October 25, 1995: Anheuser-Busch announces plans to sell the Cardinals

Just two days after naming Tony La Russa the Cardinals’ new manager and one day after they began removing the AstroTurf from Busch Stadium to install natural grass, Anheuser-Busch shocked St. Louis on October 25, 1995, with the announcement that it was selling the team.

“As a publicly held company, we had to ask ourselves a question: Can we continue to do for our shareholders and the fans in St. Louis what they all need?” said John Jacob, Anheuser-Busch director of communications. “We understood this was no longer a compatible fit.”[1]

The decision to sell the Cardinals was one of multiple announcements Anheuser-Busch made that day. In addition, Anheuser-Busch announced:

  • it was selling its Eagle Snacks division, which had reported losses of $25 million the previous year;
  • it would close its brewery in Tampa Florida, the first time the company had closed one of its breweries since Prohibition;[2]
  • and would reduce its wholesale inventory nationwide by one-third.[3]

In summarizing the announcements, Jacob said Anheuser-Busch wanted to focus on making beer and running its Busch Gardens theme parks.[4]

Baseball’s strike hadn’t helped matters. Anheuser-Busch reported to shareholders that the team had lost money in 1994 and was $12 million in the red for the 1995 season.[5]

“We think it should have been done a long time ago,” said Jerry Wise, executive vice president of Tom Johnson Investment Management, Inc., an Oklahoma firm that held 354,000 Anheuser-Busch shares. “It’s always been a money loser for the company.”[6]

That perspective likely underestimated the role the Cardinals had played in making Anheuser-Busch the largest brewery in the nation. August A. Busch Jr. had purchased the team from Fred Saigh, who had run afoul of the IRS and was arrested for tax evasion, for $3.75 million. Busch Jr.’s purchase not only allowed the Cardinals to stay in St. Louis, but also made his beer synonymous with baseball.

“Griesedieck Brothers beer had the broadcast rights for Cardinals games until Busch bought the team,” said Saigh, who received 28,000 shares of Anheuser-Busch stock as part of his sale of the team.[7] “When they lost the rights, they went broke. Schlitz was the No. 1 brewer in the country at the time and Miller was second. Anheuser-Busch wasn’t up there with them, but after they got involved with the Cardinals, everything seemed to take off. Owning the Cardinals might be the best thing that ever happened to Anheuser-Busch, the thing that got their beer advertising into the sports market and gave them free publicity every day, all over the country.”[8]

Busch Jr. and his beer became part of the team’s personality, from the Clydesdales’ appearances at the home opener to Busch Jr.’s at playoff games, complete with a 10-gallon Cardinals-branded cowboy hat. In 1989, Busch Jr. passed away at age 90.

His heir, August A. Busch III, did not appear to share his father’s passion for the Cardinals.

“I used to love old man Gussie Busch,” said Reds owner Marge Schott, who went to school with Gussie’s daughter Carlota Busch. “Up in heaven, old man Busch must be absolutely hysterical. (Busch III) better watch out.”[9]

Broadcaster Jack Buck, who was employed by both the Cardinals and Anheuser-Busch, said Busch Jr. probably would have sold the team as well.

“It used to be black ink and fun, but it isn’t fun anymore to a lot of owners,” Buck said.[10]

At the time of the sale, Anheuser-Busch had owned the Cardinals since 1953, making it the second-longest-tenured owner in baseball behind the O’Malley family, which had owned the Dodgers since 1950.[11]

Now, Jacob said the team’s goal was to sell the team by the end of June 1996.[12] The team was being sold as part of a package with Busch Stadium and parking garages near the stadium, which seemed to make it more likely that any prospective owner would prefer to keep the team in St. Louis. Jacob said Anheuser-Busch preferred to sell to a local buyer, but stopped short of making any guarantees.

“St. Louis fans are the best in baseball,” Jacob said. “It’s our objective to let them enjoy Redbirds baseball far into the future.”[13] Ominously, however, he also added that “anything could happen.”[14]

La Russa, who learned of Anheuser-Busch’s plans the day before he agreed to manage the Cardinals,[15] believed there was little chance of the team moving.

“I think whoever buys this club is going to look around and say, ‘Gee whiz, I’m lucky we’re in St. Louis,’” he said.[16]

Former manager Whitey Herzog was even more emphatic.

“If people in St. Louis are concerned about the Cardinals moving, there’s no way,” he said. “Ain’t no way in the world. First of all, the National League won’t allow it. Then, if you’re selling the parking garage and Busch Stadium, the new owners are not going to buy that and then move. So why even talk about it? That’s the least of the fans’ worries.”[17]

Cardinals president Mark Lamping, a St. Louis native, predicted that the sale would actually improve the Cardinals’ on-field product.

