December 7, 2013
Get It Now!Hardball Times Annual is now available. It's got 300 pages of articles, commentary and even a crossword puzzle. You can buy the Annual at Amazon, for your Kindle or on our own page (which helps us the most financially). However you buy it, enjoy!
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Wednesday, March 13, 2013
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.
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