St. Louis Browns
St. Louis Browns (AL)
- Win-Loss Record: 3414-4465-99-1 (.428)
- Post Season: 2-4 (.333)
- Pennant: 1944
- Ballpark: Sportsman's Park (April 23, 1902-September 27, 1953)
The St. Louis Browns are perhaps history’s worst Major League franchise. The Browns existed from 1902 to 1953 in the American League and managed just 11 winning seasons over that span. They lost more than 100 games eight times, finishing dead last in the AL 10 times. They finished as high as second in the AL standings just three times. The Browns won just one pennant, in 1944, when the majors were not at full strength due to World War II. In 1954, following eight straight losing seasons, the Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Baltimore Orioles.
The Original St. Louis Browns
The name St. Louis Browns was first used in 1883, by the St. Louis entry in the American Association. It was a shortening of the name Brown Stockings used by previous St. Louis teams in the National Association and in the National League from 1875 to 1877. The first edition of the American Association team, which played in 1882 was also known as the Brown Stockings. The Browns, under rambunctious German-born owner Chris Von der Ahe, were the strongest and most colorful franchise in the American Association, winning pennants four straight seasons (1885-1888), winning one World Series (1886), tying another (1885) and losing two. The Browns moved to the National League in 1892 when the American Association merged with the National League, and eventually became the St. Louis Cardinals in 1900.
The American League Browns
The American League's St. Louis Browns appeared in the league's second season, in 1902, when the Milwaukee Brewers relocated to St. Louis. The team took the old moniker abandoned by the Cardinals, and built their stadium, Sportsman's Park, on the site of the park of the same name used by the old Browns. Neither St. Louis team had much success during the 1900s and 1910s, and to make matters worst, a third major league team, the St. Louis Terriers of the Federal League competed with them in 1914 and 1915.
Though the pennant-winning Browns of 1944 are more famous (or infamous), the best Browns team ever was probably the 1922 edition. That team won a franchise-record 93 games, finishing just one game behind Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees. They led the AL in both hitting and pitching, led by George Sisler’s .420 BA, 39 home runs from Ken Williams (four more than Ruth, who missed six weeks that season due to a suspension) and the strong pitching of Urban Shocker (24 wins, 2.97 ERA). The Browns also set their all-time attendance record that season, 712,918. In 1923, Sisler, unquestionably the greatest of all Browns, missed the entire season with sinusitis, and St. Louis fell to 5th place. The Sisler-led teams of the 1920s would never seriously contend again.
After years of futility, the Browns tried to pull off a bold move following the 1941 season, when they sought permission from the league to relocate to Los Angeles, CA. This was a full decade and a half before baseball actually proceeded which such a move. They had preliminary approval from other owners, had secured rights to play in L.A.'s Wrigley Field and had been promised additional financial backing by west coast banker A.P. Giannini. They were ready to purchase the Pacific Coast League's Los Angeles Angels and move them to Long Beach, CA, in order to secure territorial rights. They had also hammered out agreements with both TWA Airlines and the Chicago, IL-to L.A. Santa Fe Railroad to assist in drawing up a feasible schedule. The rival Cardinals were delighted, with owner Sam Breadon offering them $250,000 to assist in getting them out of town. Unfortunately, the final vote granting approval was scheduled for Monday, December 8, 1941 - and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, HI on December 7th completely upset that apple cart: with President Franklin D. Roosevelt having declared war, every team including the Browns voted against the proposed move.
In 1944, the Browns finally won their first and only pennant, edging the Detroit Tigers on the final day of the season when the immortal Sig Jakucki beat the New York Yankees, 5-2. While the Browns probably owe much of their success in 1944 to depleted wartime rosters across the league, they did have some legitimate talent. First baseman George McQuinn was an All-Star before the war, shortstop Vern Stephens, among the best Browns ever, was one of the top hitting shortstops of his day, and the Browns had a solid starting pitching staff featuring Jack Kramer, Nels Potter, and Denny Galehouse. The Browns' roster also suffered from wartime depletion, as their best hitter and starting center fielder Wally Judnich missed the entire season, while Galehouse, talented starting pitcher Steve Sundra, and power hitter Chet Laabs missed most of the season to either military service or employment related to the war effort. Naturally the Browns fell short in the World Series, losing 4-2 to the neighboring St. Louis Cardinals. The Browns pitched well enough to win (team ERA of 1.49 in the series), but were doomed by anemic hitting, managing to score just 12 runs in 6 games.
