with a long and storied history in the city.

Eddie Gaedel at Bat

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Edward Carl "Eddie" Gaedel (June 8, 1925 - June 18, 1961), born in Chicago, Illinois, was a dwarf who became famous for participating in a Brown's game. Just 3 feet 7 inches tall and weighing 65 pounds, he gained immortality in the second game of a doubleheader on Sunday, August 19, 1951. He was secretly signed by the St. Louis Browns and put in uniform (complete with number "1/8" on the back, and little slippers turned up at the end like elf's shoes) as a publicity stunt by Browns owner and showman Bill Veeck. When Gaedel hinted that he might be tempted to swing at a pitch, Veeck promised to station a sniper in the stands.

After popping out of a cake between games of a doubleheader to celebrate the American League's 50th anniversary, and as a Falstaff Brewery promotion, Gaedel entered the game between the Browns and Detroit Tigers as a pinch-hitter for Frank Saucier. Immediately, umpire Ed Hurley called for Browns manager Zack Taylor. Veeck and Taylor had the foresight to have a copy of Gaedel's contract on hand.

The contract was filed late in the day on Friday, August 17. Veeck knew the league office would summarily approve the contract upon receipt and that it would not be scrutinized until Monday, August 20. Upon reading the contract, Hurley motioned for Gaedel to take his place in the batter's box. (As a result of Gaedel's appearance, all contracts must now be approved by the Commissioner of Baseball before a player can appear in a game.)

With Bob Cain on the mound - laughing at the absurdity that he actually had to pitch to Gaedel - Gaedel crouched with bat in hand. In his stance, Gaedel's strike zone measured just an inch and a half. Cain delivered four consecutive balls, all high. Gaedel took his base and was replaced by pinch-runner Jim Delsing. The crowd gave Gaedel a standing ovation. The Tigers went on to win the game 6-2. American League president Will Harridge, saying Veeck was making a mockery of the game, voided Gaedel's contract the next day.

Gaedel's major league career was over, but Veeck continued to use Gaedel in other (non-playing) promotions over the years: in 1959, Gaedel and three other dwarves dressed as spacemen were seen presenting "ray guns" to White Sox players Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio at Comiskey Park. (Gaedel reportedly said, "I don't want to be taken to your leader; I already know him.") Some claim the stunt ruined Gaedel's life; he later became a heavy drinker and died of a heart attack after being mugged in Chicago in 1961. He was just 36 years old.

Gaedel is mentioned in Terry Cashman's song homage to 1950's baseball, "Talkin' Baseball (Willie, Mickey, and the Duke)". His "1/8" jersey is in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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