Baseball in St. Louis:
From Little Leagues to Major Leagues
The author: Ed Wheatley
The publishing info: Reedy Press, $39.95, 240 pages, released April 1, 2020
The links: At the publisher’s website; at Amazon.com; at BarnesAndNoble.com; at Powells.com; at Indiebound.org
The review in 90 feet or less
St. Louis’ unchallenged claim as the “best baseball town in America” may come from years of assumed merit. It used to mark the location of major league baseball’s most Western destination — even while there were credible pro baseball leagues all over California and beyond.
It’s still odd to us that the stadium, which continues to have its magnetic view of The Gateway Arch along the banks of the Mississippi River, is also just a block or so away from the Old Courthouse where Dred and Harriet Scott’s battle for their freedom from slavery started in the 1840s and became a large part of why we even got to a Civil War.
The history of St. Louis and its 160-plus years of baseball, as presented here in a slick photo-album type layout with so many precious, archival photos and other memorabilia as procured by local historian Ed Wheatly, deeply involved in the St. Louis Browns Historical Society.
It speaks to its amateur leagues and Negro Leagues, to all its famous sons who have populated Major League Baseball rosters. Even, of course, a mention of Eddie Gaedel. The residents learned the game from the radio calls of Harry Caray and Jack Buck, and before that, from local Cardinals legend Dizzy Dean and France Laux. It could support two big-league teams at one point – a professional home game nearly every day between April and September.
As Wheatley writes in the forward:
“For St. Louisans, it has truly been a blessing that bonds the community and continually repairs our losses. It provides the positive daily diversion for the generations that endured the hardships of two world wars and the poverty of the Great Depression, and it held us together through times of civil and social disorder. Baseball has been there for all generations, young and old, from the days of horse and buggies to today’s world of drones. Baseball survives these transitions and takes St. Louisans around the bases with hope and recreation. It has been a constant in St. Louisans’ lives since the days of the Civil War.”
Did we have to come full circle so soon?
From a two-page timeline that shows the first baseball game played under organized national rules at Fairgrounds Park in 1860, to the St. Louis Red Stockings and Brown Stockings are two of the 13 teams in the National Association of the 1870s; to the creation of “baseball’s bible,” The Sporting News and Alfred Spink, in the 1880s; through the creation of the American League’s Browns (1902-53, before becoming the Baltimore Orioles) and the National League’s Cardinals (starting in 1900, changing their name from the Perfectos); to the St. Louis Giants with Oscar Charleston joining the Negro Leagues in 1920, followed by the St. Louis Stars with “Cool Papa” Bell; to American Legion national titles and junior college titles, the Tandy League, the tangible pride comes through and is documented well.
Of the 610 players to make it to the MLB from Missouri, a huge share have St. Louis as a birthplace – Hall of Famers like Pud Galvin, Yogi Berra and Dick Williams.
Among what’s there to learn and become immersed:
== At one time, there were more players were in the Major Leagues from one St. Louis high school – the Beaumont High Bluejackets — than any other high school in America. That included 14 notables, plus managers Earl Weaver and Dick Williams, who eventually moved to Pasadena before graduation.
== Branch Rickey, who played for the St. Louis Browns in the early ‘20s and figured out how to create a farm system for the Cardinals, led to the Birds appearing in World Series between 1926 and 1946 before he joined the Dodgers. (Rickey, by the way, also holds the record for most stolen bases allowed by a MLB catcher – 13 – while playing for the Yankees against the Washington Senators in 1907).
== When Bill Veeck bought the St. Louis Browns in 1951 – three years after his Cleveland Indians won the World Series, but he lost their ownership in a divorce settlement – with the intent of running the Cardinals out of town. The Cardinals were tenants of his stadium. But then it was sold to beer baron August Busch, who then bought Sportsman’s Park and forced Veeck to sell his Browns to Baltimore. Veeck was able to sign Negro League star Satchel Page to a deal in 1948 – the seventh Black player to cross the color line, as a 42-year-old rookie, representing the team in the 1952 and ’53 All Star Games.
== The Browns’ George Sisler, who hit .420 in 1922, was the first MLB Most Valuable Player, and St. Louis native and Browns player Roy Sievers was the first AL Rookie of the Year in 1949. Sisler was the man Rickey eventually sent to Montreal to mentor Jackie Robinson in the minor leagues before his MLB debut in ’47.
