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Capacity: 30,500
Sportsman's Park

 

Aerial view of Sportsman's Park

Sportsman's Park Aerial Photograph

Area of fair territory: 109,000 sq. ft.

Area of foul territory: Large

 

Fences: LF to RCF - 11.5 ft

            RCF to RF foul pole - 33 ft

 

Elevation: 455 feet

 

General Information

Who Played Here: St. Louis Browns (Baltimore Orioles), April 23, 1902 to September 27, 1953; St. Louis Cardinals, July 1, 1920 to May 8, 1966.
Opened: April 23, 1902
First night game: May 24, 1940
Last game: May 8, 1966
Demolished: 1966

Capacity: 8,000 (1902); 18,000 (1909); 34,000 (1926); 30,500 (1953).

Owner: St. Louis Browns (1902-1952); St. Louis Cardinals (1953-1966)
Cost: $500,000 (1925 refurbishment)

History

 

     Sportsman's Park was baseball's equivalent of a fun house - it was a place of magic, where stars named Dizzy and Rajah and Enos could shine, where a midget and a one-armed outfielder could play with the big boys, and where the game's most depressed franchise could rise to storybook prominence and win a pennant.  It was a place where Stan the Man and Rogers Hornsby carved out legendary careers, where the Horse Lady whinnied and where a goat was used to keep the outfield grass trim.

     How could you not lovee Sportsman's Park, with the colorful Budweiser eagle that flapped its wings atop the massive left field scoreboard for more than a decade, as if threatening to carry the ballpark and everybody in it off to baseball heaven?  This was a ballpark that could make you laugh out loud, gasp with awe, or weep with frustration - sometimes all in a single afternoon.

     It stood for 33 years as a house divided, hosting both the successful St. Louis Cardinals and the hapless St. Louis Browns.  The St. Louis Browns played here from 1902 to 1920, when it was rebuilt out of steel and concrete - from then until 1953, it hosted the Browns and the St. Louis Cardinals, who moved over from Robison Field.  The Browns struggled to draw crowds, while the Cardinals prospered; finally, in 1953, the hapless Browns moved to Baltimore as owner Bill Veeck was encouraged to sell the team.  In the spring of 1953, Veeck sold Sportsman's Park to August Busch Jr., owner of the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Browns became tenants of the Cardinals.  The Browns moved to Baltimore following the 1953 season, but the Cardinals remained at Sportsman's Park for another 13 seasons.

     The park underwent minor renovations in 1953, dropping the capacity to 30,500.  It was also renamed Busch Stadium. (The National League refused to allow the name to be changed to Budweiser Stadium after the brand of beer sold by Busch's company, Anheuser-Busch.)  The Cardinals continued to play home games at Busch Stadium unti 1966.  On May, 8, 1966, the Cards played the final game at the old park, a 10-5 loss to the Giants.  Following the game, home plate was taken from the park to the new Busch Memorial Stadium, and Sportsman's Park was closed for good.  It was torn down shortly after.  However, the site is still used for ball games; a baseball field belonging to the Herbert Hoover Boys Club is now located where the park used to stand.

 

The Eddie Gaedel stunt: In 1951, Bill Veeck bought the moribund St. Louis Browns - the year that the American League was celebrating it's 50th birthday.  Veeck thought he could make more money with a bad team and a lot of gimmicks than he could with a winning team.  One of his gimmicks involved Eddie Gaedel, a 3'7" 65-pound midget, who was sent in to lead off the second game of a double-header against the Detroit Tigers on August 19, 1951, by which time the Browns were 36 games out.  Veeck threw an immense birthday party for the AL, with fireworks, jugglers, acrobats, a band led by Satchel Paige, baseball clown Max Patkin, and a birthday cake that was rolled out to the pitcher's mound.

