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  • Writer's pictureLloyd Brown

Ballparks of St. Louis

St. Louis has always been known as a “baseball city.” The city was attracted to the sport very early, as news articles show the first game taking place on July 9th, 1860. The earliest games were played on open fields in parks, with no fences or stands in place. St. Louis’ Big League Ballparks by Joan M. Thomas takes an in-depth look at the many teams, leagues, and ballparks that have earned the city this accolade.

One of the first baseball structures in St. Louis was Red Stockings Park. It opened in 1875 and was used by the St. Louis Red Stockings of the National Association for one season. In 1888 it was used by the St. Louis Whites of the Western Association. The ballpark featured a basic wooden stockade and had a capacity of 1,000. After 1876 it was used by a variety of amateur leagues for their games.

Another St. Louis ballpark of the 1880s was Union Park, which opened in 1884. The park had a capacity of 10,000. It featured a wooden grandstand that was painted white and had two wings down the baselines that featured opera chairs. The playing field featured blue grass and clover and the Union Maroon’s uniforms were white with maroon leggings and caps. The scoreboard at the park featured the scores from other games that were underway, which were transmitted to the stadium by telegraph. A brass band played each time they took the field. Sadly, the team only lasted two seasons, as they exhausted the owner’s wealth.

Like many other ballparks of the era, Robison Park went through a variety of names and affiliations during its existence. (1893-1920). The venue began its life as New Sportsman’s Park. It was home to both the ballpark and an entertainment complex. The complex included an amusement park, which included a beer garden, a waterfront ride, and a lake.

The ballpark served as the home of the St. Louis Browns. In 1899 the Browns and the ballpark were sold to the Robison Brothers, who changed the ballpark name to League Park. They also changed the uniform color to Cardinal red and the team’s name to “Cardinals.”  In 1911 ownership of the team transferred to the daughter of one of the Robison brothers upon their deaths.

The daughter changed the ballpark name to Robison Park to honor her father and uncle. A later sale resulted in the ballpark name changing to Cardinal Field. In 1920 the Cardinals moved to Old Sportsman’s Park. The stadium of many names had reached its end. The ballpark was torn down in 1926 and was replaced by a high school.

Handlan Park opened in 1914. The ballpark featured a single-deck wooden grandstand behind the plate and bleacher seating beyond the outfield walls. It was home to the St. Louis Terriers team of the Federal League. The Federal League and the Terriers folded in 1916. The park was then used as an athletic field for St. Louis University. From 1920-1921 Handlan Park was used by the St. Louis Giants of the Negro National League.

Another Negro National League team, the St. Louis Stars, played at Stars Park from 1922 – 1931. The Stars featured “Cool Papa” Bell a future Baseball Hall of Fame member. The capacity of the ballpark was 10,000.

Sportsman’s Park survived the longest of all the structures devoted to St. Louis baseball. It began its service to the city as the Grand Avenue Grounds. It opened in 1868 as the home of the St. Louis Brown Stockings.

In 1882 local brewer Chris Von der Ahe took over the Grand Avenue Grounds and renamed it Sportsman Park. The team was remarkably successful under his ownership, as they won four straight American Association pennants and one World Series title. In 1920 the National League Cardinals became co-tenants with the Brown Stockings.

This was good for Von Ahe’s brewing business as it doubled the number of home games, and the National League allowed both games and drinking of alcoholic beverages on Sundays. Over the years, Sportsman’s Park would see several improvements, as capacity was expanded to 34,000 seats, and lights were added in 1940, making night baseball possible.

One of the more unique occurrences during Sportsman’s Park’s years was the 1944 World Series. It featured the two home teams! The St. Louis Browns played the St. Louis Cardinals in a six-game series, with the Cardinals winning the Series 4 games to two.

However, for most of their years as co-tenants, the Cardinals had the more successful teams. They won the World Series in 1926 and 1934. In the 1930s, the Cardinals featured the Gashouse Gang, a team made up of Daffy and Dizzy Dean, Frankie Frisch, Ducky Medwick, Leo Durocher, and Johnnie Mize. (All future Baseball Hall of Fame members).

In 1954 both the Anheuser Busch Company and the Busch family purchased Sportsman’s Park and the Cardinals. (The Browns franchise had relocated to Baltimore, where they rebranded as the Orioles.) Busch made several major improvements, including enlarging capacity, installing a new scoreboard, as well as structural improvements to the plumbing and lighting systems. In 1961 the St. Louis Cardinals NFL franchise was added as a tenant.

 By the mid-1960s Sportsman Park was showing its age. It had ably served baseball well for nearly 100 years. The team made plans for a downtown ballpark that they hoped to move into by 1964. However, due to labor stoppages, the stadium was not ready until the 1966 baseball season.

The Cardinals moved into the first Busch Stadium on May 12, 1966. The stadium’s full name was Civic Center Busch Memorial Stadium. As you can imagine, the stadium structure around the playing field was quite different from Sportsman’s Park.

It featured a circular shape featured by many stadiums of the era that hosted both baseball and football teams. The capacity of the new stadium was 46,000 seats. It was topped by a 70-foot canopy of open arches to replicate the look of the nearby Gateway Arch by the Mississippi River. The stadium also had very modern electronic amenities.

The scoreboard could move a flying cardinal across the screen, which was revolutionary for the times. In 1970 the stadium was one of the first stadiums in the country to install Astroturf. (It would later tear the turf out due to the extreme heat it produced during the sweltering summer days St. Louis experiences)

The years in the first Busch Stadium were very memorable, as the Cardinals would go to six World Series during this period, winning the Series in 1967 and 1982. The team would also feature five Baseball Hall of Fame players during this period (Orlando Cepeda, Steve Carlton, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Ozzie Smith) plus one manager (Red Schoendienst).

In 2006 the Cardinals moved into the new Busch Stadium (often called Busch Stadium III). The current stadium has a capacity of 44,383. It features a grass playing surface. In its inaugural season, the Cardinals sold out every game. The Cardinals have won two World Series (2006, and 2011) since moving into the park. Busch Stadium hosted the 2009 MLB All-Star Game. Over the years the ballpark has hosted St Louis Cardinals football, soccer matches, and the 2017 NHL Winter Classic.

Busch Stadium has a separate entity within the stadium complex known as Ballpark Village. It is across the street from the stadium, within the footprint of the former Busch Stadium. Ballpark Village is a live/work/play development that includes restaurants, bars, a hotel, apartments, and retail stores. The complex is also home to the Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum, the Cardinal Nation Bar & Restaurant, and the team store.

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