April 9, 1953: Anheuser-Busch buys Sportsman’s Park

As soon as Anheuser-Busch purchased the Cardinals in February 1953, Browns owner Bill Veeck knew that the battle for the hearts of St. Louis baseball fans was over. Desperate for funds and knowing that the Browns weren’t long for St. Louis, Veeck sold historic Sportsman’s Park to Anheuser-Busch on April 9, 1953.

At the time of the sale, the Browns signed a five-year lease to rent the park from the brewery at an annual price of $175,000.[1] The Cardinals, who had been tenants at Sportsman’s Park since 1920, had paid $35,000 per year but also shared in the maintenance costs. In 1952, their total cost had come to $108,500.[2]

“It only eases the load on us,” Veeck said. “It amounts to this. It was a matter of selling the park or selling the players and the park was a luxury that we did not feel we could afford.”[3]

Located at the northwest corner of Grand Boulevard and Dodier Street, Sportsman’s Park had a rich history as the epicenter of St. Louis baseball, beginning with its role as the home of Chris Von der Ahe’s old St. Louis Browns franchise beginning in 1885. After Robert Lee Hedges resurrected the Browns in 1909, he rebuilt the stands, and in the 1920s the stadium underwent a $750,000 renovation that expanded the park’s capacity to 34,000.

Veeck purchased the Browns in 1951 and immediately attempted to draw fans away from the Cardinals. In addition to hiring former Cardinals stars Rogers Hornsby and Marty Marion to manage the team, Veeck introduced one-of-a-kind stunts, including sending 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel to pinch-hit on August 19, 1951, and introducing “Grandstand Managers Day,” in which fans voted on in-game strategies.

As Veeck sought to draw the city’s attention to his underdog Browns, he also made enemies around the league. When the Yankees were embroiled in a contract dispute with Joe DiMaggio, Veeck attended a baseball dinner and told the audience, “If the Yankees don’t want to pay him what he’s worth, well, I’ll take him and pay him $200,000,” prompting Yankees general manager George Weiss to storm off.[4]

 In 1952, he asked that road teams receive a share of television revenues. The other American League owners turned down this proposal at their winter meetings, and in response, Veeck threatened to fight back with a “secret weapon.” In response, the Yankees, Red Sox, and Indians took the Browns off their night-game schedule, when the revenues were largest. With the Browns so dependent upon road gate proceeds, this only harmed their already precarious financial situation. Veeck appealed to commissioner Ford Frick, but the commissioner ruled that he had no oversight of such matters.[5]

Once Anheuser-Busch owned the Cardinals, Veeck knew his days in St. Louis were numbered. At first, he sought to move to Milwaukee, but under the rules of the day, the Braves had first rights to the Milwaukee market since they already had a Triple-A team playing there. After Veeck’s attempt to move to Milwaukee was thwarted, the Braves moved to Milwaukee themselves.

While Veeck believed he could have beaten former Cardinals owner Fred Saigh for the hearts of St. Louis baseball fans, Saigh’s arrest for tax evasion ironically spelled the end for the Browns in St. Louis. Turning down offers from other cities, Saigh sold the Cardinals to Anheuser-Busch, pitting Veeck against a brewery that had significantly more resources at its disposal than he could muster. The sale of Sportsman’s Park marked an early step in Veeck’s plan to leave St. Louis to the Cardinals.

Anheuser-Busch issued a statement to announce its purchase of the historic ballpark:

Anheuser-Busch, Inc. has bought Sportsmans Park from the Browns for $800,000. We will take immediate possession and an extensive rehabilitation and improvement program is underway right now. It will continue throughout the playing season. We want to do everything possible to get the park in the best shape in the few days remaining before the official season opens, for the comfort and convenience of fans.

The Browns have signed a lease with us for five years at an annual rental of $175,000. The Cardinals will assume all taxes, maintenance costs, etc. The Browns will not pay anything towards the new rehabilitation and improvement program, which will cost us approximately $400,000 this year alone. The Browns, however, will share in the vastly improved facilities. Last year, including rent, the Cardinals paid the Browns $108,500 for maintenance.

There are several very important reasons for our purchase of Sportsmans Park. Several days ago I made a tour of the park and found that it was not maintained on a scale we regard as meeting major league baseball standards. Sverdrup & Parcel, consulting engineers, were called in to make a thorough survey. They informed us that the park had not been improved for many years and that it now needed considerable rehabilitation. We believe that sports fans in St. Louis deserve better than that.