     Out of the cake popped Eddie Gaedel, wearing the number 1/8.  Veeck had offered him $100, and told him what he wanted to do - he had measured Gaedel's strike zone in a crouch at 1 1/2 inches high, and threatened to shoot him if he took a swing.  But Gaedel had thoughts of glory, and kept trying to show off his swing.  He asked Veeck, "How tall was Wee Willie Keeler?"  Veeck replied with a straight face, "He was six-foot-five-inches tall."

     The Browns first batter was Frank Saucier, but Gaedel was sent in as a pinch-hitter.  To Veeck's horror, he didn't go into a crouch, but instead stood straight up in a fair approximation of Ty Cobb's stance.  Nevertheless, Tiger pitcher Bob Cain was laughing so hard he walked him on four pitches.  Gaedel took first base, and everyday right fielder Jim Delsing went in to pinch run for him - on his way out, Gaedel patted Delsing on the rear in true baseballer fashion.

     Veeck later hired Gaedel for other stunts.  The last of these came at Comiskey Park in 1959, when Veeck was owner of the White Sox.  Gaedel and three other midgets, all dressed as martians, dropped from the sky and "captured" the White Sox tiny double-play combination of Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio, who would finish one-two in AL MVP voting that year.  The Martians quickly made Fox and Aparicio honorary Martians, and informed the crowd that they were there to help them in their battle against the giant Earthlings.

     Unfortunately, the story of Eddie Gaedel doesn't have a happy ending.  His brush with fame faded quickly, and three weeks after his appearance he was arrested for disorderly conduct, and he ended up working for the Ringling Brothers Circus until 1961.  In June of that year, with his health suffering terribly, he was robbed and beaten, and although he managed to get back home, he died of a heart attack in his bed.

     Later, a man asked his mother if the Hall of Fame could have the bat and uniform from Gaedel's major league appearance.  She gave him the equipment - but he wasn't from the Hall of Fame and she was left with no mementoes of her son's appearance.

 

Renovations: Sportsman's Park in 1909 featured a roofed double-deck grandstand that wrapped behind home plate from first base to third, a covered single-deck grandstand that extended down the left field line and single-deck bleachers that bordered the entire outfield, with lines that measured 353 feet (left) and 320 (right) and a center field distance of 430.  A renovation after the 1925 season nearly doubled the capacity to 34,000 and gave the park what sportswriter Red Smith called "a garish, county fair sort of layout" - a look it would retain over the next four decades.

     The covered double-deck grandstand was extended down both lines to the foul poles, the wooden bleachers were replaced by concrete and the right field stands were roofed, creating a pavilion that would become the park's signature feature.  Because the right field line was reduced to 310 feet, the 11 1/2-foot fence was topped by a 33-foot screen that extended 156 feet toward center - a Green Monster-like barrier that would stand from mid-1929 through the life of the park, with only a one-year respite in 1955.

     The pavilion, with its screened view, was the last vestige of segregation in major league baseball - the area to which blacks were restricted into the 1944 season.  Overall, fans not obstructed by steel support beams were close to the field and interaction was encouraged.  The players' clubhouse walkway traveled through the home dugout and an inside corridor that was open to the fans-at first with no restriction, later with only a chain-link fence providing seclusion.

 

 

Analysis

 

     Generally a lively park in the 1920s and 1930s, the small park had comfortable alleys in left-center and was short of length to right field.  The 33-foot wall in right gave way to a regular 11-and-a-half-foot wall in right-center, where the power alley was less than 360 feet.  During the 1930s, the ballyard boosted home runs by about 30%.

     However, the cozy dimensions belied the fact that a lot of line drive shots couldn't clear the imposing right field wall, even though they had the distance to go for home runs in other parks.  "The screen made it much more interesting," said former Cardinals right fielder Stan Musial, who saw many of his potential home runs get sucked back into play by the imposing barrier.  "The ball would fly out there and the runner didn't know if it was going to hit the screen, go over it or how it would bounce.  It was hard to score (because outfielders played so shallow) on a single to right in that park."

