Anheuser-Busch

How Anheuser-Busch kept the Cardinals from leaving St. Louis in 1953

With ownership groups from Milwaukee and Houston seeking to move the Cardinals out of St. Louis, Anheuser-Busch announced on February 20, 1953, that it had purchased the team from Fred Saigh for $3.75 million.

“During its 100 years of existence, Anheuser-Busch has shared in all St. Louis civic activity,” Anheuser-Busch chairman August A. Busch Jr. said. “The Cardinals, like ourselves, are a St. Louis institution. We hope to make the Cardinals one of the greatest baseball teams of all time.”[1]

Saigh had purchased the club just over five years earlier in November 1947, but had recently pleaded no contest and been sentenced to 15 months in prison and fined $15,000 for filing fall income tax returns. Under pressure from Major League Baseball commissioner Ford C. Frick and with his prison sentence set to begin on May 4,[2] Saigh put the club up for sale.

“I was so disgusted, so horrified that after having such a good name in the community that they would do this to me,” Saigh explained. “I just gave up. I told Frick I didn’t want to embarrass baseball. I said, ‘There is nothing you can do to get me out. I just don’t want to embarrass baseball.’”[3]




The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the Cardinals were so close to moving to Milwaukee that team employees were told in early February that if they wished to move with the team to Wisconsin, their expenses would be paid and the team would cover any losses they incurred while selling their homes.[4]

The price? Approximately $4 million.[5]

According to the Post-Dispatch, Saigh planned to travel to New York to get permission from Frick to sell the Cardinals to the Milwaukee group. However, Jim Hickock, president of First National Bank, and Dave Calhoun, president of St. Louis Union Trust, asked Saigh to postpone that trip because Anheuser-Busch and its president, August A. Busch Jr., had serious interest. Saigh, eager to keep the ballclub in St. Louis, agreed.[6]

“During the past weeks, I have had several serious offers for the Cardinals but all involved moving the club away from St. Louis,” Saigh said at the press conference announcing the sale. “From the time I decided to sell, Mr. Busch and his associates, through David R. Calhoun and James P. Hickok, urged that the club remain in St. Louis. They told me Anheuser-Busch might be interested in acquiring the club if necessary to keep it in St. Louis. I kept Mr. Busch and his associates informed of the situation. When it became apparent that an out-of-town group was ready to purchase the Cardinals at a price which I felt was a fair value for the club, I informed Mr. Busch and his associates of the impending sale. They again expressed their serious interest in having the club remain here. For the past several days we have been working out details with Calhoun and Hickok, Anheuser-Busch officials, lawyers, and others. There has been a complete meeting of minds on all details.”[7]




Calhoun and Hickock issued a joint statement of their own that shared the same series of events.

“Mr. Busch informed us of his keen desire to see the Cardinal baseball club have a continuing home in St. Louis. He felt the team was very much a part of the St. Louis area and authorized us to watch the situation and take whatever steps were necessary to keep the team here.

“We have been in close touch with Fred Saigh. As negotiations continued, it became clear that no serious offers were being made by any St. Louis group which would have any chance of assuring the Cardinals remaining here. When we informed Mr. Busch that negotiations were about to be closed for sale of the Cardinals to a group which intended to move the club out of St. Louis, he authorized us to enter discussions with Saigh to buy the Cardinals for Anheuser-Busch. We all felt that if the Cardinals were moved out of St. Louis, this community would have lost a great civic asset. Mr. Saigh made several important concessions to keep the Cardinals here and deserves sincere appreciation.”[8]

While the initial announcement presented Busch as a sportsman who bought the Cardinals as a civic gesture to keep the team in St. Louis, Saigh later changed his tune. In his later telling, Hickock and Calhoun talked Busch into the deal.




“When I made it known I wanted to sell the team, I got an offer from Milwaukee and two from the Houston area. Nobody from St. Louis,” Saigh told author and historian Peter Golenbock. “Finally, Jim Hickock, who was president of First National Bank, and Dave Calhoun, who was president of St. Louis Union Trust, went to Gussie Busch and really had to twist his arm. They bring out that he was a savior, but that was bullshit. The ego of some people is hard to understand. He did not volunteer. No. Hickock and Calhoun went to him and told him Anheuser-Busch should take over the team. They explained to Gussie that it would be a good thing for the city and a good thing for the brewery. We had a couple of meetings. They had to do a good deal of arm twisting. I could have made between $700,000 and $750,000 more. But I wanted to leave the team in the city. The public had been good to me, and I would have felt I would have let them down otherwise. It mattered because I would have had to answer to this fan or that fan: ‘Why did you do it?’ My reputation was important.”[9]

Regardless of how the deal came about, it’s clear that Anheuser-Busch’s purchase kept the Cardinals franchise in St. Louis and prevented a sale that could have moved the team to a new city.

Busch told reporters that the $3.75 million price included $2.5 million that was paid to Saigh and the assumption of $1.25 million in debt.[10] The sale also included the Cardinals’ minor-league affiliates in Columbus, Ohio; Rochester, N.Y.; Houston, Texas; Columbus, Ga.; Omaha, Neb.; Winston-Salem, N.C.; Fresno, Calif.; Albany, Ga.; and Hamilton Ontario were included in the sale.