== If Yogi Berra was the most famous St. Louis-born and bred player from the Hill neighborhood – taken by the Yankees after his friend, Joe Garagiola, became the prized signing of Rickey with the Cardinals – then Elston Howard may be the best Black player from the Gateway City, the first Black for the Yankees and a 12-time All Star himself. Yet he’s not in the National Baseball Hall of Fame?
==Jerry Reuss led Ritenour High in St. Louis County to the first of its three state titles. Of all those in the history of the MLB, Reuss had the longest career – 22 seasons from 1969 to 1990, starting with the Cardinals as a 20-year-old. One of his two MLB All-Star appearances were with the Dodgers in 1980 (18-6, 2.51 with six shutouts, second in the Cy Young voting), the last time the game was played at Dodger Stadium. Reuss’ nine years with the Dodgers were the most he logged with any team.
== The first time two Black players were playing together on the same team: The 1947 Browns had Hank Thompson and Willard Brown. Thompson served in the U.S. Army during the Battle of the Bulge and Brown took part in the D-Day invasion at Normandy.
== St. Louis has its own Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame, honoring those from the Khoury League for youths and seniors (“the first organization to provide the opportunity to play baseball from ‘the cradle to the grave’), the CYC, the Mathews’ and Dickey’s Boys Club, the semipro leagues, muni leagues and many other teams and leagues that have laid the groundwork.
== Dave Nicholson of St. Louis’ Southwest High was thought to be the next Mickey Mantle when he accepted an unheard-of $110,000 bonus to sign with the Baltimore Orioles in 1958. In ’64, he hit a towering 573-foot homer over the left-field room at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. He logged seven years with four teams from 1960-’67.
== Rawlings Brothers Sporting Goods? In St. Louis, in 1997, outfitting the local Cardinals starting in 1906, with pitcher Bill Doak using the first modern glove (by Rawlings) in 1919.
== So if you had to put together an all-St. Louis Team, who’d be one aside from the obvious Berra/Howard behind the plate, Red Schoendienst at second and Whitey Herzog as a manager (with Weaver, Williams and Berra)? At least know there’s David Freese at third base, Ryan Howard at first (with Nate Colbert), and Jason Isringhausen out of the bullpen. It’s all there on page 127.
How it goes in the scorebook
A holistic complete game, beyond Cardinal red and Veeck’s Browns.
Really, where else can Dal Maxvill have more index references than Stan Musial in a book about St. Louis baseball? That’s reflected in an appendix that starts on page 177 and goes more than 50 pages to document high school championships, MLB players from the St. Louis region in Missouri as well as Illinois and the coaches, players, contributors and umpires in the St. Louis Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame, as well as acknowledgements, credits and an index.
And to think what could have happened if Albert Pujols played his entire career in this city.
Also by the author
== “The St. Louis Browns: The Story of a Beloved Team,” with Wheatley, Bill Borst and Bill Rogers, Reedy Press, $36, 184 pages, released 2017
== “Incredible Cardinals,” illustrated by Ed Koehler, Reedy Press,, for ages 4-8 years old, released in 2018
== More from links to St. Louis National Public Radio
== And what are we to make from this reference to an Ed Wheatley in the BaseballReference.com databank of Minor League players — born in St. Louis in 1933, died earlier this month, logged three seasons from age 18-20 in the C and D Leagues in the early ’50s.
More on St. Louis and its baseball history
== “Mr. Rickey’s Redbirds: Baseball, Beer, Scandals & Celebrations in St. Louis,” by Mike Mitchell, self published, 510 pages, $19.99, released June, 2020
== “Before They Were Cardinals: Major League Baseball in Nineteenth-Century St. Louis (Sports and American Culture),” by Jon David Cash, 2002
== “The Dizzy and Daffy Dean Barnstorming Tour: Race, Media, and America’s National Pastime,” by Phil S. Dixon, released August, 2019
== “Drama and Pride in the Gateway City: The 1964 St. Louis Cardinals,” by SABR books/University of Nebraska Press, 2013
== “Baseball in St. Louis: 1900-1925,” by Steve Steinberg, Arcadia Publishing, 2004
== “Beer, Brats, and Baseball: German-Americans in St. Louis,” by Jim Merkel, 2015