“I realized quite some time ago that private ownership would be better,” he said. “The way baseball is now, you need an entrepreneurial, risk-taking spirit in an owner. You need people to buy a team that do not have to show stockholders at the end of each year how much money they have made. From a perspective of trying to see the Cardinals have the best team on the field, this is a decision that had to be made eventually.”[18]

La Russa agreed.

“They have an obligation to operate in a profitable way to the best of their ability,” he said. “It’s hard to do that today with a baseball team. I can see why Anheuser-Busch would want to ease that pressure.”[19]

The Cardinals’ $3.75 million sale price in 1953 was the equivalent of approximately $21 million in 1995 dollars.[20] Financial World magazine estimated that the team’s value was $132 million in 1992, but had decreased to $110 million in 1995 after fans had been slow to return to the ballpark following the strike.[21]

David Presson of Edward D. Jones & Co. predicted that bidding for the Cardinals would start at $150 million.[22]

“Nobody ever loses money selling a baseball franchise,” sports historian Chuck Korr of the University of Missouri-St. Louis said. “They have always been a valuable commodity whose book value keeps going up.”[23]

Indeed, Herzog thought the Cardinals’ price could be even higher.

“When the Dallas Cowboys were sold for $160 million, I said the Cardinals would be worth $200 million,” Herzog said. “I’ve always thought so.”[24]

Despite the upcoming sale, Anheuser-Busch continued to invest in the club. In addition to hiring La Russa and renovating Busch Stadium, the brewery had no plans to decrease the team’s payroll, giving general manager Walt Jocketty the ability to try and improve the club ahead of the 1996 season.

“Anheuser-Busch will be linked with the Cardinals for a long time to come,” Lamping said. “It’s important to Anheuser-Busch as it leaves its stewardship of the Cardinals that it leaves the team in the best shape to put into the hands of the next owner.”[25]

On December 22, Anheuser-Busch announced that it had found a buyer: a St. Louis-based ownership group that included Bill DeWitt Jr., Frederick O. Hanser, Andrew N. Baur, Stephen F. Brauer, John K. Wallace Jr., and Donna DeWitt Lambert.

“We will make every effort to field great baseball,” Hanser said. “We will have teams that have talented players who go hard and care about the fans. We plan to operate an effective franchise, just as Anheuser-Busch has.”[26]


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[1] Mike Eisenbath, “Busch Hopes Improving Product Will Lure Buyer,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 26, 1995.

[2] Robert Manor, “A-B Strategy: Beer, Theme Parks,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 26, 1995.

[3] Tim O’Neill, “Busch, Cards Breaking Up,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 26, 1995.

[4] Robert Manor, “A-B Strategy: Beer, Theme Parks,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 26, 1995.

[5] Robert Manor, “A-B Strategy: Beer, Theme Parks,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 26, 1995.

[6] Robert Manor, “A-B Strategy: Beer, Theme Parks,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 26, 1995.

[7] Bob Broeg, “Gussie Became Friend To Fan In The Stand,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 26, 1995.

[8] Mike Eisenbath, “The Birds And The Brewery,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 26, 1995.

[9] Rick Hummel, “Schott: Sale ‘Makes Me Sick To My Stomach,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 26, 1995.

[10] Tim O’Neill, “Busch, Cards Breaking Up,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 26, 1995.

[11] Rick Hummel, “Schott: Sale ‘Makes Me Sick To My Stomach,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 26, 1995.

[12] Tim O’Neill, “Busch, Cards Breaking Up,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 26, 1995.

[13] Mike Eisenbath, “Busch Hopes Improving Product Will Lure Buyer,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 26, 1995.

[14] Tim O’Neill, “Busch, Cards Breaking Up,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 26, 1995.

[15] Mike Eisenbath, “Club Officials Find Optimism After Initial Fear,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 26, 1995.

[16] Mike Eisenbath, “Club Officials Find Optimism After Initial Fear,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 26, 1995.

[17] Rick Hummel, “Cardinals Are Staying Put, Herzog Says,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 26, 1995.

[18] Mike Eisenbath, “Club Officials Find Optimism After Initial Fear,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 26, 1995.

[19] Mike Eisenbath, “Club Officials Find Optimism After Initial Fear,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 26, 1995.

[20] Tim O’Neill, “Busch, Cards Breaking Up,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 26, 1995.

[21] Jeff Gordon, “Cards’ Package Expected To Get Handsome Price,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 26, 1995.

[22] Jeff Gordon, “Cards’ Package Expected To Get Handsome Price,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 26, 1995.

[23] Jeff Gordon, “Cards’ Package Expected To Get Handsome Price,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 26, 1995.

[24] Rick Hummel, “Cardinals Are Staying Put, Herzog Says,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 26, 1995.

[25] Mike Eisenbath, “Busch Hopes Improving Product Will Lure Buyer,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 26, 1995.

[26] Tim Neil, “New Cards Owners: ‘We Want To Win,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 23, 1995.