When reporters asked Busch about the Cardinals’ radio broadcasts, which were sponsored by Anheuser-Busch’s rival Griesedieck Bros. Brewery Company, he said that Anheuser-Busch had no intention of trying to buy the contract from Griesedieck.




“I am going at this from the sports angle and not as a sales weapon for Budweiser beer,” Busch said.[11]

However, in his book, The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns, Golenbock writes, “This was public relations drivel to make it appear he had bought the team in the spirit of civic pride. Nothing could have been further from the truth, which was that Gussie Busch, who had never been a baseball fan, thought the game ‘dull.’ As he described it, ‘There’s a lot of standing around.’ When Mr. Busch spoke before the Anheuser-Busch board of directors he revealed his real motives. He predicted to his directors, ‘Development of the Cardinals will have untold value for our company. This is one of the finest moves in the history of Anheuser-Busch.’”[12]

Regardless of Busch’s initial intentions, he soon recognized the potent marketing tool the Cardinals presented. After Busch asked Browns owner Bill Veeck – the owner of Sportsman’s Park and the Cardinals’ landlord at the stadium – to upgrade the facility, Veeck protested that he couldn’t afford the upgrades Busch was requesting. Instead, Busch bought Sportsman’s Park from Veeck and the Browns for $800,000.[13]

Initially, Busch sought to change the name of the stadium to Budweiser Stadium, but the commissioner’s office and Protestant church groups argued against it. Instead, he named the stadium “Busch Memorial Stadium” in memory of his father, grandfather, and late brother.[14] While “Budweiser Stadium” didn’t last as a name, Busch soon made certain that his stadium was filled with Budweiser marketing. Within four years, Anheuser-Busch was the top brewery in the United States.[15]




Ironically, Anheuser-Busch’s success made Saigh even more money than the sale of the Cardinals did. While stock in Anheuser-Busch was not part of the team’s sale, Saigh used the proceeds to invest significant sums into the company. Former St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports editor Bob Broeg estimated that Saigh purchased the equivalent of $6 million in Anheuser-Busch Stock and had seen its value increase by $60 million.[16]

“I’ll tell you why I bought Anheuser-Busch stock when I sold them the Cardinals,” Saigh explained in 2011. “It’s a matter of history. Schlitz, the leading beer company in this country, had Cub television and radio, and they lost it. Within two years, you never heard anything of Schlitz. When Anheuser-Busch took over the Cardinals, they were third behind Schlitz and Miller. And I knew it. And I knew baseball was going to make Anheuser-Busch. So that’s why I bought the stock.”[17]

While the sale benefitted Busch and Saigh, and Cardinals fans got to keep their team in St. Louis, Browns fans were not so fortunate. After the 1953 season, recognizing that he could never compete with Anheuser-Busch’s deep pockets, Veeck sold the Browns to a group led by Baltimore attorney Clarence Miles. The new ownership group moved the Browns to Baltimore and renamed them the Orioles in time for the 1954 season.





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


[1] “Cardinals Ball Club Sold To Anheuser-Busch Inc. By Fred Saigh For $3,750,000,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 20, 1953.

[2] “Cardinals Ball Club Sold To Anheuser-Busch Inc. By Fred Saigh For $3,750,000,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 20, 1953.

[3] Peter Golenbock (2011), The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns, HarperCollins Ebooks, Page 397.

[4] “Cardinals Ball Club Sold To Anheuser-Busch Inc. By Fred Saigh For $3,750,000,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 20, 1953.

[5] “Cardinals Ball Club Sold To Anheuser-Busch Inc. By Fred Saigh For $3,750,000,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 20, 1953.

[6] “Cardinals Ball Club Sold To Anheuser-Busch Inc. By Fred Saigh For $3,750,000,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 20, 1953.

[7] “Cardinals Ball Club Sold To Anheuser-Busch Inc. By Fred Saigh For $3,750,000,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 20, 1953.

[8] “Cardinals Ball Club Sold To Anheuser-Busch Inc. By Fred Saigh For $3,750,000,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 20, 1953.

[9] Peter Golenbock (2011), The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns, HarperCollins Ebooks, Page 397.

[10] “Cardinals Ball Club Sold To Anheuser-Busch Inc. By Fred Saigh For $3,750,000,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 20, 1953.

[11] “Cardinals Ball Club Sold To Anheuser-Busch Inc. By Fred Saigh For $3,750,000,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 20, 1953.

[12] Peter Golenbock (2011), The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns, HarperCollins Ebooks, Page 405.

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

[14] Peter Golenbock (2011), The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns, HarperCollins Ebooks, Page 405.

[15] Peter Golenbock (2011), The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns, HarperCollins Ebooks, Page 406.

[16] Peter Golenbock (2011), The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns, HarperCollins Ebooks, Page 398.

[17] Peter Golenbock (2011), The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns, HarperCollins Ebooks, Page 398.

Verified by MonsterInsights