In 1947, the Browns became the second American League team to integrate (following the Cleveland Indians), adding Negro League players Willard Brown and Hank Thompson to the roster in July. Thompson played decently for the last-place Browns, hitting .256, while Brown struggled, hitting under .200. The Browns showed no patience with either man, sending both back to the Negro Leagues in August. Thompson went on to have a solid career with the New York Giants, while Brown, a Negro League star and a future Hall of Famer, never played in the majors again.
The Bill Veeck Years
In 1951, Bill Veeck purchased the Browns, and for a time it appeared the lowly franchise was on an upswing. Veeck renovated Sportsman's Park, changed the Browns’ uniforms, and, most importantly, he began stockpiling talent. While Veeck’s Browns period is perhaps best known for his Eddie Gaedel midget gag, Veeck did bring a number of quality players to St. Louis, such as Virgil Trucks, Vic Wertz, Clint Courtney, Johnny Groth, and Satchel Paige. These newcomers, along with existing Browns talents like Roy Sievers, Bob Turley, and Don Larsen, might have given Veeck a chance at success in St. Louis, but it was not to be.
At the end of Veeck's first full year as owner, 1952, the Browns had improved by 12 wins over 1951 and had nearly doubled their attendance from the previous season. According to his autobiography, Veeck was fully aware that St. Louis could not support two baseball teams, and his plan was to drive the Cardinals out of town. Veeck's grand scheme was wrecked that same year when the Busch family, with its vast beer fortune, purchased the Cardinals. No longer able to compete financially, Veeck decided to pack up and move the Browns before the 1953 season. Initially, Veeck planned to move to Milwaukee, but the National League outmanoeuvered him and the Boston Braves moved in. Veeck next targeted Baltimore, MD but the American League voted him down. Veeck also considered Los Angeles again, but at the time such a move did not seem feasible.
With the team unable to move, the Browns' 1953 season would be a miserable disappointment for the Browns. The St. Louis fans were fully aware of Veeck's plans to move the team and stayed away from the ballpark. Out of money, Veeck had to unload several of his top players, including Trucks, his best pitcher. The demoralized, depleted Browns lost 100 games. After the season mercifully ended, Veeck again attempted to move to Baltimore. Once more the AL voted Veeck down. In his autobiography, Veeck contends that the other American League owners conspired to keep him in St. Louis in 1953 and 1954, in an effort to bankrupt him. Veeck certainly was not popular among the other owners due to his often outlandish methods, and the fact that these same owners quickly voted to allow Clarence Miles to move the Browns to Baltimore, having denied Veeck the same move a year earlier, seems to substantiate Veeck's claims. With no other options, Veeck sold the Browns to Miles, a Baltimore lawyer, and the AL subsequently voted to allow the Browns to move.
The Baltimore Orioles were born (or, more truthfully, re-born) and the Browns were no more. The Orioles would soon trade away most of the remaining talent from the Veeck era (including Sievers, Wertz, Turley, and Larsen), and it would be several years before the franchise finally began to win.
Unofficial All-Time Browns Team
- 1B – George Sisler
- 2B – Marty McManus
- 3B – Harlond Clift
- SS – Vern Stephens
- OF – Ken Williams
- OF – Baby Doll Jacobson
- OF – Jack Tobin
- OF – George Stone
- C – Hank Severeid
- C - Clint Courtney
- Edward Achorn: The Summer of Beer and Whiskey: How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America's Game, Public Affairs, Perseus Books Group, Philadelphia, PA, 2013. ISBN 978-1610392600
- Bill Borst: Last in the American League: An Informal History of the St. Louis Browns, Krank Press, St. Louis, MO, 1978.
- Bill Borst, Bill Rogers and Ed Wheatley: St. Louis Browns: The Story of a Beloved Team, Reedy Press, St. Louis, MO, 2017. ISBN 978-1-681061-17-7
- Peter Golenbock: The Spirit of St. Louis: A History Of The St. Louis Cardinals And Browns, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY, 2000. ISBN 978-0380976607
- William B. Mead: Even the Browns: Baseball During World War II, Dover Publications, Mineola, NY, 2010 (originally published in 1978).
- Richard Peterson, ed.: The St. Louis Baseball Reader, University of Missouri Press, Columbia, MO, 2006.
- Mike Petriello: "The L.A. Browns? How one day in '41 changed MLB", mlb.com, May 16, 2020.