     The dimensions and the high screen in right favored high ball hitters over line drive hitters, though Musial and Rogers Hornsby never complained about their home - Musial hit 252 career HR at home and 223 on the road, while Hornsby hit 23 more home runs at home than on the road (94 versus 71) while he was a Cardinal.

     But hitters with looping, upper-cut swings - guys like Johnny Mize and Joe Medwick fared very well.  In 1938, Mize cracked 22 home runs at home and just 5 on the road; in his Triple Crown season of 1937, Joe Medwick hit 18 of his 31 home runs at home and from 1937 to 1939 hit 41 homers at home and 25 on the road.

 

All-Time Home Run Leaders at Sportsman's Park:

 

Player Home Runs
Stan Musial 252
Ken Williams 137
Ken Boyer 130
Jim Bottomley 99
Rogers Hornsby 104


All-time Home Run Leaders at Sportsman's Park- Visitors:

 

Player Home Runs
Babe Ruth 58
Lou Gehrig 52
Joe DiMaggio 45
Jimmie Foxx 44
Eddie Mathews 41

 

 

 

 

Location

 

St. Louis, Missouri:   Located at the intersection of Grand and Dodier, the famous St. Louis corner, which had served the city's baseball needs dating all the way back to 1871.  This was the third version of Sportsman's Park, all located at the same place.  Left field (NE), Sullivan Avenue; third base (NW), North Spring Avenue; first base (SW), 3623 Dodier Street; right field (SE), 2911 North Grand Avenue, later North Grand Boulevard.  Same location as earlier Sportsman’s Parks, but turned around so that home plate was in the west-southwest corner.

     The old ballpark fit well in it's neighborhood because it occupied just one square block - since it wasn't surrounded by acres of parking, it was an easy ballpark to get to.  The reconstructed steel-and-concrete structure stood as a sports monument into the 1966 season in a thriving area near Gaslight Square, the Fabulous Fox theater and upscale residential neighborhoods.  

 

 

Dimensions

 

Left field: 368 (1909), 340 (1921), 356 (1923), 355 (1926), 360 (1930), 351.1 (1931)

Left-center: 379

Center field: 430 (1926), 450 (1930), 445 (1931), 420 (1938), 422 (1939)

Deepest corner just left of dead center: 426 (1938); 

Deepest corner just right of dead center: 422 (1938); 

Right-center: 354 (1942)

Right field: 335 (1909), 315 (1921), 320 (1926), 310 (1931), 332 (1938), 309.5 (1939)

 

Backstop: 75 (1942), 67 (1953).

 

Fences

 

Left to center: 11.5 (concrete)

354 mark in right-center to right: 11.5 (1909), 33 (11.5 concrete below 21.5 wire, July 5, 1929), 11.5 (1955), 36.67 (11.5 concrete below 25.17 wire, 1956).

 

 

Fun Facts

  • Renamed Busch Stadium in 1953.
  • The local newspaper, the Globe-Democrat, had an ad on the right-center wall that showed the star of the previous game. Just to the right of this ad, the league standings for both leagues were listed.
  • The Busch eagle would flap its wings after every Cardinal home run. It sat on top of the left-center scoreboard. During World War II there was a War Chest sign there.
  • The Herbert Hoover Boys’ Club, with a baseball diamond where the major league one used to be, now stands on the site of the stadium.
  • Cardinals office was at 3623 Dodier; Browns office was at 2911 North Grand.
  • There were pavilion seats in the power alley in right-center.
  • A second deck, from first base to third, was added in 1909 and expanded to the foul poles in 1925.
  • Bleachers were added to parts of the outfield in 1926.
  • The flagpole stood in fair territory until it was removed in the 1950s.
  • Bill Veeck’s family lived in an apartment under the stands in the 1950s.
  • When he bought the stadium from the Browns in 1953, Cardinals owner Gussie Busch almost named it Budweiser Stadium but was prevented by league pressure.
  • A helicopter carried home plate to Busch Memorial Stadium after the last game at Sportsman’s Park on May 8, 1966.


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