Wednesday, March 13, 2013
25,000 days since the Browns clinch the pennantPosted by Chris Jaffe
25,000 days ago, a genuinely unique event in major league baseball history happened. On Oct. 1, 1944, for the first, last, and only time, the St. Louis Browns clinched the American League pennant.
As franchises go, the Browns don’t have much of a history. They were an AL club for a little over a half-century (1902-53) and never had much success. That’s an understatement. They were a perennial doormat. There was an old line the St. Louis fans had about their team—St. Louis: first in shoes, first in booze, last in the American League.
The Browns' problem was a simple one, and one nearly impossible to overcome. St. Louis had two teams, but it wasn’t able to support them both. Though it had been the fourth largest city in the late 19th century, that quickly ended in the 20th century. With the Cardinals winning pennant after pennant, few fans were left to root for the Browns.
In fact, heading into the 1944 season, the Browns had finished dead last in AL attendance for an incredible 18 straight seasons. Their successful 1944 campaign pushed them up to sixth out of eight. But in 1946 they fell back to last, and stayed there for their last eight years in town. In 1935, they set the 20th century record for worst attendance with just 80,922 fans coming to Sportsman’s Park all year. Yankee Stadium could match that in one day if there was a sellout.
The only reason the Browns stayed afloat as long as they did was that they owned the stadium, and rented it out to the Cardinals. After the club finally sold it to the Redbirds in the early 1950s, the Browns were soon gone from the town, departing for Baltimore to become the Orioles.
It hadn’t always been this way. In the first two decades the Browns weren’t always good, but they weren’t helpless. The Cardinals weren’t very good, so the Browns could still make a case for being the town’s top team.
In the early 1920s, it looked like that might be the case as they put together a consistent winner and nearly won the 1922 pennant. But they fell short and soon the Cardinals rose up. With GM Branch Rickey, they Cards had developed a better mousetrap, the modern farm system. When that happened, the Cardinals won the fans and the Browns played to empty stadiums for decades.
The lack of fans meant a lack of money, and that crippled the Browns' hopes. They couldn’t invest in the best scouting or farm clubs. And when they got better players, they generally found it worth their while to sell them. After all, odds are they wouldn’t assemble enough of them to put together a consistent enough winner to lure fans from the Cardinals anyway.
World War II changed that. All teams lost talent, and in the strange new world the Browns didn’t find their disadvantage nearly as much. The 1944 AL had no great teams (even by the standards of wartime baseball) and in that mix the Browns were able to skate away with their pennant, their only one.
It was a great moment for a club that typically lacked even good moments—and it happened 10,000 days ago today.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary.” Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim through things.
1,000 days since Ubaldo Jimenez of the Rockies wins again, giving him a record of 13-1 with an amazing ERA of 1.15.
3,000 days since the Royals sign free agent pitcher Jose Lima.
5,000 days since Randy Johnson experiences his third straight game in hell. He’s great, allowing just one run in eight innings while fanning 12, but for the third straight game the Diamondbacks hitters are shut out behind him, and he again gets the loss. The opposing pitcher is Jose Jimenez, who 10 days before threw a no-hitter against Johnson’s Arizona teammates. Today, Jimenez allows just two hits. Incredibly, that’s Arizona’s best offensive output in the last two weeks when Johnson is on the hill. In Johnson’s start between the Jimenez games, Arizona was one-hit.
5,000 days since Tony Phillips gets his 2,000th career hit.
5,000 days since Sammy Sosa reaches base by error three times in one game.
8,000 days since New Comiskey Park opens on the South Side of Chicago in embarrassing fashion, as the Sox lose 16-0 to the Tigers. Detroit did all its scoring early, including a 10-run inning.
8,000 days since Robin Yount bashes his 500th career double.
10,000 days since the Angels announce that they won’t offer longtime star Rod Carew a contract next year. His career is over.
25,000 days since longtime Cardinals star Pepper Martin plays in his last game.
40,000 days since the Dodgers and Giants play an odd kind of doubleheader, one that involves playing one game in each of their stadiums.
40,000 days since Curt Davis is born. He’s probably the best pitcher to have his big league debut after his 30th birthday (not including Negro Leaguers like Satchel Paige).
50,000 days since Charlie Hemphill, a starting regular on the 20-134 1899 Cleveland Spiders, is born.
1886 Star pitcher Bob Caruthers earns the nickname “Parisian Bob” when he accepts contract terms from St. Louis via a transatlantic cable from Paris.
1886 Hall of Fame third baseman Frank "Home Run" Baker is born.
1915 Recently, Senators catcher Gabby Street gained national attention for catching a baseball dropped from the top of the Washington Monument. Aping that, today the Brooklyn Dodgers say they’ll do the same thing with a ball dropped from a plane. Manager (and former catcher) Wilbert Robinson settles under it—only to get splattered by a grapefruit. The team made a last minute switch, fearing an actual baseball might kill the aging skipper. Robinson later agrees with the decision. As is, when he sees the grapefruit innards on him, he initially freaks out, thinking it’s his innards.
1928 The Dodgers select veteran pitcher Rube Bressler from the Reds off waivers.
1929 Sherry Magee, deadball star slugger, dies at age 44. With the Phillies, he led the league in RBIs in three times. In 1910, he paced the circuit in runs, RBIs, batting average, on base percentage, slugging average, OPS, and OPS+.
1934 Fielder Jones, a great glove man whose birth name really was Fielder, dies. He was a good player with a solid OBP and a great manager who led the 1906 Hitless Wonder White Sox to a surprising world title.
1940 Ira Flagstead dies at the young age of 46. He played more than 1,200 games, mostly as a 1920s AL outfielder.
1943 A. G. Spalding Company introduces a new baseball for use during the war.
1944 The public learns that Cy Young’s middle name is True. It had long previously been thought to be Tecumseh.
1953 It’s “Black Friday” in Boston as the Braves announce that they intend to move to the greener pastures of Milwaukee. The Braves have been in Boston for over three quarters of a century, but Boston is no longer able to support two teams.
1954 Boston Braves outfielder Bobby Thomson hurts himself sliding into second—a triple fracture of his right ankle. That injury will open the door for 20-year-old Hank Aaron to start the year in the big leagues.
1960 The White Sox debut a new uniform that has their names on back. That’s a first.
1963 Mariano Duncan is born. He’ll represent the 1994 Phillies in the All-Star game.
1964 Will the Thrill Clark is born.
1971 The Angels purchase Jeff Torborg from the Dodgers.
1971 Scott Sullivan, Reds relief pitcher, is born.
1979 Star pitcher Johan Santana is born.
1985 Major League Baseball claims to have lost $58 million last year and expects to do likewise in the upcoming season. This forms the backdrop for collusion, which the owners will agree to in the 1985-86 offseason.
1994 Buddy Rosar dies at age 79. The catcher made five All Star squads for the AL in the 1940s.
1995 Negro Leaguer Hall of Famer Leon Day dies at age 78.
2008 Famous comedian Billy Crystal, at age 59, appears in spring training for the Yankees and strikes out against Paul Maholm after hitting just one foul ball.
2008 The Mets sign free agent infielder Fernando Tatis.
2008 The Cardinals sign free agent pitcher Kyle Lohse.
2010 Lance Berkman undergoes surgery to remove loose cartilage from his left knee.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.