We immediately met with officials of the Browns to undertake these improvements. They informed us that they were heavily in debt, had no funds with which to make these improvements or to maintain the park in what we would consider adequate shape. There was serious doubt, they said, that they could even go through a full playing season unless actual funds for operating the club were forthcoming from some source.

While we have a lease which runs through 1960, we could not see our way clear to make an expenditure of $400,000 for the next year and additional sums for years to come … on property we did not own. Further, with the financial condition of the Browns, it was obvious that we would be playing in a park in which the owner, even with the best intentions, could not possibly afford to take the steps necessary to keep the park in first-class condition.

The decision which we made was the only way to improve Sportsman’s Park and also give the Browns funds with which to operate their club.

Fans will see many improvements during the season since I have given the contractors the full-speed-ahead sign. Basic improvements will be made first. Many others will follow as the season gets underway.

Now that the ownership of the park will pass to Anheuser-Busch, it will in the future be known as “Budweiser Stadium.”[6]

Rudie Schaffer, general manager of the Browns, issued a separate statement:

Purchase of the park by Anheuser-Busch, Inc., will materially help the Browns’ immediate operations and enable the club to clear debts incurred in recent years. The brewery will launch an immediate rehabilitation program which will put the park in first-class condition for the comfort of all baseball fans. We will benefit from these improved conditions as well as the Cardinals.

Though we have made essential maintenance improvements since owning the club, we have never been in a position to recondition the entire park, which has been a long-time need. The program as outlined to us by Mr. Busch is a most ambitious one and certainly the new Budweiser Stadium will compare favorably with other major league facilities.

This decision on our part is not related in any way to the proposed move which was rejected by the American League owners recently. It was prompted entirely by our inability to make the necessary repairs and improvements and we are most appreciative of the fine cooperation we have received from all the Anheuser-Busch officials.[7]

The name “Budweiser Stadium” didn’t last long. Frick objected to the stadium being named after a beer brand, forcing Busch and the brewery to pivot.

“Realizing that Budweiser is a brand name of our product, we have decided the name Budweiser Stadium would not be appropriate,” August A. Busch Jr., brewery president, said. “Sportsman’s Park will be officially named Busch Stadium in memory of the founder and past presidents of Anheuser-Busch. These are my grandfather, Adolphus Busch, founder; my father, August A. Busch; and my brother, Adolphus Busch III.”[8]

By 1955, Anheuser-Busch had found a way around Frick’s edict, launching a new product: Busch Bavarian Beer.[9] Additionally, though the ballpark could not be named after a brand of beer, advertising within the stadium was certainly allowed. With its strong ties to the Cardinals, Anheuser-Busch soon became the market leader.

After the sale of Sportsman’s Park, Veeck told the local media that the move would not affect the team’s future and that, from a financial standpoint, “we’re much better able to stay in St. Louis if we want to or to leave if we want.”[10]

“That situation is the same as it always has been,” he said. “I don’t intend to sell unless some fantastic offer is made and so far I have not received any kind of offer.”[11]

That soon changed, however. After the 1953 season, Veeck agreed to sell half his stock to a Baltimore group led by Baltimore attorney Clarence Miles, with Veeck remaining the principal owner. Once again, however, the other American League owners voted Veeck’s proposal down. Realizing that the other owners would do whatever they could to either destroy him or run him out of the league, Veeck took the only action left available to him, selling his entire ownership stake to Miles and his group. The new ownership group moved the Browns to Baltimore and renamed them the Orioles.

Enjoy this post? Find similar stories listed by decade or by player.

[1] “Busch Buys Sportsmans Park,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 10, 1953.

[2] “Cardinals Buy Ballpark for $800,000; Lease Signed B. Browns,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 10, 1953.

[3] Robert Morrison, “Sale of Park Won’t Affect Future of Browns, Veeck Says,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 10, 1953.

[4] Peter Golenbock, The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns, It Books (Kindle Edition), Page 352.

[5] Peter Golenbock, The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns, It Books (Kindle Edition), Page 353.

[6] “Busch Buys Sportsmans Park,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 10, 1953.

[7] “Busch Buys Sportsmans Park,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 10, 1953.

[8] “Ballpark Renamed ‘Busch Stadium,’ Not ‘Budweiser,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 10, 1953.

[9] “The History of Busch Beer,” www.busch.com/history.

[10] Bill Fairbairn, “Browns’ Future Next Poser,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 10, 1953.

[11] Robert Morrison, “Sale of Park Won’t Affect Future of Browns, Veeck Says,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 10, 1953.

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